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MIITO is simply but intelligently designed to heat any liquid directly in a vessel while cutting down on excess water and energy usage.
MIITO is simply but intelligently designed to heat any liquid directly in a vessel while cutting down on excess water and energy usage.
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6,052 backers pledged €818,098 to help bring this project to life.

Exploratory trip to China

Posted by MIITO (Creator)
35 likes

Dear Backers,

After the last update, many of you were concerned about our decision to manufacture in China. I (Nils) just came back from a factory trip to Shenzhen and Beijing (organized and subsidized by HW Trek) last week, where I took lots of photos and videos. So this is not a typical progress update, but rather I thought I would share some of my learning from this trip with you:

First of all, let me start by saying that I am not vouching for all of manufacturing in China - I am only talking about the things I saw during my one-week trip.

WHY I WENT? 

MIITO was selected as one of 30 startups to join this year’s “Innovation Tour” organised by HWTrek. The purpose of the Innovation Tour is to introduce startups and young companies to manufacturing in China. It was a perfect opportunity for me to explore manufacturing possibilities in China and to verify the many myths about Chinese manufacturing myself!

WHAT I SAW?

During my trip I got to see many different facilities with different types of expertise:

  • two assembly factories (in house plastic injection molding and final assembly)
  • two testing facilities (physical and chemical + radio frequency and safety) 
  • two PCB (electrical circuit board) manufacturers
  • a display manufacturer
  • a huge manufacturer for smartphones (and, weirdly, cars, batteries and much more)
  • a packaging factory
  • a prototyping factory

WHAT I LEARNED?

Manufacturing / Production

  • Factories in China are easily 4-5 storeys high, with heavy manufacturing machines across all floors. This is truly impressive and something I have never seen before in Europe. However I noticed that none of them ran at full capacity: I saw entire manufacturing halls and assembly lines unutilized. This should mean good news for startups as even established factories are looking for new customers. There are even factories that set up company units specialised in providing manufacturing services to small startups.
  • Variety of scale and skills: There are factories of all shapes and sizes in China. From small to medium to large - and even the chinese version of large: gigantic! I saw a factory with thousands of employees - but was told on the way out that this was only a small factory. The next day I visited a factory with over a hundred thousand employees. It was incredible to see the large variety of types of products this gigantic factory was able to manufacture, from phones, to batteries, to cars. I had heard about this before but seeing this with my own eyes was mind-blowing! 
  • Packaging and printing: Again, the scale is impressive! Huge printers need to test-print about 5.000 sheets of paper to calibrate to the correct color, and these will all just go to the bin. For example, if you “only” want 5.000 prints for your packaging, you would actually have to print 10.000 sheets and throw out the first 50%! This is why, it is advised to order prints for multiple packaging batches at once, to avoid excessive waste. Packaging is about volume!
  • Confidentiality: You often hear that IP (Intellectual property) protection does not exist in China. However, from what I saw during my trip, I believe that it is all about finding the right partner. For example, during some of the factory visits, I was not allowed to take my phone along, to make sure I wouldn’t take pictures. This showed that the factory was very sensitive to the privacy of its customer information. Testing how a factory handles sensitive information of its other customers is certainly a good indicator for how they might treat yours.
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Environmental / Social:

  • In general, this is a topic that is handled very differently by different companies. I saw two PCB manufacturing facilities that were diametrically opposed about how they treated both their workers and the environment.
  • Working conditions: This is probably one of the biggest worries of so many of us - what are the working conditions inside these factories? How are the workers treated? The answer is mixed. I saw factories that were extremely safe, organized and well managed. The workers wore safety protection and handled the machines with care. On the other hand I also saw facilities where I got very doubtful about the workers’ safety and health. Each factory has different standards, meaning we will need to closely inspect our partners before engaging in a relationship.
  • However, it was reassuring for me to see, that there were also “good” factories, which cared about waste management and working conditions. So just deciding to manufacture in China, doesn’t automatically mean you have to compromise on your personal values.

BONUS:

  • Serious tea commitment: China has a serious commitment to tea, and the tradition and rituals that surround tea preparation are something that I find inspiring! In one of the factories I visited I found a separate tea room that was exclusively used for welcoming clients - and drinking tea!

As a summary, I would say that you can find pretty much anything in China: from really tiny to gigantic, from manual to automated, from environmentally-conscious to unscrupulously polluting, from highly-skilled to unskilled - the whole range of what can be imagined - it is all about finding the right partner!

I am very thankful to HWTrek for inviting me on this intense 1-week trip that was packed with factory visits and allowed me to get a good impression of chinese manufacturing. I am also very glad that we have Crystal on board in our MIITO team, to help us navigate through this jungle of manufacturing possibilities that awaits us there. And I am confident that China is the right place to manufacture MIITO.

This is all for now, we’ll be back with info about the progress soon.
Yours truly,

Nils

Niklas, tom carter, and 33 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Missing avatar

      Armin Saurer on

      Hello nils and the Team of MIITO,
      I do not understand why you want to produce in CN. My experience is that your product will be sold over gray channels in CN before you`ll get your first series and we backers too.
      Please think about producing in Europe, I`m shure you`ll find a factory.

    2. marie.A.r on

      Dear Nils, Jasmina, and the team.
      Since the very beginning I am supporting your project, and I am happy to be one of the very first backers.
      But I do not understand this will to find a manufacturer in China.
      Isn't Europe totally incapable to produce Miito ? Hmmmm...
      Almost everyone here has said what I think about CN and we all have bad experiences with their productions.
      Come on !
      Plenty of companies have already stopped working with CN and they come back to their home countries, whichever it is.
      Please do not be this naive Nils. You have seen/hear what they wanted you to see/hear.
      Hospitality, tea ... ok Asia is known for it... but do not let them pull the wool over your eyes.
      A European (as you are based in Germany) manufacturer must exist.

    3. Missing avatar

      Charlotte Hamill on

      Hi Nils,
      Thank you for this update. It does sound like you had a very positive experience in China. I, however, am among the backers that are seriously disappointed you are considering manufacturing there. My husband works in manufacturing, and through the years we have heard many stories of fraud, worker abuse, intellectual property theft (the company hired steals the ideas, not outsiders walking through the factory), and poor quality. This recent news story should give any manufacturer who is considering China strong pause: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-usa-companies-lawsuits-idUSKCN0Y2131 I would consider the fact that they are hiding behind a government relationship to avoid damages for selling DANGEROUS products to the US market (the dry-wall story is truly horrific if you look into it) instead of taking responsibility or showing concern for those they harmed is a sign that this is not a consumer friendly or considerate place. And if the product can cause this much health damage to the final consumers, imagine what it must have done to the factory workers who produced it. I find general Chinese manufacturing policies highly concerning. One of the things that excited me about the MIITO when I chose to back it is that you were going to be making it in Europe. For me, it will not be the product that I agreed to back if you manufacture in China, and I will pull my bid.

    4. Missing avatar

      Icey on

      I don't think that manufacturing in China is a good idea. I also guess, we will see a lot of cheaper/"fake" versions before we will get our Miito.
      What you see on a "show-trip" like yours is that what you should see.

      I still hope everything will went good, but based on my experience that will get you to a lot of problems.

    5. ziplight on

      ne, wirklich ? In China kann man Sachen herstellen lassen und sie sind nicht ausgelastet.
      OOOOhhh, hoffendlich erfährt das jetzt keiner...
      was das bedeuten könnte !!!
      ztztzt

    6. Francesca Daniels on

      I personally think you guys are doing an amazing job

    7. Missing avatar

      Vittorio Cosma on

      Hi Nils, hi guys,

      unfortunately, the previous comments do all have a point. But, if you've already considered other markets (from Taiwan to US - passing through Germany where you could have direct control of production) and you believe that's the best choice, I want to give you few advices:
      - patent everything also in China: it has to be done separately and the only rule that works is based on anteriority (it won't solve the problem, we will see thousand of copies of Miito on Alibaba in ANY case, but it will help the company in the 10 years after you successfully hit the market - as everyone here cheers for);
      - don't believe that what they will show you as early production prototype is actually what it will come out from the boxes: be obsessive with quality control and check the production as much as you can;
      - consider huge delays: Chinese time can follow its own rules, sometimes you just have to add a 1 in front of what you're told (30 min > 130 min) sometimes everything speeds up against any kind of common sense. But DO consider delays;
      - have ready a second manufacturer that can replace in no time the first one: many things could happen (anything could happen to be precise) and relationships can deteriorate in no time;
      - don't rely on laws, rules or common sense: the only thing that works in China is money;
      - (following from previous) always evaluate the power you have on the manufacturer (i.e. if you pay everything in advance - or if you give a downpayment that covers their costs - you go straight to the bottom of the agenda).

      These are just few tips on the "peculiarities" of China... I believe you should keep everything as simple as possible because nothing will be easy... But whatever you've decided just go for it!
      You have a fantastic product and it deserves to become a reality!

      have a great, exhausting, rich period of work!

    8. Missing avatar

      Jane Kerrigan on

      Thanks for the info.
      Regarding the remark on packaging : if we had to print 10000 sheets to make 5000 boxes we would go out of business. Can I recommend you visit a European packaging plant to compare ? We certainly do more investment in quality assurance through the process rather than creating extra waste and cost during the process. (I work for a major European paper based packaging company.)

    9. blueumbrella
      Superbacker
      on

      Thanks for sharing the information on your trip to China. I believe, if you do manufacture in China, copies of your product will be sold out the back door, long before your backers receive their rewards. You should really be very suspicious of what you didn't see, and know, part of their payment for services, includes your intellectual property.

    10. Mary
      Superbacker
      on

      Nils,
      Thank you for the update.
      I am so disappointed at your decision to make the Miito in China. I only backed you because of your initial KS inference that Miito was all ready to be made, and made in Germany; that all you needed was money to make it happen. Germany= quality. Period.

      At this rate, if you do make Miito in China, rest assured we'll be able to purchase a similar product on Amazon or Alibaba before you even start production. I am so disappointed.

      Please reconsider and find a German or other reputable company who will work with a start up company. Such a decision will make for fewer quality control headaches also.
      Thank you.

    11. Raymond P. Clark on

      Thanks for the update, but I do offer caution here. No company or factory in China works independently from the government, and by extension, its policies. If you should go with a Chinese manufacturing company, I will pull out. As impressive as some of your trip sounds, I cannot believe we cannot find an American or European manufacturing even if it costs more. I was excited by this product because is was American genius at work. Lets keep that genius here please.

    12. Peter Neville-Hadley on

      Nils,

      I wish you and this project the very best, but:

      You went on a tour and we shown a very carefully hand-picked collection of non-representative factories, all of which were prepared for your arrival long in advance. Do you really think there's any meaningful information either on the real conditions or the overall state of manufacturing in China to be learned on such a trip?

      > I noticed that none of them ran at full capacity: I saw entire manufacturing halls and assembly lines unutilized. This should mean good news for startups as even established factories are looking for new customers.

      *All* factories are *always* looking for new customers. If they get more than they can handle they judge who they can make wait with the least penalties, and sub-contract anything else. If their capacity is under-utilised causing financial losses this means the pressure is even greater to squeeze every penny from you and to cut corners, and small start-ups that are not ordering in the same volumes as established companies and that indeed may not survive to order again are a little lower in the list of priorities. Small start-ups are also attractive because of their naivety and lack of experience in dealing with Chinese manufacturing's sophisticated shenanigans. The initial deals will look great. The reality will be different. The conclusion you should be coming to is the opposite of the one at which you have arrived. Expect to invest a great deal more than you initially expect, and especially in quality control, which will have to be permanently vigilant, and require testing every batch, forever.

      > Again, the scale is impressive! Huge printers need to test-print about 5.000 sheets of paper to calibrate to the correct color, and these will all just go to the bin.

      *Nothing* will go to the bin. It will be sold in some form or other, or possibly used by someone to package up excess production of your product to be sold on the side.

      > Confidentiality: You often hear that IP (Intellectual property) protection does not exist in China.

      And you often hear it because it's true. And the inability of you, on one occasion, to use a camera, says nothing whatsoever about IP protection in general. Nothing whatsoever. Merely that there's some attempt to suggest to you that your IP will have some (and an astonishingly feeble attempt at that). If your product is any good at all (as all your Kickstarter backers are betting it is) you are guaranteeing by manufacturing in China that shanzhai (山寨, fake) versions, rip-off versions, and/or production overruns will be on the market almost as soon as your own production.

      > On the other hand I also saw facilities where I got very doubtful about the workers’ safety and health.

      Now imagine what it's like at the ones you didn't see. And imagine what it's like at the ones you did see but when you're not there. And you won't be there all the time. I think probably most who commented were worried about working conditions and contributing to the oppression of Chinese workers, and it's right to worry about that, although the overall situation is little understood.

      Yes, security guards padlock fire escapes and the police are involved in beating strikers back to work. But seven-day working of long shifts are demanded by the workers themselves, who haven't come from distant villages to have spare time in which they are not earning but rather wasting money. If they don't get the overtime, they leave. Pressing for improved conditions is right, but expecting to understand the full picture or actually achieve anything by selecting what looks like a better factory on your limited acquaintance with it. There are endless Chinese regulations on factory management, safety, and working conditions--so many that it is actually impossible to implement them all (some are mutually contradictory). Who implements what is a factor of how well connected the owner is with local officials, and who has paid off whom. And the impossibility of full compliance leaves owners exposed to fines, forced shut-downs, and takeovers. Actual working conditions are the last thing these regulations are supposed to address.

      It's right to worry. It's wrong to think there's anything you can do. And there are many self-interested reasons to be very cautious indeed about manufacturing in China.

      > However, it was reassuring for me to see, that there were also “good” factories, which cared about waste management and working conditions. So just deciding to manufacture in China, doesn’t automatically mean you have to compromise on your personal values.

      This very conclusion represents precisely the compromise you claim not to be making. At best it can be described as confirmation bias. You have acquired no meaningful evidence whatsoever to overcome what is already known about Chinese manufacturing. I'm sorry, but what you write is incredibly naive.

      Here are three books you need to read:

      Poorly Made in China by Paul Midler
      Mr. China by Tim Clissold
      The China Dream by Joe Studwell.

      Your insistence on manufacturing in China is going to cause you a lot more problems than you expect. Reading these volumes will give you a limited preview.