Scotty Allen Visits Strange Parts, Builds an iPhone

Scotty Allen has a YouTube blog called Strange Parts; maybe you’ve seen his super-popular video about building his own iPhone “from scratch”. It’s a great story, and it’s also a pretext for a slightly deeper dive into the electronics hardware manufacturing, assembly, and repair capital of the world: Shenzhen, China. After his talk at the 2017 Superconference, we got a chance to sit down with Scotty and ask about cellphones and his other travels. Check it out:

The Story of the Phone

Scotty was sitting around with friends, drinking in one of Shenzhen’s night markets, and talking about how bizarre some things seem to outsiders. There are people sitting on street corners, shucking cellphones like you’d shuck oysters, and harvesting the good parts inside. Electronics parts, new and used, don’t come from somewhere far away and there’s no mail-ordering. A ten-minute walk over to the markets will get you everything you need. The desire to explain some small part of this alternate reality to outsiders was what drove Scotty to dig into China’s cellphone ecosystem.

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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.

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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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