The Joys Of Shipping From China

Trucks A few months ago, news of a new PCB fab service headed up by [Ian] over at Dangerous Prototypes leaked onto the Internet. It’s extremely cheap – $14 USD for a 5cm square board with free worldwide shipping. [Ian] admits the boards aren’t the greatest quality, that’s not the point; the site’s motto is simply, ‘No bull, just crappy PCBs.’

What began as an internal website to handle all of DP’s PCB orders was now on the Internet, and orders were flying in. At first, shipping a few dozen PCBs around the globe every week was easy, but since Dirty PCBs hit the big time, customers rightfully or not, started freaking out because of the oddities of Chinese shipping and logistics companies.

[Ian] is using Espeed Post for all their shipping, and if you’ve ever ordered anything from China off of Ebay, it’s possible you’ve had something shipped through Espeed before. Because of the oddities of shipping, and the fact that Shenzhen and Hong Kong are right next to each other, even the people at Dangerous Prototypes don’t know which countries your PCBs will go through on the trip from the fab house to your front door. This has caused much consternation with DirtyPCB customers that don’t seem to realize they’re getting custom PCBs for under two dollars a board, shipped to them across the world in a week for free. Some people’s children, huh?

Things get significantly, ahem, dirtier, when Chinese holidays are taken into account. China has a lot of them, and they’re long. They’re just wrapping up the National Day holiday, 10 days in the first week of October. Everyone is backlogged, and the China/Hong Kong border is the mess of trucks seen above.

If a holiday isn’t bad enough, the new President of China is cracking down on corruption. 500 officials were fired at the largest land border with Hong Kong, due in no small part to vans full of meth and tons of counterfeit currency. Every package leaving China is inspected individually, and shipping times have exploded.

To deal with this, Dangerous Prototypes has posted a big red warning on the dirtypcb site, but experience in dealing with people on the Internet tells them this won’t be a viable solution. They’re now dealing directly with DHL, and are apparently getting priority clearance through customs. It’s not fun, as DP will now have to figure out how to work with DHL’s API. It’s a lot of work and a lot of trouble, but DP still has a few tricks up their sleeve – they’re working on an online schematic entry and PCB layout site and the extremely interesting DirtyCables – custom cables shipped to your door.

Developed on Hackaday: Discovering Shenzhen and its Companies

Assembly line in shenzhen

Two weeks ago we showed a first demonstration video of the offline password keeper (aka Mooltipass) the Hackaday community had been working on for the last 6 months. We received lots of interesting feedback from our dear readers and around a thousand of them let us know they were interested in purchasing the device. We agreed that preferential pricing should be offered to them, as they have been supporting this community driven project for so long.

For the next few days I will be touring Shenzhen and finally meeting the persons who have been assembling my electronics projects for the last 2 years, including the Mooltipass beta testers’ batch. I’ll also meet with Ian from Dangerous Prototypes, talk with the people behind the Haxlr8r program, visit Seeedstudio offices and a CNC shop. If everything goes well with the camera I just purchased in Hong Kong I should have nice things to show you. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below in case you’re in the area…

Developing the Grillino in 24 Hours

grillino

[Mastro Gippo] hit Shenzhen back in April and organized a challenge for himself: could he develop an electronic device from idea to product in only 24 hours? The result is the Grillino, a simple clone of the Annoy-a-Tron: a small, concealable device that makes chirping sounds at random intervals. It’s name was derived from a mix of the Italian word for a cricket—”grillo”—and, of course, “Arduino.”

Shenzhen was the perfect setting for his experiment, especially because [Mastro Gippo] was in town for the Hacker Camp we mentioned a few months ago. The build is pretty simple, requiring only a microcontroller, a battery, and a piezo speaker. What follows is a detailed journey of dizzying speed through the production process, from bags stuffed full of components, to 3D-printing a test jig, to searching for a PCB manufacturer that could fulfill his order overnight. Video and more below.

[Read more...]

Shenzhen Tour and UnHuman Soldering Classes with DP

dp-hacker-camp

If you’re free the first week of April and don’t mind sitting on a plane for a looooong time you should check out the Hacker Camp that Dangerous Prototypes is planning. We’re sure you remember [Ian Lesnet] who is a Hackaday Alum, creator of the Bus Pirate, and geeky world traveler. Now’s your chance to try out what to him is a way of life.

The event is April 3-5 in Shenzhen, China. Although marketed as a “Hacker Camp”, to us it sounds more like training for those interested in running hardware companies that use the Shenzhen manufacturing district as the anchor of their supply chain. Part of the prep-work for the trip includes submitting board files which will be fabbed and ready for you on the first day. [Ian] and his crew will be your guides for the culture of the area; complete with meals and bar time. But there are also soldering workshops as part of the package. Don’t pooh-pooh the idea. This is unhuman soldering… BGA and QFN soldering instruction from the people who repair cellphones and other microelectronics.

This [Rick Steves] style adventure is the first that we remember hearing about that targets the open hardware community. But we must admit, it sounds like a lot more fun than a European river cruise!

[Thanks Akiba]

Touring Component Markets in Shenzhen

touring-component-markets-in-shenzhen

[Al] recently returned from a trip to China. While there he toured some of the component markets in Shenzhen, the electronics assembly epicenter of the world. While he doesn’t focus too closely on what is actually being sold there, we found his description of the markets themselves and other notable attractions around the area quite interesting.

Shenzhen is different from some of the other component wonderlands we’ve heard about ([Ian Lesnet's] tour of Akihabara in Japan comes to mind). First of all it may be a bit more difficult to get there. US Citizens need a Visa to enter China, and must fly to Hong Kong and take a ferry to the mainland. [Al] reports that the traffic is horrendous and rush-hour can turn a ten mile ride that usually takes ninety minutes into a three hour tour… a three hour tour!

The side affect of the market being out of the way is that the prices aren’t as inflated as they may be in more geek-tourist-friendly locations. That being said it also sounds like the vendors are interested in selling you a few thousand units rather than a single component. Follow the link at the top for the market tour, a stop at Seeed Studios (who will apparently sell you a map of the best markets to visit), and the rest of the attractions that [Al] encountered.

MIT Media Lab’s month in Shenzhen

mit-media-lab-month-in-shenzhen

When you’ve got a month worth of blog postings it’s pretty difficult to choose one photograph that sums it all up. This one shows the tour group from MIT Media Lab in ESD garb ready for their tour of Okano SMT and Speaker Factory. It was part of a tour of Shenzhen aimed at bringing graduate students up to speed on what it means to manufacture products in the city. Luckily, Freaklabs member [Akiba] was one of the staff members of the program and blogged extensively about the experience. At first glance his page full of post abstracts looks really boring, but click through because both his recount and the commented images associated with each day are fun and fascinating ways to tag along with the group.

If you’re really good with faces you can pick [Bunnie Huang] out of the lineup above (he’s the third from the right). He had the original idea for the program and brought aboard a few others to help make the thing a success. The group toured a wide range of factories and parts markets in the city. This included your traditional electronics manufacturing venues but there was even a side trip to a diaper and feminine napkin plant to see the non-electronic factories in operation. In addition to tours there were lectures by industry members like HAXLR8R, a group that specializes in helping start-ups navigate the manufacturing jungle.

[ch00ftech] Visits a Shenzhen Market

On a business trip, [ch00ftech] visited a Shenzhen electronics market and documented the trip. Some of the attractions included multiple Apple stores of questionable authenticity, stores selling PC components with no manuals, drivers, or packaging, and a variety of LEDs and lasers.

[ch00ftech] showed off the loot from the trip, including breadboards, perf boards, LED matrices, and an RFID reader all for very low prices. There’s also the Class 4 laser pointer that cost about $120 and has a power output of “between 500 mW and 8000 mW.” Given the 500 mW power restriction on lasers sold in the US, it’s fair to say that this thing should be handled with care. Hopefully the included safety classes actually block the specific wavelength of the laser.

The staff in these stores were very knowledgeable and knew part numbers and inventories by memory. One of the biggest surprises was just how low the prices were.  While Radio Shack has started to carry some more parts for hackers, it seems that nothing stateside can compare these Chinese electronics markets.

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