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Bunnie Teaches Outsourcing to China

Bunnie Teaches Outsourcing to China
Bunnie (left) with MIT Media Lab students being lectured on some of the more subtle aspects of mold and tool design.
Bunnie (left) with visiting students as they’re shown some of the more subtle aspects of mold and tool design during their China immersion experience.

Having a hit product is both thrilling and terrifying. We’ve all seen it play out. A great idea becomes a cool product made in small volume by an excited maker. The snowball of success rolls downhill gathering speed and mass. The maker quickly finds he can’t keep us with demand. SPLAT! The large snowball runs into some immovable object. At this point a regrouping takes place, schedules slip, and costs mount. How can we makers learn to better cope with success? Or better yet, plan for it?

One way to avoid problems is through education. It’s in our nature as makers to pick ourselves up after a fiasco, figure out what went wrong, and try again. However this form of education is preceded by failure and hence is not optimal. Another way is to learn by studying others’ successes. As hardware lead on the Chumby and writer/educator on manufacturing in China, Bunnie Huang has plenty of experience to draw upon and lessons to share.

From his roost in Singapore, Bunnie has just completed a four-part series on outsourcing to China. He wrote his tutorial for visiting MIT Media Lab graduate students, but as with so much of what Bunnie does, he’s making it available to the world.

The four parts are:

It’s not yet easy for pro makers grow to larger-scale production. It’s still early days. There’s much to be figured out as the ground swells with innovative new products from the maker community. Bumps in the road are to be expected, but with the generous help of experienced people like Bunnie, we have roadside assistance till the path smooths.

46 thoughts on “Bunnie Teaches Outsourcing to China

  1. Yohsn Dough says:

    Great! just what we need. Teach how to move more jobs off shore.

    1. Bob Warfield says:

      I agree Yohsn. Offshoring is a mess, especially for small companies of the kind Makers will be a part of. Even big companies with lots of resources have trouble realizing the savings they thought they’d have. Here’s a piece I did on Boeing’s offshoring experience:

      If you’re a Maker, you can figure out how to get it done right here!

  2. lol says:

    Your actions are unethical unless workers in China are paid the same fair wage, and protected against unfair treatment. However, people are literally dying to get out of the dystopic parts of China, and you know this fact. Even Apple couldn’t get the China Government to enforce its own working standards against child labour. This is because many of China’s top government elite (or family members) are integrated into business.

    We pay new comers the same fair wage, and typically several times higher than domestic opportunities. You really need to bridge the language and cultural gaps to understand the pressures normal citizens of China face on a daily basis. Rather than feeling empowered, people often feel a loss of face, and in fear hammer down any critic of an unfair system.

    Profiting from someone else’s misery while funding their own subjugation. Lenin observed “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

  3. Tell MAKE Magazine What You Think About Offshoring! - CNCCookbook CNC Blog CNCCookbook CNC Blog says:

    […] on over to the MAKE article and leave a comment telling them what you think about it, and tell them CNCCookbook sent you.  Let’s get the […]

  4. Kris Lee says:

    I think that you are dumb to blame this.

    Instead create similar knowledge base for US or EU.

    If you like to blame someone then blame our politicians to not keeping the inflation in check.

    Only reason China actually can manage these prices is that price of living (food, accommodation) is much cheaper there.

    1. blinded1 says:

      Every four years I repeat what I said before: “the politicians I elected last time sucks”, and I think I am going to do this for a long long time.

  5. Broadwing says:

    Bunnie’s got wonderful talent and some pretty good making skills, but every other thing on his blog (and MAKE) other than (the highly recommended) Name That Ware is ‘Learn Chinese, it’s the future!’ or ‘how to work with your oh-so-cheap Chinese ODM’. Yeah, we get it already, if you’re making mass-market tat you need to navigate the Made in China minefield. Problem is most of us are more interested in doing our own stuff, or trying to get some manufacturing here, rather than trying to become a designer/outsourcer superstar.

    1. TravisGood says:

      You make a great comment, Broadwing. This post was for those who outsource for a reason such as needing large scale production. Bunnie’s article has the context of China because he lives in Singapore, has worked many projects in Shenzhen, and cut his teeth outsourcing to China. However, much of what he teaches us applies to outsourcing in general whether the production site is China, Mexico or Ohio.

  6. Remmar Gorpa says:

    Make went to the dogs a while ago. Its just that now we don’t have to read between the lines. Goodbye make. You’ve kida sucked already.

  7. markie says:

    Bunnie makes some good points about the process of offshoring, potential hazards, potential gains, etc, but local manufacturing is a much more viable solution for small and sometimes medium runs, especially if you’re dealing with multiple processes.

    The advantages of working with a local manufacturer during the first iterations of your product are perennially underestimated, and the hidden costs of moving abroad (time, travel, delays, customs, miscommunication, etc) are huge. It’s far easier to drive an hour and sit down with your manufacturer. If there are any issues, he’ll just call you on your cell phone.

    There is a point when going abroad makes a lot of sense, it’s just later in the process.

    1. TravisGood says:

      Agreed, thanks for making this point.

  8. Paul J. Ste. Marie says:

    While there’s certainly some very good stuff coming out of China (Golden Phoenix’s PCBs come to mind), there’s no reason that you “have” to go there, either at small scale or at large scale. The indirect costs of large scale production in China are well documented, from prison and child labor to environmental disasters to IP theft. Any one looking to ramp up production needs to take a very close look at who exactly they’re working with, and the risks of dealing with companies outside the jurisdiction of any functional legal system.

  9. Annie B. says:

    I am appalled. My family has subscribed to and been makers for years. Maker Faire falls on my daughter’s birthday and she has been all but one year at her request for her birthday. That you would suggest outsourcing instead of sourcing to the legions of makers young and old, locally, that you have helped create, to me is unconscionable. You had an opportunity to teach folks how to turn a hobby into an income, and to make a supply chain of the makers you helped create. Instead you shipped jobs and inspiration off to China. I don’t think I want to renew, or even go this year. If last year was any indication, there will be even less hands on and more people selling kits and crafts.

  10. t-bird says:

    Why shouldn’t an ethnic Chinese in Singapore promote outsourcing to China? The fact that there aren’t similar, competing campaigns for insourcing speaks volumes.

    Manufacturing is cool and ramping up production is exciting and Make is writing about it. Can we do it here? Can we Make our way around the domestic obstacles? I don’t know, but it’s certainly a worthy challenge.

  11. MAKE | Your Comments says:

    […] the article Bunnie Teaches Outsourcing to China, markie […]

  12. Alan Hooker says:

    China is cheaper? Damn right , if you ignore the future of this country. As China builds they learn. Skilled trades get better and better. So do the engineers and tool makers. At some point they will have no reason to build our produces they will be designing their own. Eventually as our manufacturing base of engineers , tool makers, and skilled trades wither and age out the combined knowledge base will fade away never to return. When it is gone it will be too late. Once that happens there will be no where else to go except back to China for all our needs. Can we really afford to allow that to happen ??

  13. D S says:

    We have a ways to build manufacturing here in the USA with new and innovative tools and now we can learn to pile drive that progress to the ground by outsourcing more of it to China. Way to shoot yourself in the foot for future growth

  14. AD says:

    Total rubbish article, as soon as you offshore and split design from manufacturing you have just bought into the “Management Consultant” approach to innovation and manufacturing.

    Dear Make magazine, who “paid” for this article?

  15. Trader451 says:

    Dear Make, I think we should take your jobs and offshore the to some 3rd world karp-hole. The audacity of you to advocate offshoring in these hard times people are having in finding work. PS the offshoring model is old news anyway……………

  16. rkward says:

    Wow, if I hadn’t already cancelled my subscription years ago I would be doing it now due to this article alone. Way to go in using your publication irresponsibly to “MAKE” things worse.

  17. John Mann says:

    TEACH people how to complete globally by in-sourcing here in the USA.
    The main reason things are done cheaper in China is there are no labor laws, no EPA laws, no OSHA laws, the Chinese governmen subsides it’s companies and on and on and on….

    Make it right here with American labor, American materials, American machines! Put your mother, your father, your brother, your friend to work here!

  18. msome says:

    You make it pretty clear on what you think of human rights and our environment. Do you know how easy it would be to produce items cheaper than we can buy the material for if we were able to pollute and use child labor to fill the orders. Why are we even trading with a country like this? There should be an environmental tariff on every import. Well IMHO we are seeing a reverse in the offshoring. I think this article may be ten years too late.

  19. B Murray says:

    Typical short term outlook people like you shouldnt be giving advice to any one corperates
    do it so they can exploit cheap labour and still change high prices for there products then move on. I am in New Zealand and went to a machinery auction as they had started getting parts manufactured off shore and now after about a year it is cost as much there to make as it was in New Zealand shipping cost are increasing and they have lost all there manufacturing power look at your history the 2 nd world war was won by by American manufacturing power and now people like you are telling manufactures to go off shore for a few Dollars the social problems you you create probably cost more than the money made by the few business men sound more dangerous that the terrorist but then who is the real threat.

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