Visiting China’s IoT Manufacturing Scene

Visiting China’s IoT Manufacturing Scene
Reading Time: 4 minutes
We toured suppliers, prototyping facilities, organizations, and more

Depositphotos_38884001_original.jpgImage: Xiamen, China

Myself and another member of Mission Data’s executive team recently traveled to Xiamen, China for the annual Asia meeting of the zigbee alliance members. We also took the opportunity to visit Shenzhen, a burgeoning city bordering Hong Kong known for its IoT manufacturing industry, and Guangzhou, mainland China’s third-largest city. We had a great time meeting some of the leading companies in the region, establishing new connections and partnerships, and getting a sense of what’s next in the connected device industry.

China is the leading producer of the world’s electronics, and the center of IoT development globally. According to AXA, by 2020, there will be 200 billion IoT connected devices worldwide, of which 95% will be manufactured in China. Thanks to strong support from China’s government and private investment, China’s IoT sector has started to deliver economic growth as it capitalizes on the transformation that lies ahead.

At Mission Data, we’ve built a variety of IoT products and platforms over the past decade, and we recently joined the zigbee alliance, a non-profit association of companies creating, maintaining, and delivering open, global standards for low-powered wireless Internet of Things (IoT) devices. At zigbee’s annual Asia meeting, member companies discussed the push toward zigbee 3.0, a common umbrella standard to ensure a simpler user experience in terms of product choice, set-up, and operation, including the compatibility of products from different manufacturers. Enhanced security is also a feature of zigbee 3.0, whether networks are centralized or distributed.

While we won’t go into detail about all of the companies we visited with, we met a bunch of great people leading world-class production facilities at the forefront of their industries.

Leedarson.jpgImage, L-R: Justin Zhang, Jacky Zhang, Andy Spielman, and Kang Tong.

For instance, we met with Leedarson Lighting, a world-leading manufacturer of consumer and commercial lighting solutions. They were incredibly gracious and open hosts to the Mission Data contingent. We toured their impressive factory outside of Xiamen which produces millions of units of light bulbs, LEDs, sensors and controls. They are fully focused on both consumer and commercial IoT — not just because IoT is a hot word, but because LED lighting by its nature is long lasting. With long product durability, there’s a need to offer smarter products and services that go with them.  

Leedarson has made sure that it’s investing in all the major IoT-oriented alliances and standard bodies including zigbee, Thread, ULE, and many more. It’s investing in R&D and software development so as to bring the ability to control and monitor its connected products via Web, mobile, and voice (e.g., Amazon Echo). Leedarson is clearly investing in its move to a solutions provider through innovation and R&D. Their R&D center and group is impressive as they are not hesitant to take risks and explore new functionalities. Through Edisonian-style trials they seem to be developing some solutions that can be offered in the B2B space. 

2017-06-14 14.37.24.jpg

Another tour that stood out was our visit to Seeed Studio in Shenzhen. A darling of the maker community and Silicon Valley hardware startups, Seeed is known for its open-source hardware kits and rapid prototyping capabilities. Their primary service is small batch manufacturing—helping producers create a design for manufacture (DFM), an initial model and specs that allow for larger manufacturing runs to occur. As a company with our own innovation lab, it was fun to see how the culture of tinkering has found a home in Shenzhen and beyond.

2017-06-16 14.29.22.jpgImage L-R: Hans Qin, George Zhang, Stuart Gavurin, Ann Liu, and Oliver Wang.

The last noteworthy experience was with V-Mark out of Guangzhou. This manufacturer isn’t as much of a mass producer as it is an agile manufacturer with a focus on industrial strength IoT products. It’s dedicated to the zigbee open standard along with a rich set of sophisticated B2B solutions. Mission Data and V-Mark have had a relationship for several years, and it was great to meet their strong engineering and management team. They were also incredibly gracious hosts to the small US contingent who visited.

V-Mark has more of a design, engineer, and manufacture for a specific problem set or solution approach. Their R&D is about understanding the underlying technology that can be incorporated into products. Broadly it’s part of the product development and design process. As they are solution-oriented, they also use a strong ecosystem of partners for provisioning specialized components that they may not have the expertise or capability to produce themselves. Whereas Leedarson works on a large-scale manufacturing model, V-Mark’s B2B orientation has required their manufacturing to be more agile. They create production runs for thousands of specialized products fitting a solution area or customer need rather than hundreds of thousands or millions for more general use.

We met with others, but these three stood out as great examples of the breadth and depth of the IoT manufacturing capabilities of China. The trip was incredibly educational and as a software-oriented digital products company it gave us great faith that China will provide us with the partners we and our clients need for the hardware-side of our IoT products. We look forward to collaborating and exploring ways to work together.