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
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
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.