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In a recent interview, Elon Musk gave us a look inside his new Tesla Assembly Factory in Freemont, California. He made some very good points on the high level of automation, which seems to explain most of his current manufacturing problems:  1. Don't introduce too much new technology all at once I have found that to be very true for some of the products we have developed as well. Moving from a version 1, to version 2 to version 3 in a deliberate fashion, means that you can keep the amount of new stuff at a manageable level, so we can confidently continue to assure full reliability.  2. Making the machines which make the machine is the hard part Many people don't realize how much work is needed to design, build and optimize the electronics assembly process. Even if we do not use any robots, we always need to build testing jigs and write testing software. We take great pains to design the assembly SOP in close cooperation with the assembly plant. During the pilot production runs, we do a lot of process optimization, to assure the assembly line reliably delivers reliable products. 3. There are limits to what Assembly Factory Automation can achieve Elon Musk will need more workers (including himself!) to...

The reason we're buying such a large % of electronics from China, is no longer cheap labor, but China having the most complete and cost-effective ecosystem of component manufacturers in the world.To build an iPhone you need a lot of different parts: touch screens, camera modules, batteries… Many of these are custom made in China, and unfortunately, there are simply no suppliers of these kinds of parts left in the US.  Assembly in the US of custom electronic parts from China is a logistic nightmare  Every custom part is a new product in itself, which especially in the beginning will need some adjustments. If your first shipment of 10,000 LCD’s has a wire which turns out to be a little too long, if you're buying your electronics in China you just send them back to the factory, 5 minutes down the road They will send the fixed units back within 2 days. If those same LCD’s would have been shipped to the US, it would be in a batch of 100,000, the shipment would take 3 weeks, and after discovering the problem the screens would all have to be shipped back and forth again. Meanwhile the assembly line is dead for 6...

If you need a new electronic product manufactured, then the fastest and lowest cost way to get this done would seem to find an ODM factory in China which already makes very similar products. They have the leanest design and cost structure, the experience, the buying power and the large production volume which allows for the lowest cost. On top of that, the fee they charge to customize a product to your specifications is often only symbolic.It all sounds very tempting, but having developed electronic products with factories in China and Taiwan for 20 years I’d like to share a few of my lessons learned: 1. Be aware you have no ownership The changes you are requesting will be modifications to the design which is the Intellectual Property (IP) of the factory. You may be working with the factory for a year, and pay them quite a bit of money in the process, but if in the end you decide to part ways, they will not allow you to take the design elsewhere, so you will need to start from scratch. One more reason to pick your partner very carefully. 2. Make sure you have a firm spec It’s best to have your specifications...

As Ben Joffe shows in his presentation below, prices of quite a number of consumer products have come down very rapidly. The XiaoMi Yi camera for example equals or bests the GoPro Hero on virtually all specs, while selling for just $65. Mind that the prices listed in the graph are China retail prices, in the US it sells on Amazon for $97.Another important aspect is the increasing speed at which products come out. As Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics, is quoted: “Before you had six years, now you have six months“.Exciting and scary at the same time, China’s supply chain is clearly still unparalleled, especially for anything custom: housings, LCD displays, batteries, PCB’s, packaging…The first samples and production batches of custom parts often have issues. To avoid being crippled by shipping costs and delays, final assembly needs to be done close to the factories making the components. And when you’re having most of the parts made and assembled in China, nothing makes more sense than having the design done there as well.The trick of course is to harness the power of this supply chain beast to reap the benefits while avoiding IP infringements and other China manufacturing pitfalls....

Q1 of 2015 saw a record 128 electronic projects raise at least $100K each on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Reaching $100K is often considered a successful campaign, and many think that the founders can take this money to a factory and just get the stuff made. The 4 out of 5 hardware campaigns that don’t manage to ship in time show that most teams still underestimate the DFM (Design For Manufacturing) process. A number of factors complicate things: Arduino is too expensive Companies like Arduino, Sparkfun and SeeedStudio have developed great electronic modules which are easy to connect and program; making it easy for a programmer and a bizdev guy to quickly throw a prototype together and put it on Indiegogo or Kickstarter. For a prototype pricing of these modules is not bad, but for mass production it will not give you a price level the market can accept. Competitive components take time There are much more affordable Bluetooth and GPRS modules available, especially in China, but first you need to order samples, which means interacting with a multitude of vendors, and not all of them are fluent in English. Then you test the alternatives, and often will find that the ones with the best price/performance...

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