What I was amazed to learn on my trip to China

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit manufacturers in China with Dragon Innovation. I couldn’t have traveled with a better team - Scott Miller, Herman Pang, and the Dragon team are experts in the Manufacturing scene there.


(This article was originally posted as a guest blog on dragoninnovation.com)

It was an important trip for me because China is really becoming the heart of manufacturing, with 65% of all hardware being built within a very small area.

The trip was also important because many of our Workbench customers are using the software to collaborate with Chinese factories. I wanted to understand the collaboration problems from the “other side”.

I have visited hundreds of factories in the US as well as Eastern and Western Europe, but China blew my mind. The creativity and efficiency I saw there really amazed me.

Fast and efficient manufacturing for less money


With Ben Einstein of Bolt.

The biggest impression I came away with after this trip was that Chinese factories are incredibly disciplined. Both the workers and engineers are 100% focused on getting the job at hand done. In lock step with their dedication to discipline is efficiency. Despite what you might think, if automating an assembly line makes sense, they don’t hesitate to do so. And when they do, they come up with solutions that would amaze even the most efficient German engineers!

The Chinese factories I went to are always looking for ways to drive more value for their customers, many of whom are in the US. They are striving to manufacture hardware faster and at less cost- and are creative at doing that. For example one factory explained how they needed Bluetooth as part of a particular hardware product they were manufacturing. So they actually created their own Bluetooth solution and had it certified, allowing them to manufacture for much less.

Collaboration between China and the US


Presenting to the factory executives.

For the Chinese, another key element to creating value for overseas customers is improving the methods of communication and collaboration. A lot of factories are looking to expand their business beyond their traditional OEM products. They want to start doing more prototyping and co-design with their customers in America and Europe. The question is how do they do that.

The typical factory that I visited had more than 20 CAD users. Pro/ENGINEER is the dominant software used but SolidWorks is clearly gaining traction. While the idea of PLM for file management seemed promising as a solution, the people I spoke to were extremely dissatisfied with PLM tools. PLM is too expensive, too hard to train their engineers on and not useful for the collaboration that is so crucial to them.


Like many people, my impression of Chinese manufacturers was based on the idea of cheap labor and simple products, and I have to say it was completely turned around by this trip.  I also learned a lot about how hard it is for American companies to work with their Chinese partners.  It’s clear to me that American companies really benefit from a partner who can help them navigate the cultural divide.  A partner like Dragon Innovation can really help US companies avoid making critical mistakes early in the relationship.

The other key takeaway from my trip is that distributed teams is the future. We started GrabCAD with the theory that designing, engineering and manufacturing will continue to get more distributed as teams seek highly specialized skill-sets. In the past it has been difficult if not impossible to coordinate a toolmaker in Guangzhou, a simulation engineer in Kiev and a product designer in Boston but now it is becoming a reality. China proves the the hurdles to collaboration are coming down as the manufacturing industry gains experience working in new environments, software, culture and so on.

If you’re working with Asian suppliers, I’d love to hear your comments about what you learned and what mistakes you may have made early on.

  • james

    Very interesting article as it puts to bed the preconceived ideas of cheap labor and products lacking in quality,from my own experience it was all about making a solid relationship with your manufacturer and any issues with a product being made were rectified quickly as they wanted to have your business long term not just a one shot deal.
    Thanks for posting

  • James,

    thanks for your comments. This is exactly true – good Manufacturers in China (and there are lot of them there) care about the relationship with their customer a lot.

    And they they are very effective and provide great quality. I can’t wait the source of this but I heard that 65% of Hardware is being built in China. This number is high for a reason and it’s not only cost.

  • Jon,

    that happens and that’s why finding a right Partner (this is core what Dragon Innovation can help you with) is so crucial. If you have the right partner and motivation on both sides, everything is solvable.

  • Michael

    Multiple times, over the last 10 0r 12 years, we have had tooling (plastic injection molds) made in China. We have used a number of difference shops. Including what we were lead to believe is the largest, and best, mold shop in China. Yes, the cost of the tool, with shipping, was about half what it would have cost domestically. But the quality was nearly non-existent. And the repairs were costly. In the end they wound up costing us more. We don’t deal with Chinese mold shops any more.

    • Hi, thanks for sharing your experiences. Can you tell us a little more? How did you find the shops you were working with and in turn, how did you vet the shops? (in person? Skype? telephone? email?)

      And from there, how was the process managed? (in person?skype? telephone? email?). We’ve definitely heard the stories about what can go wrong when you don’t actually have an inside source/person on the ground in China to manage or vet shops where decisions are often made as a result of an Alibaba search. It can be hit or miss.

  • David

    Hi Hardi Meybaum,

    Yes, a partner is very important for your developing under help of Chinese inside person. But no too much worries, now it is very easy to fly to everywhere and traffic condition is better and better in China. In the big cities like Shanghai, you can find the talents who know manufacturing and can speak in English.

    best regards,

    Happy a new horse year!


  • A very interesting account of your trip of manufacturers in China. I think the collaboration between China and the United States will greatly improve the current approach to manufacturing on both sides. We have a lot to learn from each other.

  • Darkhan

    I work with more factory from China, from Qingdao city, Beijing, Hefei. I am From Kazakhstan and we install wind turbines and solar panels, and use inverters and controllers. I think that their goods are besser from year to year.

  • This is what I have found too in discussions and interviews I have done on ‘All Things 3D’

  • jon

    well it’s a start, but my company still operates in America because our methodologies allow us to maximize profits and compete against China’s slave labor and we still overpower china in innovation and our ability to move new ideas to market, this can only make promoters of china envious. we don’t share our system because we wish to remain competitive.

  • Nice to hear positive comments about manufacturing in China. There are some very capable people working there, both local and foreign, and clearly some very respectable brands having product designed and manufactured in China.
    My experience there however is very different from Hardi’s. On my first trip to China to sign a design contract with a large manufacturer I picked up Paul Midler’s book “Poorly Made in China” and read most of it on the flight.
    My experience subsequently turned out very similar to some of the tales of treachery, deception and blatant negligence related in Paul’s book.
    I don’t condemn the Chinese people or Chinese manufacturing in general for the problems that ensued. In fact the management team that was at the heart of the problems (and tried to cover them up) was from New Zealand. However the company’s owner was well aware of the critical issues and participated fully in the coverup and total denial that followed.
    It wasn’t a trivial matter like a detergent having the wrong scent or the cardboard boxes being too thin. It was a product that could have had, and could still have, serious personal safety consequences. Unfortunately I have friends who relate similar tales.
    The point I would make is that there is both good and bad practice in design and manufacture pretty much wherever you go. I suspect professional standards are generally very good and improving in China, but there is still a lot to be desired in the mind set of some manufacturers there, and regardless of their nationality.

  • That’s a good keep it up in china people use logic in work that’s a good job.

  • Raul Hidalgo

    China Market is Progressive and hard working new thing are make it.

  • Raul Hidalgo

    Congress starting new company .