10 years working with a few manufacturers in China on electronic and audio projects has taught me a lot of things. Distilled for you here are my top 5 suggestions for achieving the right result with your ideas in China…
1) Be sure there is mutual understanding – confirm things are understood.
Language is difficult, especially regarding technical discussions. Interpreters can also struggle with more complicated concepts in electronics particularly. There is a tendency for engineers in general (Chinese and European) to say something is understood, even if it is not. My advice is to ‘test’ knowledge of concepts as you go along. Ask questions of the people you are presenting to; be patient to ensure that the important concepts are being followed. Many times I have been thankful for ensuring the team is in full accord.
2) Be open minded – about processes and design for manufacture. What you think is easy or hard may not be so.
Do not overthink your designs. It is tempting to get into the deep details of things, and to start making decisions based on what you think is easy or difficult to achieve – this can affect the overall design, and sometimes for no reason. In China, there are some truly astonishing skills, but they may not be immediately apparent. My advice is to avoid circular discussions on design details before involving the suppliers in China and share the challenge on how things are made.
3) Be present
Things progress quickly when you are present in China during key project milestones. When not on-site, things can be managed effectively and pushed with weekly or sometimes daily remote Wechat conference calls (WeChat is the preferred Chinese communication medium). Being present in person, or regularly in contact when not there makes all the difference. The trip to Shenzhen from the UK has for me been well-trodden over the past 10 years. Every trip I have ever done has been well worth the effort.
4) Get into details
Over the years I have found myself getting into ever more depth and detail with suppliers in China. You need to make the effort to go to the printers, metalworkers, woodworkers etc to directly talk about what you want and how you might achieve it. If you can’t go yourself, find someone who can who works for you (not your manufacturing partner). If you want to achieve the best results or push some particular process to its limit, then you need to be in touch with the people who actually do the work, to see what is really possible… not what the manufacturer ‘says’ is possible.
5) Enjoy China
Enjoy Chinese food, Chinese customs, Chinese places and people. Being a westerner who remains detached makes an unnecessary barrier to quality and enjoyable work. Embracing China’s considerable hospitality on visits is how to gain a good working and friendly relationship.