Sonoff Factory Tour is a Lesson on Life in Shenzhen

Judging by the popularity of “How It’s Made” and other shows of the genre, watching stuff being made is a real crowd pleaser. [Jonathan Oxer] from SuperHouse is not immune to the charms of a factory tour, so he went all the way to China to visit the factory where Sonoff IoT devices are made, and his video reveals a lot about the state of electronics manufacturing.

Test jig for six units at once

For those interested only in how Sonoff devices are manufactured, skip ahead to about the 7:30 mark. But fair warning — you’ll miss a fascinating discussion of how Shenzhen rose from a sleepy fishing village of 25,000 people to the booming electronics mecca of 25 million that it is today. With growth supercharged by its designation as a Special Economic Zone in the 1980s, Shenzhen is now home to thousands of electronics concerns, including ITEAD, the manufacturers of the Sonoff brand. [Jonathan]’s tour of Shenzhen includes a trip through the famed electronics markets where literally everything needed to build anything can be found.

At the ITEAD factory, [Jonathan] walks the Sonoff assembly line showing off an amazingly low-tech process. Aside from the army of pick and places robots and the reflow and wave soldering lines, Sonoff devices are basically handmade by a small army of workers. We lost count of the people working on final assembly, testing, and packaging, but suffice it to say that it’ll be a while before robots displace human workers in electronic assembly, at least in China.

We found [Jonathan]’s video fascinating and well worth watching. If you’re interested in Sonoff’s ESP8266 offerings, check out our coverage of reverse engineering them. Or, if Shenzhen is more your thing, [Akiba]’s whirlwind tour from the 2016 Superconference will get you started.

[Hans], thanks for the tip.

24 thoughts on “Sonoff Factory Tour is a Lesson on Life in Shenzhen

    1. Lots and lots and lots of full employment … like Good’Old ‘Merika in the 1950 … when everyone had a job, a house and a mortgage.

      No angry slobs to be seen, no psychos, no tabs of lard.
      They must be doing something right.
      Very right.

  1. On the how it’s made tv show, most of the time, I’m more interested in the machines that make the things, than the things themselves. The timing on a lot of those lines has to be EXACT, or what a mess you will have.

    1. Get a tour of your local plastic bottle maker!!! Our local company is “Plastipak”.

      Its amazing, plastic pellets and a roll of labels goes in, and finished bottles come out the other side in fractions of a second. :D

      The machines are amazing, heating the pellets, injection molding the threads and the neck, then blow molding the bottle shape, cooling, label, then ejecting the finished bottle.

      Oh, and the machine that does this is rotating at 600 RPM, it is literally all happening at a blur.

      (They will have all the individual steps and what the bottle looks like at each step on display).

      It’s just really cool to see 100’s of these machines going, 1,000,000 bottles in an 8 hour shift, per machine. ;D

      The visual inspection and packaging system is really cool to… Any bottle with a defect is hit with a puff of air to knock it off the conveyor. Then all the good ones get all packed up into boxes.

      Industrial automation is fascinating.

      1. now if all those bottle were to be recycled… the world would be a better place.
        Unfortunately, lot’s of bottles end up in places where they not belong (sea, woods, rivers, etc.)
        And with the numbers you are mentioning above… you are actually scaring me!

      1. That’s what I’m planning to do with the S20 I mentioned earlier. I don’t trust these IoT-devices and I am definitely not comfortable with the idea that it can be controlled over the Internet — nope, I want such devices confined only to my internal network and preferably with custom firmware. Thankfully, it’s not exactly difficult to roll my own firmware for the ESP8266 in the S20.

  2. I’m not that surprised that they don’t have the overhead, volume, or engineering budget to automate the final assembly. There are tons of industries, and not just in China, where automating every aspect simply doesn’t make sense. You use the automation you can buy off the shelf, and just train workers for the remaining aspects. By the time you paid for all the custom full automation, most products won’t be on the market anymore. It’s only the very tippy top of the consumer markets, like Apple, where total roboticization makes any sense, and even they use human workers for assembly.

    1. “… they don’t have the overhead, volume, or engineering budget to automate the final assembly.”

      I doubt that is the case, rather it is more doing it “the Chinese way”.
      Those two (2) hour “lunch break” seem to be a reflection of a cultural thing rather than productivity per se with machines worth a lot of money sitting idle?
      Providing full employment to gazillions of workers might be another social responsibility assumed by the company. Or perhaps the Communist Party COMMANDS them to do that. We will never know …
      But it seems to work.

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