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Video Why Hardware Development Takes Longer in the West Than in China (Video) 65

This was originally going to be a second video about the Popup Factory Demo we talked about last Wednesday. But this section of Tim's lengthy interview with people from the Popup Factory seemed like it would be of broader interest to Slashdot people -- and your coworkers, bosses, and friends who may be involved in device production or prototyping. There are some hard words here, because David Cranor is talking about problems that go way beyond the usual perceived Chinese advantages such as low labor costs and a lack of environmental regulations.

Dave: One reason why doing hardware development takes so long in the west is that nothing is co-located. And so it takes a long time, to get the sample... you know, this part has to go to the person who is making the neoprene band, so that they can understand to make sure that, like the holes that were poked in it, are the right size, you know what I mean? These two companies that made these two things, could potentially be thousands of miles apart, and just like, moving the atoms and sort of bits around can be really hard. So getting everything co-located in one place.

I mean, that’s another reason why Shenzhen in China is a very interesting place. Because everything is geographically co-located. And so you can communicate a lot easier. When you are building hardware, it is a thing that lives in the physical world, so you have to deal with it in the physical world, and there are some tricks we are coming up with, to allow us to like, you know, 3-D printing is great one where you can send a description file, you can send a STL somewhere else and they can 3-D print it off of it. It is usually fairly repeatable. But we are still kind of in this area with hardware where you have to deal with it in real life.

So having everything together in one place really speeds up the process and if you were trying to do something like this in San Francisco or like in Boston where I am from it actually takes way longer just to get all the stuff between all the different places to make sure that everyone’s doing the parts that fit into each other correctly.

Slashdot: You can’t drive to the neoprene factory very well.

Dave: You can’t just drive to the neoprene factory and show it to the neoprene man, and have him be like oh yeah, it needs to be more like this, hang on, I will go get another sample and be right back. You know, you got to send an email, you got to wait three weeks for shipping, that’s another email. Like you have to figure out how to communicate with people through a physical medium which is not easy.

Slashdot: Could you have done this twelve months ago?

Dave: Oh twelve months ago? Maybe. I don’t actually know. I mean looking back on it, I think that I could have convinced all these technologies have existed for a while, right, like 3-D printing has been around for 30 years, like SMT assembly of circuit boards have been around for like a really long time, die cutting has been around a really long time. But I mean part of making a physical thing is it is not like you to have like go on the GitHub repo and like plug it into whatever else. It is like you have to develop relationships with all the different suppliers, and also at the same time, the companies that are making machines, maybe make it a little bit smaller, a little bit faster that can fit in to where you need it to be at the cost point for where you want it to be. So it is much more of a continuum. And it is about figuring out how to arrange everything, again, in physical space.

Slashdot: One thing, when you and I talked earlier, one thing you mentioned, I thought was interesting, is that the way people communicate using their mobiles... it is much more fluid than I think in the US, much more formal communication.

Dave: Oh in China, yeah. Oh yeah. Everybody is on WeChat in China. It is amazing. It is an amazing app. I have been wherever I am taking meetings, I have been like, it really, well, what you do is tell everybody at Foxconn we will talk about stuff here, have our WeChat contact. And then it is like they add a group, it starts with three people, and it is like Hi David, this is [...] from Foxconn, like shake hands emoticon, shake hands emoticon, and it is funny at first but then you realize that things can happen in a lot more fluid kind of way, because it is not like it is like very formal, like ‘Hello it is very nice to meet you, do you have time for a coffee on Tuesday afternoon? Thank you, David.’

Now it is like I can get to that email later this afternoon. But if someone is communicating with me informally in a group chat with like three people, about the specific sub part of the project that I am working on, and someone is like how does the die like, then you can like take a picture of the die and drop it in, and it sends it out. You know, I mean it has got these amazing features where Tencent should just hire me to be a salesperson--I really like WeChat. You know, everybody has a QR code, they have QR codes on the business cards, because you meet somebody, WeChat has the QR code reader built into it, you scan it, that adds into your address book. You know if you don’t have business cards, you have a personal QR code on your app, you can just show and you can scan it. And so it is dynamic allocation is the phrase that I keep coming back to, because that’s what it is. It happens in real time.

You know, I have a sourcing agent who goes to the market for me and I can like send her a picture of a business card of someone who I wanted to buy something from. I can project it and she will be chatting back... okay I am with the lady right now, she wants this much if it is cool, she is like okay it will be half an hour, and I will be like alright, and she will be like here is the pictures, does that look okay, and it will be like yeah, and she will be like oh I talked to her in the firmware in Chinese instead of English so I need to go have it swapped out and reprogrammed in English, I am going to have her take it back to the factory and get you a different one. Or a reprogrammed one. I will be great, awesome. Okay, so where shall we meet? We turn on locations services that they have inside of WeChat and it all pops up and they have designed it in a considerate way, where like if you leave the chat, it automatically turns it off for you like they really.

Slashdot: It seems to reduce all kinds of frictions.

Dave: Yeah, yeah, it reduces a lot of frictions, well, but there are also frictions which are artifacts of the way that China does stuff too, right, like you know, you don’t have access to Google services, the streets are not laid on grid systems often, well some are, but like when you are in the markets and doing stuff and trying to find stuff way out in the countryside where not that many people even have devices, it can be kind and hard so it greases a lot of wheels, but it also means that needs to be a lot more communication happening and so that’s why they put a lot more development in figuring out how to make that communication a lot more expedient.

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Why Hardware Development Takes Longer in the West Than in China (Video)

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  • tl dr (Score:2, Insightful)

    by netsavior ( 627338 )
    It takes longer in the west because you have to pay your workers, pay attention to environmental impact, and provide for at least minimal worker safety. Yeah, but I am sure co-location is a huge win, way bigger than free-ish labor, and no accountability.
    • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

      Also, quality takes time.

      • and, you have to WANT to be around for the long-run. we used to do that in the west and that concept is foreign (so to speak) in china. its a 'sell and run' attitude. who cares if the thing catches fire. that guy will not be coming back to buy more no matter what. I'll be in a different business and I'll continue to sell dangerous crap, then change names again and keep going. no care for welfare of others who use their stuff.

        I'm not saying the west is perfect, but there IS some notion of your brand na

    • It is shorter in China because all the designs coming from there are utter crap. It's all about saving money, cutting corners, shortening design time, ignoring problems and hoping they go away, etc. Not talking about factories here, but the actual designs.

  • Because the west isn't concerned about whatever the business does, the west is concerned about the business of being a business.

    Everything from politics to marketing to "corporate culture" are all ancillary bullshit that has nothing to do with getting anything done, yet this bullshit mires every single western business. If you want to make and sell Product Z, but marketing is saying you can't do that because it will cannibalize Product Y or doesn't mesh with the new branding, or HR says you need to wait to

    • Re:Because (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @04:59PM (#50569515)

      For the most part, corporate executives are schooled in business, not engineering. They know planning, reorganizing, finance, merging and acquiring, and (maybe) marketing. Their path to success is through doing those things. Initiatives that originate among the engineers have a long wait to see the light of day -if they ever do - because they first have to be championed by one of the aforementioned executives. That's why innovation in larger companies is done by acquiring products and technology from the outside, and usually not by developing ideas from within. The silver lining is that it creates opportunity for smaller companies that are more focused on their customers' needs and the technologies for satisfying them.

      • Quite an interesting insight.

        No surprise the Slashdot crowd doesn't moderate it insigthful.

      • I hate to admit what you say seems to be true at all big corporations. At the giant pharma where I work I've seen less and less S/W innovation take place internally in the past decade. This has had two big side effects: 1) all our best computing have left, and 2) so has all the interesting work.

        There's no longer any interest or even tolerance among managment for novelty or invention in-house (AKA risk). Skill development focuses on the project management side only; no tech. All IT has to be done external

      • by mvdw ( 613057 )
        Reply to remove my incorrect modding.
  • no duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @04:42PM (#50569329)

    If you're in Shenzen you can take a walk and pick up all the components you need for your prototype project in the morning and assemble them in the afternoon.

    Here in the US we have to order the components from china and it takes weeks to months.

    • Re:no duh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MountainLogic ( 92466 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @05:13PM (#50569637) Homepage
      If you're in Shenzhen you can take a walk and pick up all the components you need for your prototype project in the morning and assemble them in the afternoon.

      The poster is more right on than the off hand language might suggest. Working with Chinese vendors has taught me that they are business people first and engineers second. Just the opposite of most US start-ups. Several times I have been chatting with a Taiwanese/mainland vendors, when I incidentally mention a design/manufacturing/supply problem only to have them say that they have a [brother|cousin|friend|associate] who can sell me a solution. While I've often found that these referrals were off the mark or just a ploy to get a commission they have taught me that in China folks do build and maintain relationships. In the US there is a whole industry of head hunters just to get resumes to HR departments because far too many US engineers fail to build those networks to keep themselves employed. Conversely, there are places where China fails miserable. Theses weak points include design innovation, marketing, prototyping and importing (importing into China - good luck getting parts/tools quickly through customs and into China). A number of times I've seen Chinese contract manufacturers ask US customers to supply partial or full prototype parts for pilot production runs because they lack the infrastructure to work in short runs nearly as fast as a US company can have made in the US. Shenzhen and Taiwan are indeed unique manufacturing clusters much as San Jose is for development and Detroit used to be for automotive. The US need to nurture and regrow our manufacturing base to remake our manufacturing clusters.

    • Can get parts over night, if they're common enough parts.

      Also, if you go from prototype to finished product in an afternoon, then something is seriously screwed up with the design review and product review.

    • by MacTO ( 1161105 )

      You only have to live in various cities to see the impact of this. I've lived in cities where you could literally go to a neighbourhood store and have access to a decent supply of components. I have also lived in cities where you would have to go across town to get something as simple as a resistor. I'll let you guess which places had thriving environments for everything from amateur to professional hardware development, and which ones had a bunch of people talking out of their assess about what they wer

      • here in silicon valley, we have some pretty good used surplus stores that we can run to, grab some old/quality parts and get our projects built. not high qty but for one-off POC's its great.

        I've been going to halted (hsc electronics) for over 20 yrs now and I don't know what I'd do if they went out of business. sometimes I just walk the aisles in that store to get ideas. or to find some part that can be used for another project in a creative way.

        china may have tons of crap-parts stores; but we have surpl

        • Alternatively, you just acquire yourself a decent collection of parts (from china via ebay) and there's practically no delay when building a proof of concept device. For well under a hundred bucks you can get sets of _every_ standard resistor and capacitor in 04-, 06-, 08- and thru-hole. Basically the components are so cheap you can have at least two* of everything you might reasonably need. Sure, there's often some specific chip or other you need, so digikey works great for that.

          * Pro tip - never EVER buy

    • If you're in Shenzen you can take a walk and pick up all the components you need for your prototype project in the morning and assemble them in the afternoon.

      Here in the US we have to order the components from china and it takes weeks to months.

      Close, I mean, I order the parts from Texas, where the wholesaler keeps them in a warehouse and manages the "from China" part of that process. So if I don't want to increase shipping costs, it is a 4-5 shipping days wait for parts. It encourages a more design-intensive process. If there were better local parts markets, I could be more prototype-intensive.

    • In the case of the US, one ends up with a well-designed product.
      In the case of China, one ends up with a mish-mash of parts.

      The latter might be "quicker", but it also breaks quicker.

  • So I googled WeChat, as it sounds like a great tool... and it tops today's headlines about malware in it: []
  • weak trademark / patent / copyright laws there.

    In china it's easy to pay some one off and don't have to deal with trademarks / patents / copyrights / etc.

  • >> Why Hardware Development Takes Longer in the West Than in China

    Slaves. Lock someone with a top-1% mind in a shop and tell them their family will starve unless they churn out usable designs 100 hours a week and they will easily outcompete 1000 "makers" dinking around with LEDs and breadboards at a little "faire."

  • by gringer ( 252588 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @05:48PM (#50569893)

    Why does this video spend 5 minutes saying fluff, when it could have been explained in a single word, "colocation". In fact, this was used in the first 20 seconds.

  • Ever heard of FedEx?

    Using IM? Fire the dinosaurs that won't use modern communication methods. I'm 55 and I use IM, twitter, etc. Some of my 30-something and 40-something colleagues don't though. They're really annoying.

    Or the colleague who sits two cubes over and only uses IM to ask me questions. If my IM window is covered up it might take me 15 minutes to see it and respond. Or he could turn around and ask me and get the answer immediately.

  • The only reason China survives is through the pliancy of its labor.

(null cookie; hope that's ok)