One of the recommendations from a presenter was the book Poorly Made In China. The book was written by Paul Midler, from the perspective of an agent who deals with importers who are trying to have their products manufactured in China. Usually he is brought in when there is a communication problem and things are failing. In each of the chapters he writes about something that went wrong. Sadly (for them), many of his stories follow the same company.
There are many lessons to glean from this book, which at ~250 pages was an investment of half a day with potential returns of many times that.
Some of the lessons, shortened and made generic:
• Listen to the people you pay for advice who have expertise in the field you need. In a few of the chapters people were bull-headed and ignored what was staring them in the face, or passed over expertise that was offered because of past experiences.
• There are many cultural differences that make working with manufacturers in China difficult, and they are not the stupid things like offering gifts. There are some ways of thought that are completely non-western and thus may seem illogical but aren’t. They often don’t understand the product they are making or why it is designed or functions the way it does, and thus don’t understand how minor modifications to it can be critically consequential.
• Without constant supervision, manufacturers will do everything they can to make or save money. This includes selling ghost product, replacing parts with cheaper parts, skipping quality control, ignoring safety, and many negotiation tactics that are designed to the benefit of the manufacturer and not the importer. They could destroy tens of thousands of dollars worth of product by saving a few dollars on a cheaper part, and they won’t tell you they changed the part.
The book is pessimistic, largely because the author is often brought in when things fail. It’s a road-map of landmines to avoid and tricks.
Bob Baddeley is a software/hardware engineer from the USA. In 2012 he was chosen for a Chinese hardware startup accelerator to work on his product, the Portable Electronic Scoreboard. His articles can be found on his blog www.engineerinshenzhen.com.