8-Bit Blog: China Edition (Day 1) September 11 2013

Back in June, we launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for the Question Block Lamp; an interactive, videogame inspired light. Leading up the campaign, we had been working with a team in Shenzhen, China to get ready for mass production. The original goal was to get everything set up (components ordered, custom parts made), and then fly to Shenzhen to oversee the beginning of the assembly process. 

Well, last night, I arrived in Shenzhen just past 1:00 am. I'd been traveling for about 20 hours, stopping through Tokyo (where I saw a hello kitty airplane) and Beijing, so I was a little out of sorts. However, after a good night's sleep, I was ready to get started.

In the morning, my team leaders, Allan and Susan picked me up. We went and visited their office, and then had lunch at a restaurant nearby that served Sichuan, Chaozhou and Yangzhou food. We decided that during my stay, we would try food from all the different regions in China. I'm a bit of a foodie, so this may end up being a bit of a culinary blog too : )

(Top Left - pork ball, boiled eggs, duck breast, pigs feet, and goose feet. Top Right - fried rice.

Bottom Left - spicy string beans, Bottom Right - famous Chinese drink, Jiaduobao, similar to iced tea)

After lunch, we drove out to the stamping and silk-screening factory. This is where we'll be creating the sides for the lamps. When we hear about factories in China, the conception is often a very large facility with hundreds or thousands of employees. This can sometimes be the case, but those factories are often best suited for much larger production runs. For our relatively small run of lamps (3,000 to start) we're working with small groups that can give a more personal touch to our project.

We found very quickly that almost everything in China needs to be custom made. For instance, it was not easy to source a plastic that perfectly matched the color and translucency that we were looking for. Instead, we brought our existing material to a factory, and they created a batch that matched it perfectly.

When we created the lamp in the US, we used a laser cutter to make the sides. This was a tedious process that required hours an hours of laser time to create a batch of lamps. In China, we're producing the sides with a die cutter. There is an upfront cost to make the tool, but once it's complete, all the sides can be produced in just a few days. (I have awesome video of this machine that I'll try to upload soon. The internet here is often very slow, so it may take me a while).

I've often been told that if you can't meet with the head of your factory, you need to find another manufacturer. The idea behind this is that if a factory is too large for you, they will not give enough attention to your product, and the quality will suffer. Luckily, we're working directly with the factory owner, Mr. Fu (above). He's paid careful attention to the production, and helped us avoid mistakes along the way. He'll be in charge of creating, and silkscreening all the panels.

At the factory, we were able to assembly a full sample of the lamp with the new sides. We were all really proud to see it come together after many months of work. Next, we have to figure out an assembly process that will allow us to make thousands of lamps efficiently, and with a high degree of quality.

Tomorrow, we'll be visiting the stamping factory, where we'll be producing the aluminum stands. In the afternoon, we'll visit the electronics factory, where they're creating the circuit board for the lamp, and will be assembling all the parts together. Stay tuned!


Illuminator at 8-Bit Lit