Friday Hack Chat: Making in Shenzhen

China is an amazing land of opportunity, and if you want to build anything, you can build it in Shenzhen. This city that was just a small fishing village a few decades ago has grown into a cyberpunk metropolis of eleven million and has become the manufacturing capital of the world. You’re probably reading this on a device made somewhere around Shenzhen.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about manufacturing in Shenzhen. We’re bringing in a very special guest for this one: [Naomi Wu] is a Cantonese DIY maker, professional web dev, transhumanist, electronics reviewer, occasional Hackaday contributor, vlogger, 3D printerer, advocate of women in STEM, SexyCyborg, and a riot on Twitter. [Naomi] also lives and works in Shenzhen, and is tapped into the DIY and maker culture there. She’s created 3D printed pen testing shoes, a Raspberry Pi cosmetics case, and infinity skirts.

This Friday (or Saturday, depending on which side of the date line you’re on), [Naomi] is going to be talking about manufacturing, making, DIY, and Shenzhen culture. Of particular interest will be electronics purchasing and manufacturing in Shenzhen, designing wearable projects with an emphasis on power and thermal design, documenting projects, and Shenzhen culture. This is basically an AMA, so if you have any questions you’d like to ask, throw them up in this spreadsheet.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. Hack Chats are usually at noon, Pacific time on Friday. This week we’re doing the Hack Chat a little later, because timezones. This week’s Hack Chat will be at 6 pm PDT Friday / 9 am CST Saturday. Confused? Here’s a time and date converter!

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Defeat the Markup: Iphone Built by Cruising Shenzhen

[Scotty Allen] from Strange Parts, has just concluded a three month journey of what clearly is one of the most interesting Shenzhen market projects we have seen in a while. We have all heard amazing tales, pertaining the versatility of these Chinese markets and the multitude of parts, tools and expertise available at your disposal. But how far can you really go and what’s the most outrageous project can you complete if you so wished? To answer this question, [Scotty] decided to source and assemble his own Iphone 6S, right down to the component level!

The journey began by acquiring the vehemently advertised, uni-body aluminium back, that clearly does not command the same level of regard on these Chinese markets when compared to Apple’s advertisements. [Scotty’s] vlog shows a vast amount of such backings tossed as piles in the streets of Shenzhen. After buying the right one, he needed to get it laser etched with all the relevant US variant markings. This is obviously not a problem when the etching shop is conveniently situated a stones throw away, rather simplistically beneath a deck of stairs.

Next came the screen assembly, which to stay true to the original cause was purchased individually in the form of a digitizer, the LCD, back-light and later casually assembled in another shop, quicker than it would take you to put on that clean room Coverall, you thought was needed to complete such a job.

[Scotty] reports that sourcing and assembling the Logic board proved to be the hardest part of this challenge. Even though, he successfully  purchased an unpopulated PCB and all the Silicon; soldering them successfully proved to be a dead end and instead for now, he purchased a used Logic board. We feel this should be absolutely conquerable if you possessed the right tools and experience.

All the other bolts and whistles were acquired as separate components and the final result is largely indistinguishable from the genuine article, but costs only $300. This is not surprising as Apple’s notorious markup has been previously uncovered in various teardowns.

Check out [Scotty’s] full video that includes a lot of insight into these enigmatic Shenzhen Markets. We sure loved every bit of it. Now that’s one way get a bargain!

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Source Parts on TaoBao: An Insider’s Guide

For hardware aficionados and Makers, trips to Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei have become something of a pilgrimage. While Huaqiangbei is a tremendous and still active resource, increasingly both Chinese and foreign hardware developers do their sourcing for components on TaoBao. The selection is vastly greater and with delivery times rarely over 48 hours and frequently under 24 hours for local purchases it fits in nicely with the high-speed pace of Shenzhen’s hardware ecosystem.

For overseas buyers, while the cost of Taobao is comparable to, or slightly less than AliExpress and Chinese online stores, the selection is again, many, many times the size. Learning how to effectively source parts from Taobao will be both entertaining and empowering.

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Books You Should Read: The Hardware Hacker

There’s no one quite like Andrew ‘Bunnie’ Huang. His unofficial resume begins with an EE degree from MIT, the author of Hacking the Xbox, creator of the Chumby, developer of the Novena, the first Open Source laptop, and has mentored thousands of people with dozens of essays from his blog.

Above all, Bunnie is a bridge across worlds. He has spent the last decade plying the markets of Shenzhen, working with Chinese manufacturers, and writing about his experiences of taking an idea and turning it into a product with the help of Chinese partners. In short, there is no person better suited to tell the story of how Shenzhen works, what can be done, and how to do it.

Bunnie’s The Hardware Hacker ($29.95, No Starch Press) is the dead tree expression of years of living and working in Shenzhen, taking multiple products to market, and exploring the philosophy that turned a fishing village into a city that produces the world’s electronic baubles.

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Akiba: Shenzhen in 30 Minutes

Multi-talented hacker extraordinaire and electrical engineer [Akiba] is based in Japan, and this makes it just a hop, skip, and a jump over to Shenzhen, China, the hardware capital of the world. He’s led a number of manufacturing tours aimed at acquainting hackers with the resources there, and now he’s giving you the benefit of his experience in a 30-minute video. It’s great.

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Founding A Company In Shenzhen For Eight Days

Nadya Peek is one of the hackers that should require no introduction for the regular Hackaday reader. She is a postdoc at the Center for Bits and Atoms at the MIT Media Lab. She’s responsible for Popfab, a CNC machine that fits in a suitcase and one of the first implementations of a Core XY stage we’ve seen. Nadya has joined the ranks of Rudolf Diesel, Nikola Tesla, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and George W.G. Ferris by having a very tiny piece of the Novena laptop bear her name. She’s built cardboard CNC machines, and taken the idea of simple, easy to build printers, routers, and drawbots worldwide.  She just defended her thesis, the gist of which is, ‘How to rapidly prototype rapid prototyping machines.’ She’s also one of this year’s Hackaday Prize judges, for which we have the utmost appreciation.

This year, the organizers of the Fab 12 conference on digital fabrication in Shenzhen turned to Nadya and her team to bring their amazing experience to conference attendees. A workshop was in order, but Nadya didn’t have time to organize the logistics. The conference organizers made a deal: the Center for Bits and Atoms would teach a workshop, but getting all the materials and electronics was the responsibility of the organizers.

Upon arriving at the Shenzhen Sheridan, Nadya found the organizers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The cardboard, motors, electronics, and glue were nowhere to be found. A “rider” doesn’t quite translate from English, it seems. This is Shenzhen, though, where you can buy all the cardboard, motors, electronics, and iPhone clones you could imagine. What was the solution to this problem? Founding a company in Shenzhen for eight days.

Half a tourist’s guide to Shenzhen and half a deconstruction of what goes into cardboard CNC, Nadya’s talk for the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference covers what happens when you have a week to build a company that will build machines that build machines.

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Ask Hackaday: What Should Father Christmas Bring From Shenzhen?

Imagine this, you have a friend who grew up in Shenzhen, China. The place from whence all your really cool electronics come these days. They speak Chinese in a way only someone born there can, and given that you know them through a shared interest in hardware hacking you can assume they know their way round those famous electronics marts of their home town.

Now, imagine that in a rash move, your friend has offered to pick up a few bits for you on their next trip home. A whole city-sized electronic candy store opens up in front of you, but what do you ask for them to seek out?

Before you continue, consider this. Why has Shenzhen become the powerhouse of electronic manufacturing (and everything else) that it is? Economists will give you pages of fascinating background, but if you want a simple answer it is that those electronics are produced for export, and that its citizens are only too happy to export them to you. Therefore if you want to get your hands on electronics from Shenzhen you do not need a friend who is a native of the city, all you need is a web browser and a PayPal account.

We have all become used to seeking out the cool stuff and eagerly waiting for a padded envelope from China Post a week or two later, so there are very few items that are worth putting a friend to the extra task of finding. At which point you realize that it is the candy store rather than the candy itself which is so alluring, and you ask your friend for a video walkthrough with commentary of their travels through the electronics marts. Oh, and maybe a Chinese Raspberry Pi with red solder resist, just for the collection.

If you had a friend about to board a plane to Shenzhen, what would you ask them to find for you that you can’t just buy for yourself online? Remember, nothing that’ll land them with awkward questions at either airport, nor anything that’ll land them with a hefty customs bill. That’s a very good way to end a friendship.

Huaqiangbei skyline image: Edward Rivens (PD) via Wikimedia Commons.