What we are trying to do with Makible is pretty different from how products are currently brought to the market. Two key points is that the initial volume for production is quite low — within 500 to 1,000 units of an item — and the other is the speed to market, which we are working on one to two months to start with.
This is in comparison to the market average of around 5,000 pieces to start a production run, and a lead time of four- to six-months to get the products in consumers’ hands.
In order to accomplish this, we have to go about things a little differently. The first step is to find a reliable way to get the plastic parts made for a reasonable price within the short time we are working on.
Last Thursday, I traveled to see the facilities for Star Prototype in Zhongshan, China which is an hour-and-a-half ferry ride from Hong Kong up the Perl River. I'm pretty happy with what I found, and I think it will be a good match for Makible projects as we get started.
Generally, if you mention that you want to make a small number of pieces of something to a factory in China, they will wish you good luck and show you the road. On the other hand, this factory specializes in making high-quality, low-volume parts for reasonable prices.
You can read about the history of the factory on their site, but the end result is that they get a lot of interesting projects coming through, from automotive to consumer goods, and pretty much anything in between.
The factories they have are both quite clean and well-run. Here, usually you don’t see this, except in larger factories, because the smaller mom-an- pop factories cut corners to stay competitive. In this case, instead of fighting on cost, Star Prototype focuses on quality and speed. Their costs are pretty competitive, but the time and quality make that more reasonable when factored in.;
One thing that was interesting to see was how hands-on Gordon Styles — the owner — was. He has learned enough Mandarin to converse fairly well with staff and anyone else that comes along. During the meeting preparing for the trip, he was quite explicit in making sure that all the potential safety issues were covered.
The company canteen, where we ate lunch along with everyone, has good food and serves all the workers three meals a day. It is actually kind of hard to explain the difference between Star Prototype and other Chinese factories. I guess some of it comes from having been to so many factories in the past, so I know there is a difference, but it is difficult to be specific about why. One good indicator that the workers are happy at a place is the turn over. In China, if you spend the time to train a worker so they have some useful skills, they will pretty immediately jump to another company. I was told that their company turnover is extremely low and I would believe it based on what I saw.
The tooling factory was a good size. Without spending too much time explaining the process and the specific machines that are in the photos, the gist is that it was also clean and well-run. For a shop of this size, they have a good range of equipment that allows for a high throughput of projects.
They have enough injection machines in house to run tests and small production run,s and it is always possible to tap into the local resources for when demand outstrips what they have in-house.
You can find them on Facebook, as well as Twitter: @StarPrototypeCN.
About the Author
Jon Buford founded Makible.com, a Hong Kong based startup crowd funding, making, and distributing crowd sourced products for niche problems. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonbuford and check out makible.com.