There’s a long-held notion that China should be the go-to place for those in need of inexpensive manufactured products, but some prominent makers don’t buy it. Our own John Biggs sat down with Adafruit Industries founder Limor Fried (perhaps better known as Lady Ada) for a chat on the Disrupt NY stage that quickly turned to deal with the benefits of manufacturing hardware close to home.
When Adafruit needs to make some injection-molded cases, they don’t run to China — they turn to an experience Canadian supplier. The same goes for the multitudes of printed circuit boards that Adafruit needs, except they reach out to a company in Colorado instead. One would imagine that the end results aren’t quite as cheap as if Adafruit has just linked up with Chinese vendors, but Fried says the price difference isn’t as substantial as it used to be.
“If you’re a small company, the risk is very high,” she noted, before pointing out that rising wages in China are contributing to a shrinking gap between products crafted in Asia and in North America.
Adafruit’s general preference for North American manufacturers is mostly because it’s much easier to have trusted people on the ground to make sure things are going as intended — there’s a certain level of ambiguity that comes into play when smaller businesses place an order to a supplier halfway across the globe and trust that things are completed as planned. These sorts of arguments aren’t exactly new — Makerbot founder and CEO Bre Pettis said that makers who produce relatively small 50,000 to 100,000 unit product runs were better off keeping the manufacturing process in the United States because of the benefits of proximity.
Adafruit’s approach to manufacturing isn’t just a function of what it makes, it’s based on the company’s vision. In case it wasn’t already clear Adafruit Industries definitely isn’t your average electronics manufacturer — Fried refers to Adafruit as a “tutorial company or an educational company with a gift shop at the end.” It deals with plenty of open-source hardware projects, and the team provides its users with the necessary CAD files and instructions to get those homebrew gizmos up and running. In theory, a person interested in cobbling together an Adafruit project doesn’t need to buy anything from them, but Adafruit has done well financially by providing those parts just to lighten the load on prospective tinkerers.
It’s a refreshing take on the process of hardware production and sales, and it seems to be doing rather well — Adafruit Industries saw $4.5 million in sales in 2011, and Fried was named Entrepreneur Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year at the end of 2012.
Originally posted here: Limor Fried Explains Why Adafruit Industries Likes Manufacturing In North America
Less than two weeks ago, shares of Apple slipped after an announcement by iPhone manufacturer Foxconn that it was freezing hiring at several Chinese factories ignited concerns about falling demand for the Cupertino-based company’s devices. As it turns out, there were several other possible reasons for the freeze, including the glut of workers returning after breaking for Chinese New Year and Foxconn’s focus on implementing robotic workers.
As the robot initiative points to, Foxconn’s concern is not too many workers, but too little. Bloomberg Industries reports that Foxconn and several of its competitors, including Quanta Computer, Pegatron, and Wistron, are opening plants further inland in China because of labor shortages in the southern coastal province of Guangdong, a main manufacturing hub.
Over the past two years, Foxconn has doubled its China workforce to 1.2 million and it now needs to find workers in other parts of the country to meet manufacturing demand, says Bloomberg Industries analyst Jitendra Waral. Moving inland won’t save the company money because wages in western Sichuan province and central Henan, where Foxconn makes iPads and iPhones, have jumped 120 percent over the last six years due to economic growth and are now similar to those in Guangdong.
Last May, Foxconn chairman Terry Gou said that the company will double the minimum salary in its Chinese manufacturing bases by the end of 2013. The company initiated pay raises after 11 employees of its Shenzhen factory committed suicide in the first half of 2010. But the move was more than just a public relations ploy: migrant laborers, which Foxconn has relied on in its Guangdong factories, are opting to stay put in their home provinces of Sichuan and Henan thanks to dramatic wage increases due to economic growth.
Furthermore, China’s working-age population (people aged 15 to 59) was hit with a rare decline in 2012, decreasing 3.45 million to 937 million, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, which also predicts that the decline will continue to 2030.
Despite the increase in capital expenditures for manufacturers, consumers probably don’t have to worry about seeing an increase in retail prices soon. As analyst Horace Dediu notes, Apple has maintained iPhone pricing stability for over five years. But while Apple enjoys high margins for its products, it looks like Foxconn’s slice is going to get even thinner. Foxconn is already making do with extremely slender margins of about $8 per iPhone.
Despite paper-thin margins, however, being part of Apple’s supply chain is still desirable, Edison Investment Research analyst Dan Ridsdale told the Financial Times in September: “Apple suppliers make much higher margins than the rest of the industry, and because Apple only has one leading model of phone, the suppliers are in all of the 200 million or so devices that Apple will sell. In contrast Samsung will have many more models and suppliers will be in some but not others of these.”
You can now add a 3D-printed car to that list.
The Urbee 2 is a three-wheeled hybrid assembled entirely from parts spat out of 3D printers, reports Wired. Just as Makerbot and Form 1 have changed the way we perceive manufacturing, Urbee is seeking to change the way we build cars.
Urbee is the brainchild of Jim Kor and his team at Kor Ecologic, a company solely dedicated to the future of 3D vehicle manufacturing. Their website expands upon their grand vision for the future of the automobile.
Kor’s aim is to make the cars of the future light, energy-efficient and easy to manufacture.
The manufacturing process of the Urbee takes place entirely inside RedEye, a 3D-printing facility that was also used to produce the world’s first 3D-printed motorcycle. Kor says one of the virtues of 3D printing is the added flexibility that’s impossible to produce with sheet metal. Instead of producing a multitude of parts that would be assembled later, the 3D printers can spit out a single, unibody part that makes manufacturing simpler. Kor simply uploads the models for each part into the printers, and 2,500 hours later, Kor has all the plastic parts he needs to assemble his car.
Kor has assurances that the Urbee will be perfectly safe to drive out on in the road. “We’re calling it race car safety,” Kor tells Wired. “We want the car to pass the tech inspection required at Le Mans.” And the car isn’t entirely made of plastic. The engine and the base chassis, of course, will be made of steel.
Good luck, Urbee. You may look like an oversized computer mouse, but you’ve come a long way from the days when you looked like this.
Starting today on The Next Web, we’re running a new video series, Suitcase Startup. We’ll be following Chris Bradley every fortnight as he relocates from his home in north Wales to London to launch a startup. He has no office, no accommodation and no money, but he will meet some interesting people along the way.
Chris came up with the idea for Publicate while working in the LCD manufacturing business in Amsterdam and Taiwan. Now he’s pursuing his dream and we’ll be following him to see how he fares and what he learns as he meets other entrepreneurs along the way.
So, here’s episode one. Look out for the second in two weeks’ time. You can read more about the project and the people behind it at the Suitcase Startup website.
The Pebble Smart Watch, a clever little watch that connects to your phone via Bluetooth (and tells time), has officially started to ship in limited quantities. After the product’s Kickstarter campaign blew up, receiving over $10 million in funding after only asking for $100K, the company faced issues with manufacturing and distributing such a high volume of orders.
The Pebble was originally set to ship in September after reaching its funding goal on May 18, 2012. inPulse, the company responsible for the Pebble among other smart watches, missed that original shipping date, and also missed the holiday season. But at CES in January, designer Eric Migikovsky promised that the Pebble would begin shipping on January 23, and so it has.
There are a few small caveats to the good news, one of which being that the iOS app isn’t immediately available. This means you’ll still get notifications and have control over Music, but the ability to install watch interfaces or update the PebbleOS won’t be available until the app is approved — or rather, if it’s approved.
The Android app, on the other hand, will be live in Google Play tomorrow morning.
The other caveat is that only 500 units of the Pebble went out today (inPulse was “held up by documentation at the airport”). This means that they accidentally sent out more confirmation emails than Pebbles.
So if you got a confirmation email this morning, you may not receive a tracking number for a few more days. But don’t panic, mass manufacturing is ramping up at the factory and the team reports that “it’s going to take some time before we reach our maximum capacity, but we’re getting there.”
Here’s a video from the front lines:
Original post: Pebble Is Shipping, But Slowly, And Without iOS App Approval