Hackers Beware: Shenzhen Is Closing

If you’re among those of us with immediate plans for a PCB or parts order from China, watch out – Shenzhen just recently got put on a week-long lockdown. Factories, non-essential stores and public places are closed, and people are required to spend time at home – for a city that makes hardware thrive, this sounds like a harsh restriction. Work moves to remote where possible, but some PCB fabs and component warehouses might not be at our service for at least a week.

It might be puzzling to hear that the amount of cases resulting in closures is as low as 121, for a city of 12.6 million people. The zero-tolerance policy towards COVID has been highly effective for the city, with regular testing, adhered-to masking requirements and vaccinations – which is how we’ve been free to order any kinds of boards and components we needed throughout the past two years. In fact, 121 cases in one day is an unprecedented number for Shenzhen, and given their track record and swift reaction, it is reasonable to expect the case count dropping back to the regular (under 10 cases per day) levels soon.

Not all manufacturing facilities are located in Shenzhen, either. Despite what certain headlines might have you believe, supply chain shortages aren’t a certainty from here. A lot of the usual suspects like PCBWay and JLCPCB are merely reporting increased lead times as they reallocate resources, and while some projects are delayed for now, a lot of fabs you’d use continue operating with minor delays at most. SeeedStudio has its operations impacted more severely, and your Aliexpress orders might get shipped a bit later than usual – but don’t go around calling this a Chinese New Year v2 just yet. For those who want to keep a closer eye on the situation and numbers, the [Shenzhen Pages] Twitter account provides from-the-ground updates on the situation.

Wondering how your supply chain might be affected? We’ve talked about this way back in February 2020, addressing then-warranted worries that Chinese New Year would grow into a longer disruption than planned due to COVID becoming into a factor to manage. If you’re yet to discover the significance of Shenzhen, books have been written on this marvellous city, where you can build a successful hardware company in a week’s time. We’ve even had a meetup there once!

Header image: Charlie fong, CC BY-SA 4.0.

43 thoughts on “Hackers Beware: Shenzhen Is Closing

  1. A lot has been written about the chip shortage but the last few months my experiences and what I’ve picked up on social media is that things aren’t so bad any more. Seems you can find parts now, prices are way up but also seem to be coming down. A week or two delay for any reason is not unusual even in typical situations. World is changing all the time though, hope everyone is safe.

    1. Not with politicians anywhere around! This is economists 101. .. those with the most to loose, worry too much and then loose .. In the northern hemisphere, the only way to wage a war and survive is cut off the supply chain. What is exactly what Russia and China are doing!

    2. A lot of stuff is out there but not in useful quantites or reliable enough supplies for commercial use – try designing a product requiring a microcontroller that you want to make 1000’s of units a year for the next few years… you wouldn’t want to stake your house on it.

      1. One ends up having to break a few DFM rules… like modular population-option daughter boards with generic 0.1″ headers. ;-)

        And taking a risk prior to lab certification, where you now have to warehouse spools of potential e-waste with slowly oxidizing contacts still in the bag. People experienced with dodgy supply chains cam help recover some inventory (paste adulteration), but in general expect QC yields to drop a bit,

        The market is not as bad as last year, but the part delays can still stack up pretty fast.

  2. I currently have two sets of boards in production at JLCPCB and spoke with one of their online support assistants. When asked if my boards would be delayed in shipping, he told me that my boards would not be delayed as production was not in Shenzhen. YMMV.

  3. Ouch. I guess it’s unsurprising, considering the amount of people who leave Shenzhen to visit family over the New Year holiday, that there might be an uptick in cases a few weeks out from them returning… 🤔

    It’s impressive–and certainly to their credit–that the numbers are so low. I wish we were that on top of it here in the US, but the second you try to take measures which inconvenience anyone in the slightest, people here lose their damn minds. 😬

    Stay safe, stay vaxxed, and stay masked everyone. 🤞💉😷

      1. Would appreciate! This comment section turning into a general “COVID policies worldwide and in China in particular” is understandable – it’s a topic on many people’s minds, everybody has an opinion on it since it’s affected so many of us. It, well, also distracts from what the article is actually about, and it’s one of these topics that only derails further into completely unrelated territory as it continues =(

      2. Sorry about that…. Just dislike what ‘fear’ has done to the world economy and to people… including us over here. Only watch and wonder. I’ll stay off off that sore subject….

        As for board making, I suspect there are still plenty of board houses out there. Of course, like parts to actually populate the boards … the houses may be back logged. Hate to see any place ‘shutdown’.

  4. Good on them for not treating their own people like a disposable resource during this crisis, or saying that millions of deaths are inevitable because “muh economy” (Which translates to “corporate profits” and “stock market value”).

    It’s a thing the continental chinese, vietnamese and the republic of china are handling really well.

    1. Living in a country that has gone from aiming for zero COVID to letting it rip – it seems so far letting rip is causing less issues than trying to prevent it.
      Some hospitals are struggling under the increased load but they were struggling with day to day load pre COVID. Just the usual piss poor management that couldn’t implement a normal business plan let alone any form of effective disaster management.

      Interesting observation here most new cars are in tight supply but the Chinese brands don’t seem to have an issue with prompt delivery

        1. Pretty sure I’m in the same country as Saabman.
          I disagree vehemently with the let it rip approach ‘causing less issues’ as the result was more hospitalisations and deaths for one state (run by a very young ideologue premier) who against the heath advice decided to ‘let it rip’ last December.
          This same state – which, despite plenty of hubris – had failed twice before on keeping COVID under control, in turn infecting other more careful states. And then had the impudence to requisition vaccines as a priority from those other states!
          I live in a neighbouring state were there was far more care taken (a ‘health before profit’ approach) and whose premier had a tougher approach that was very, very well supported by the population, and that was to lock down the state borders and go hard on extinguishing outbreaks whilst people were getting vaccinated for first and second doses. It turned out to be the better approach.

    2. Ummm…. This is China you are talking about. They literally welded the doors shut on buildings trapping all residents inside due to a single case. Why??? They wanted to host the Olympics.

    1. I stopped worrying about ‘buy American’ when I got treated like dirt as a small enterprise. Not going to buy 1K PCBs from us? You get gouged. I still buy from US distributors. Too many counterfeits offshore.

      1. I completely agree. Every once in a while, I’ll go to OshPark just to check prices, then quickly place my order on JLC. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have the US pcb fab houses for times when you would rather not have our design copied. But for everything I do, I could not honestly care less about that.

    2. I’d love to buy European for as much as possible but JLC aren’t just a little bit cheaper, they’re easily 1/10th the price, and for a lot of stuff it’s hard to justify 500+ euros of company money for a little test jig or something but 50 euros or 25 euros is an easy win.

      Aside from cheap labour I don’t know what JLC etc. are doing differently to the European board houses?

      1. Well, my local PCB manufacturer has very high environmental constraints… I am really not convinced that these companies care as much. Of course, quality is much (!) better as well (tested that myself a few times – typical Shenzhen PCH company is not able to produce a solder mask with the same quality).

  5. >In fact, 121 cases in one day is an unprecedented number for Shenzhen, and given their track record and swift reaction, it is reasonable to expect the case count dropping back to the regular (under 10 cases per day) levels soon.

    S. Korea also had a fairly successful strategy until one month ago:

    The same will happen in China, eventually. Without herd immunity to Omikron they will not be able to open.

    1. Yes, the zero-covid strategy has no real end game. Covid will not be eliminated, at least without far better vaccines. The rate of mutation makes that pretty unlikely. So China’s current approach will continue to have lockdowns for the foreseeable future. That implies Chinese economic growth will be much lower.

      The current US national strategy of vaccination and eventual “endemic” status pays the pain sooner. If there weren’t so many anti-vaxxers it wouldn’t be so bad. The prior Trump strategy of head-in-sand was a disaster, though. And, the politicization of the vaccines and safety precautions made it even worse. Probably half a million unnecessary excess deaths.

      I predict China will come around to treating it as endemic once they get a more effective vaccine than Sinovac.

  6. Interesting. Our country is roughly the same headcount as Shenzen and we have now around 8k of positive tests per day. Which is actually quite a small number after previous records.
    I’m guessing, is it really worth it, for the Chinese, to be prolonging their lockdowns etc. anymore?

      1. Well, we (Czechs) have just barely made it to the top ten. But we also had a lock of lockdowns, so it looks like, you can have both. Government oppressions and big death tool, at the same time.

  7. Oh go jump, there’s nothing of the sort in the article. And as someone who lived in a city which had one of the longest lockdowns globally, I find your gibberish offensive. It was crap to live through, but it worked. That our neighbours who didn’t have as bad an outbreak then proceeded to screw the pooch for everyone doesn’t change that fact.

    1. There are actually 17 countries ahead of the US in deaths per 1M.

      That said, China is #213 right now, and for those that don’t believe China’s metrics, multiply them by 100x and they’re still only 143rd on the list

      1. It makes sense that a country that fully locks down an entire city over a very small number of cases would likely have smaller numbers of cases reported.

        Some analysis estimates that China’s reported numbers are 170 times too low, which puts them much higher on that list (source: Forbes “Beijing Is Intentionally Underreporting China’s Covid Death Rate”).

    1. I agree Nobbler, nobody could expect anybody in China to test or report accurately if they knew that their own sickness was going to cause their entire company to be locked down for weeks at a time. Even in a country like China, where blind loyalty to the government has been drilled into the head of every person from the day they could speak, basic self-interest will cause people to try to avoid testing positive. This self-interest-driven reluctance to report goes all the way up the chain of authority, as was seen during earlier epidemics in China in years past. The authority wants to see low numbers, so that is what the authority will get. (Sources: Reuters “China’s official H1N1 death count suspect”, “Before coronavirus, China bungled swine epidemic with secrecy”)

  8. Regardless of the new COVID outbreaks, the Chinese authorities have, overall, handled the pandemic in their nation pointedly. Watching the little amount of news feed allowed to leave the nation in Autumn 2019, I was somewhat amused by TV images of some citizens being literally dragged — a few even invertedly by their legs! — back into their residences to help contain viral transmission.

    As the months passed and Covid-19 became a global pandemic, I couldn’t help but notice how China’s strict handling of its own outbreak, while allowing little rights and freedoms to its people (and maybe even internal/external big business), likely enabled a relatively short duration of its initial crisis.

    Perhaps with greater democratic freedom can come weaker national security, and vice versa. While I wouldn’t exchange my (Western) freedom for such national security, it is still foolish to pretend a national-security sacrifice isn’t being made in exchange.

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