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Expedition Shenzhen - a unique travel study program for future product developers

Many of our students have developed their own programmable gadgets from concept to prototype. To my delight, a few have set an ambitious goal of taking their products to the commercial market. To help them experience the startup culture, maker movement, and introduce them to manufacturing, I traveled with them to China’s Pearl River Delta. This experience was designed from the ground up for them to better prepare for the next steps of product development so that they can make their ideas a reality and get them to market.

to Shenzhen sign
Code Hobbits Expedition to Shenzhen, China

The group arrived to Shenzhen and spent the first day acclimating to Chinese culture, food, and weather. We traveled to Coco Park in Futian District, Shenzhen where we stayed in the Hotel Somerset. Our location was central to many of the sites we visited and allowed us to regroup each morning and evening after long days of exploration and presentations.

Code Hobbits students arrive in Shenzhen
Student group arriving in Shenzhen

On Monday, the group attended presentations at SEG Maker, a maker space located in the largest building in HuaQiangBei, the electronics market in Shenzhen. The presentation focused on why Shenzhen has grown to be the hub that it is today, as well as an overview on the entire lifecycle of product development.

Code Hobbits students at SegMaker+
Students in the Seg Makerspace lobby

We then visited the Sino-Finnish design park and the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab to learn more about the industrial design process and how products can be designed in Shenzhen in collaboration with factories to ensure that you design will work with manufacturing processes.

Code Hobbits students outside Sino-Finnish Design Park
Students outside Sino-Finnish Design Park

We finished the day with a visit to Seeed Studios, an IOT and rapid development focused tech incubator in Shenzhen. We toured through xFactory, their onsite development and fabrication laboratory and learned more about what incubators and accelerators can do to help get a product off the ground and to market quickly.

Code Hobbits students at Seed Studios xFactory in Shenzhen
Students at Seeed Studio

On Tuesday, the group traveled back to HuaQiangBei to visit TroubleMaker, a maker space and incubator located in the sourcing hub of Shenzhen. At TroubleMaker we were given a presentation on the importance of sourcing your parts and materials efficiently, things to look out for when choosing a factory to do business with, and important information on how to be successful establishing and maintaining business relationships in China.

We were then given all of the pre-sourced materials to assemble our own 4K Action Sports Cameras. We went through the activity pretending that we were assembling these cameras for commercial sale in order to better understand the complexity of design for manufacturing and the precision required to create the commercial electronics we use everyday.

Code Hobbits students in Shenzhen, China
Students receive kits to make their own 4K Camera

Code Hobbits student soldering a camera on a circuit board
Student soldering the camera component on the circuit board

Code Hobbits students playing with a camera they built
Students playing with their brand-new-off-the-soldering-station 4K camera

Code Hobbits Expedition team posing with the cameras they just made
The entire Code Hobbits crew with their brand new cameras

Finally, with our camera’s built, we were given the challenge of finding an SD card to use inside the camera by searching through the market and bargaining for the best price we could find. In HuaQiangBei, you must be wary of counterfeit electronics and drastic overpricing. The winner of the sourcing challenge was Ariv, who found his 64GB SD card, tested that it worked, and purchased it for 25 RMB or $3.68 USD.

On Wednesday and Thursday, students focused mostly on DFM, or Design for Manufacturing, skills. We were taught what thinking and design must be done before you send a product, model, or design drawing to a factory to make sure that it will be feasible to manufacture. Wednesday was focused entirely on electronics design such as PCBA, or printed circuit boards, while Thursday was devoted to the mechanical side of things including housings and enclosures for the PCBAs.

Code Hobbits students at a PCBA factory in Shenzhen
Students visiting a PCBA factory

Thursday’s visit taught us more about the mechanical design side with tours of machine shops, injection molding facilities, and prototyping workshops. We got to see the process of creating steel molds and then saw them in use for the rapid production of plastic parts using the injection molding process and ABS plastics. This information will help students to better understand what is feasible to manufacture and what is not.

Code Hobbits students at a machine shop in Shenzhen
Students at a machine shop in Shenzhen

Friday was our company visit day where we got to visit and tour three major companies based in Shenzhen. We listened to why they believe Shenzhen to be a beneficial location to start a company in the heart of hardware manufacturing. We also learned about options available for venture capital for Shenzhen based companies.

Our first company visit was to UBTech Robotics, a robotics company that makes robots for a wide variety of uses such as search and rescue, fire fighting, education, and visitor greeting and reception. We viewed demos of several of their robots and were able to test out some of their educational models.

Code Hobbits students being welcomed at the UB Tech lobby in Shenzhen
Students at the UB Tech lobby

UB Tech staff showcasing their humanoid robotic products
UB Tech staff showcasing their humanoid robotic products

At Makeblock Robotics, we had the opportunity to demo several of their products, learn about the history of the company, and even build a few of their educational models in a race among teams. Makeblock was very excited to have us in attendance and we enjoyed our time their with them.

Students playing with Makerblock products at their headquaters in Shenzhen
Students playing with Makerblock products at their headquaters in Shenzhen

Our final visit was to Shenzhen Valley Ventures where we learned more about the accelerator process, as well as the available venture capital options for Chinese companies. At SVV we also learned more about the certification process for electronics in the in-house electronics pre-certification lab at SVV. This visit was incredibly informative and helped us to better understand everything that goes into getting a product to market.

Presentation at Shenzhen Valley Ventures
Presentation at Shenzhen Valley Ventures

We finished our final day with a traditional Hot Pot dinner at Coco Park, the shopping area near our hotel. We celebrated a successful and jam-packed bootcamp and enjoyed the delicious food before getting ready to head back to the United States.

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