I am just beginning to gather my senses from the past roughly 80 hours of sensory overload. In fact, I’m going to spend most of today writing this instead of going on more exploratory and scouting missions, because I can tell that if I let this keep going on, I’m going to have to write a book in one sitting (not that I haven’t before).
For some backstory, I was supposed to visit family in Beijing this month, but decided to take the opportunity of being in the neighborhood (i.e. the same continent) to visit one of the premier locations for manufacturing, hardware, and making – Shenzhen, in southern China. In 2 weeks, I’m also going to be in Tokyo for a few days, which is going to be its own entire set of shenanigans.
Shenzhen is the direct result of a central economic planning bureau deciding that they really liked this small nondescript fishing village and that it should become a world center of manufacturing and industry, so let’s throw money and power at it. It appears to have worked for the most part. For the actual story of SZ, there’s Wikipedia.
Inspired by posts like bunnie huang’s and many others detailing the electronics marketplaces in the city, I decided it was worth my while to check it all out in person. Interestingly enough, I have had past experience with visiting electronics/mechanical parts markets in China. In 2007, I was once again on a family visit, and I ran around a few of the neighborhoods with high concentrations of this kind of industry. Sadly, that was all on a previous version of the site which did not survive a server move a few years ago. Maybe I’ll put those pictures back up when I dig them out of my storage drives later.
Since my interests are primarily in the mechanical/fabrication side and overlapping into electric vehicles as well as pure electronics hardware (boards, fab, enclosures, packaging), one thing I’m trying to do is a bit of scouting for those who want to build more hardware. Needless to say, I’m a little weary of the term “hardware” being co-opted to basically mean stuffing a printed circuit board, but I understand that to what was mostly software people, that’s hardware. My hardware tends to weigh more and have higher tensile strengths.
What I’ve noticed in the past two days of shifting around the market crowds is that the infrastructure of both procurement and mentorship (the hardware startup accelerators, the makerspaces) is well-established for those making electronic hardware. Like in many parts of the world, I suspect the mechanical side is hidden away in dedicated industrial spaces, so part of my own mission in the short time I’m here is to scout those places out a little, and perhaps lay some groundwork for future explorers, a bit of a mechanopunk Roald Amundsen.