MEMSI – The Wonderful World of Manufacturing
By Eric Wong ’19
Possibly the greatest highlight of the MEMSI experience was exploring the Greater Bay Area, also known as the Pearl River Delta, the Silicon Valley of the East. Two days, a high speed rail ride, eight hours of busses and a night in a refurbished 1962 French passenger ship later, I had the chance to visit a Volkswagen factory, the home of Kinder Surprise toys, two hardware startup incubators, and the electronic-phile’s paradise!
Taking the high speed rail from West Kowloon station to Guangzhou
Getting a tour of the FAW-Volkswagen factory
The FAW-Volkswagen facility in Foshan featured an integrated production line starting from processing raw sheets of metal to finished cars. The 187,800 km2 facility is capable of producing 300,000 vehicles per year with the second half of the complex under construction, boosting that capacity to 600,000. Inside was an automation wonderland featuring lines of cars in various stages of the production process moving slowly but steady from the metalwork, to welding, to painting, and to quality control plus or minus a few thousand meticulously performed steps. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside of the facility.
Cohort at Vigor
Getting ready to enter the food-grade production line
While you may have never heard of Vigor, you almost definitely have used things that contained their products. Most notably, it is the birthplace of the Kinder Surprise toys and a majority of the tiny gearboxes you find within windup toys. Most recently, they produced the mechanism behind the laceless Air Jordan 33s. Stored within their story facility were hundreds of lines of in-house designed and assembled semi-automated assembly lines, pioneering fully-automated multi-color injection molding, and several food grade production lines that collectively churn out 4,000 unique pieces on an average day.
Dinner talk with Vivo
As the fourth largest market share holder in China’s cell phone economy, vivo is a true communication giant. Over a dinner, we got to speak to a few members of vivo’s product design and brand strategy teams to hear a bit about vivo’s view on the future of communication and how they continue to position themselves amongst the fiercely competitive space of mobile phones. On the product design front, perhaps the most impressive aspect of vivo’s flagship product line is the consistent introduction of significant changes in the phone features including a pop-up camera to enable a truly bezel less display and a dual screen to redefine phone interaction. As an engineer, what was the most insightful and novel to hear about was the process of branding and forming strategic partnerships of which vivo has an impressive resume ranging from the 2018 Russian World Cup, NBA China, and numerous A-List celebrities.
Visiting the HAX Shenzhen Office
HAX is a hardware startup venture capital firm based in Shenzhen and San Francisco. At the Shenzhen office, we got to tour the makerspace that they provide to the startups that they accept into their incubator program. In addition to providing each class of aspiring entrepreneurs with a complete suite of facilities, HAX employees are also available to consult on any aspect of a startup from business strategy to mechanical design, Among their successful startups includes Makeblock, a technology company that provides a suite of educational tools on programming through robotics.
Huaqiangbei is the mecca of electronics sourcing where anything and everything could be found. It’s in this neighborhood that there are buildings where you can buy all the components of and build yourself a whole phone. The things you can find at Huaqiangbei embodies one of the most unique things about this, its product development methodology. Empowered by the strong manufacturing capabilities of the facilities in the area, instead of a market driven approach of identifying key consumer needs and designing products to satisfy them, a large variety of products are simply produced and consumers are able to buy whatever best fits their needs. This provided a very stark contrast to the extremely methodical approach that we had been exposed to during our MEMSI workshops where the solution always came last.
Presentation at the PCH office
PCH International is an international design firm that is unique in their expertise in the later part of a product’s timeline from conception to arriving at our hands. While many design firms are extremely capable in engineering and developing a product, few are internally capable of completing the manufacturing, packout, and distribution aspect. This is where PCH is uniquely qualified as they handle these final steps for many Fortune 500 companies’ products. This positioning in the product development field makes their hardware incubator program, Highway1, an intriguing place to further develop as an entrepreneur.
These two exploring the Guangdong and Shenzhen area of China really opened my eyes to the wonderful world of manufacturing. This aspect of product development was one that I had never really thought much about but as I quickly learned, designing for this step is so critical and requires a lot of dedicated thought and innovation. While there were certainly moments where I was blown away by the capacity of these facilities to push out so much product, it is also worth taking a moment to acknowledge the implications of this reality. Whether this was from the human labor still required for certain less automatable tasks, especially in final product packaging, to the amount of material used during the process, mass manufacturing is truly an astounding human accomplishment that has its many flaws. As manufacturing starts to move out of China where interest in filling factory roles is dwindling and the economics looks less enticing, it’ll be important to remember the ugly of manufacturing in mind and hopefully create a better re-incarnation of the wonderful world of manufacturing, wherever that may be.