You may have heard of Shenzhen, the hardware capital of China. Famously, this was a small market town and fishing village, just north of Hong Kong, with a population of around 30,000 in 1980, when it was designated as China’s first Special Economic Zone. As a result it has mushroomed into a city with an estimated population of around 15 million (cf London, around 9 million), that is rated as the 19th largest world financial centre and has one of the world’s busiest container ports (thank you Wikipedia…). Shenzhen also has a degree of notoriety, representing, to many, the worst of China’s lax attitudes to Intellectual Property (but more of that below).
There are (at least) two reasons why those of us involved in teaching D&T should be interested in what is happening in Shenzhen. Firstly it is now the goto place for anyone wanting to develop product ideas including electronics into actual products; more prosaically if you have PCBs that you want professionally made it is here that you’ll find many companies offering a very high quality manufacturing service at an amazingly cheap price (I have the PCBs for the soldering workshop badges that we use at Manchester MakeFest made by a company there and even with shipping costs this is far cheaper than I can find in the UK).
Secondly, as a result of all of the above, it has become an important hub in maker culture, providing cheap and rapid access to manufacturing and assembly know-how along with access to a vast range of components. Just as importantly there is a kind of intellectual symbiosis with the maker culture of openness and sharing (which is the other side of the coin of lax attitudes to IP…).
Wired has just released a series of (at the time of writing) three films exploring Shenzhen that give a really good insight into the culture of making and manufacturing there, describing well and sympathetically the approach to IP that many take and examining how maker culture resonates with this.
The three films together are less than an hour long and I think will be really useful in helping D&T teachers understand the new directions that hardware development is taking. The films as they stand are probably too long for most use in schools, but I think there are lots of snippets that could be creatively interspersed into lessons.