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A Big Week in China

By: Modular Robotics

I just got home from a long week visiting suppliers in mainland China and Hong Kong; saying hello in person, touring the factories, eating big Cantonese lunches, and figuring how to optimize for Quality, Cost, and Speed, in that order. Dave, our Head of Manufacturing, was with me and is still there for a second week visiting six more suppliers.  It was a pretty intense trip: we drove all around Southeast China, stayed in a different weird hotel each night, visited one or two factories each day, and sweated like crazy in 100 degree heat with oppressive, dense, saturated humidity.

I’ve written here about a couple previous trips to China: the first one in 2009 with Bunnie and crew, and the 2013 trip that resulted in our big decision to build a factory in Boulder.  In between those trips, there were 5 or 6 more solo trips as I set up the supply chain for Cubelets: custom plastic injection moulds, magnets, circuit boards, stamped steel parts.  These trips weren’t particularly easy or fun: long factory days, lots of driving, lots of translating, and a lot of alone time to contemplate my culture shock.  By 2013 I was nursing a solid China hangover and was ready to take a break from the transpacific flight routine.

Fast forward to last Saturday.  It’d been more than two years since the last trip, my China hangover had faded, and we headed out again, first to Hong Kong for a couple of days.  I haven’t spent too much time in Hong Kong, usually it’s straight to the Futian border checkpoint, but we built in an extra day to acclimate and wander around.  Dave and I hiked up Victoria Peak from Central (I’ve never sweated so much), took the tram down, and I got to check out the Bank of China Tower a little more closely.

I.M. Pei’s Bank of China Tower

I think it’s a beautiful building.  You know, for a skyscraper.  I did a little project on I.M. Pei, the architect, freshman year in architecture school (1995!), so was pleased to get up close.  See those two spires on top?  When the building was proposed, the drawings didn’t have them, and the local Feng Shui folks declared that the building was going to be totally bad news.  Too many X’s or something.  Negotiations were had, money changed hands, and the two spires were added to balance out the building and tip it back into the good fortune side of things.  Anyway, I like the spires.  Here’s what it looks like at night, after a few beers.

The Bank of China Tower and Central at night, from Tsim Sha Tsui

Then to the mainland, for factory visits in Shenzhen, Dongguan, Guangzhou, Conghua, and Fo Gang.  We packed it in, had a lot of great discussions with manufacturers, and saw a ton of production lines.  I’m mostly concerned about auditing the factories for environmental and human rights metrics, and was impressed.

I’ll freely admit that this trip wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for me: it was exhausting, I missed home, modbot, exercise, and fresh air.  But it was productive for Modular Robotics, and we made some decisions on the ground that will strongly influence our next few years.  I’m glad I sucked it up and went myself: Modular Robotics is having a greater and greater impact in the world, and I feel like I need to understand that firsthand.  But it’s really good to be home.

Connie, KL, Mickey, Dave, me, and Patrick at Jetta
Dan, me, Dave, Sharen, and Carrie at Kin Yat.

Want to hear something amusing?  I flew thousands of miles around the world on a tightly planned and critical business trip, and I spaced and left my laptop at home.  Like a moron.  Early the morning that I left, I was all packed and ready, and I pulled out my MacBook to send a couple of emails.  I was hoping for a quick response on one of them, so I left the machine open on the dining table, took a shower, and then grabbed my bag and left for the airport.  I realized my mistake while I was standing in the security line at DIA.  There wasn’t anything I could do about it, so luckily my brain mostly skipped panic and went straight to resignation: “maybe it’ll do me good to get out from behind that thing for a week.”  Maybe it did.


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