Manufacturing guy-at-large.

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Photos from an antenna factory in Shenzhen

Added on by Spencer Wright.

This past July, Zach and I visited The Public Radio's antenna supplier in Shenzhen. I had only a vague idea of how antennas were made, and it was interesting to see the process in person. It was also fascinating to see a shop that relied so much on manual and mechanically driven machinery. 

A few observations:

  • This shop manufactures a variety of parts, with the defining feature being that they're made of tubing. For our antennas, the process works basically like this:
    • Tubing is bundled together with zipties and cut to length by wire EDM.
    • Tubing ends are swaged in/out.
    • Sections are assembled into a single telescoping unit
    • Meanwhile, end fittings are manufactured from solid stock. This happens either on the automatic turret lathes, or on single-operation manual machines (lathes/drill presses).
    • End fittings are installed on the telescoping antennas, again using swaging/forming processes.
  • The whole operation was decidedly low tech and manual - almost disturbingly so. It would seem very difficult to control quality - which I guess should be expected when you're looking at a niche, and rather inexpensive, commodity product.

A few of the photos have notes on them - click to show.

Photos & notes from a visit to the Shenzhen electronics malls

Added on by Spencer Wright.

When Zach and I were in the Pearl River Delta for The Public Radio in late July, we took a few trips to the infamous Shenzhen electronics malls. A few notes:

  • This is an ecosystem. Calling them "malls" kind of misses the point. Western style malls are just the end of the supply chain; the Shenzhen electronics malls are almost a full supply chain unto themselves.
  • I don't know how many independent businesses actually work in these places, but it seems like it must be in the high four figures at least. Many of them (especially on the lower floors) don't seem to be any bigger than a chair and a tiny countertop; others are weird outposts owned (apparently) by major international brands.
  • Everywhere in the malls, work is being done. I can't stress this enough - people are doing real, tangible work. This is perhaps the most striking part about them, and it contrasts directly with what we're used to in the US (where teenagers at Abercrombies mostly sit around, stock shelves, and run credit cards). You don't even have to look that hard - at the mobile phone mall on the south side of Shennan Middle Road, there are people at almost every shop who are literally putting phones together in plain view. Similarly, at Huaqiangbei you can see people (for instance) making wire assemblies at their tiny counters. The fact that you're buying services is totally apparent here.
  • *Nobody* was phased by our presence. There were very few white people in sight (especially on the upper floors, and at more obscure malls), but (aside from small children) nobody really cared that we were there at all.

As a final note, a rather remarkable thing happened since we returned from China. My old MacBook Pro had a hardware failure, and the problem appeared to be the hard drive cable (apparently they tend to go bad on my particular model). I ordered a new one on Amazon, and when a week went by (I hadn't really looked at the shipping time estimate), I checked to see its status. Well it turns out that the cable was sent to me directly from Shenzhen. I have no way of knowing, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if it came from one of these malls.

Photos from on the street in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Dongguan

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Last week, while in the Pearl River Delta on a sourcing trip for The Public Radio, Zach and I spent a bunch of time on foot exploring. These are fairly random, and do NOT cover our time spent visiting manufacturers in the area - those will come soon :)

(If you click on a photo and then hover over it, you'll see my notes!)

Thanks *so* much to Dragon Innovation, who helped us plan & manage our trip - and to my friend Dan Hui, who was an excellent tour guide in Hong Kong & point of reference for our whole trip.

Photos from the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Last Friday, I visited the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant with NYCELLI. The plant processes all of the waste water from Northern Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, and is a really impressive facility. 

Random Things in Taiwan

Added on by Spencer Wright.

A couple months ago I visited Taiwan with Brilliant Bicycles, and toured a number of bike industry factories. These are my non-factory photos from the trip.

Fulton Center

Added on by Spencer Wright.

The Fulton Center opened today, after 12 years and $1.4B in spending. I stopped by after work and wandered around - which I'd recommend that you, dear reader, do as well. It's the closest thing we have to an actual modern subway station, and that's pretty cool.

If you're looking for an actual description of the space & its launch, check out Second Avenue Sagas - it's good.


Added on by Spencer Wright.

From February, 2010:

What I wrote about this part then:

This is part of a drawbar for my Steinel horizontal mill.  I decided to make it in two pieces - a 3/8" rod, threaded on one end, which slips into a cap that was turned from 1" rod.  This is that cap.  It took a few steps to make - little while in the lathe, a few minutes in the mill, little while back in the lathe.  It's not quite finished - I gotta TIG the two parts together tomorrow - but jeez, I'm finally close to getting this machine set up.


Added on by Spencer Wright.

Got this back from Shapeways a week or so ago. 

To recap, this is designed to be installed in the hotshoe of a Sony A7, in order to improve the grip stability & feel.

I still need to do some post-processing & try the part out. I'm excited to put it together.

Shop Visit: EXOVault

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Today I met up with an internet acquaintance to drop off some of my rack ends. I needed to do a bit of lathe work, so we met at a shop that he's associated with, which is also the manufacturing facility for EXOVault.

Besides their crazy iPhone cases, EXOVault makes some really interesting CNC machined aluminum eyeglass frames. It was *really* cool seeing their build process around the shop.

Their fabrication shop was a treat to see, and had a couple weird things hanging around - like this:


I love seeing shops. If anyone knows of a shop that I should see, please let me know!

Old models

Added on by Spencer Wright.

These are robot door parts I designed in 2012. And I gotta say, this (the black rod in the middle of the photos) was a dumb but kinda clever solution to a shitty problem.