Visiting China for Manufacturing, Part 1

Right now, thanks to a virus, our industry (and many many others from auto parts to perfume) are having ongoing conversations about the effect the coronavirus will have on sales. It is frustrating. Moreover it is layered onto the already ongoing trade conflicts. I guess this is why “May you live in interesting times,” is considered a curse. However, along with the stress, the conversation also reminds me of recent lessons. In November, I made my first trip to China to see the inner workings of a manufacturing company close up. There were so many aspects of the process that I was familiar with from my perspective as the publisher, that I had never been able to see from the side of the manufacturer. I thought now would be timely to share some of that information.

From gallery of JulieGBG

Thanks to the Meijia Games Company, nine publishers, including myself, took the trip over. We started in Shanghai, before flying to Shenzhen to see the miniatures factories. As a note, there are several different companies miniatures shown here, but none of them are Greenbrier Games.

From gallery of JulieGBG

The first factory we visited created a wide variety of mixed material goods, like the NFL decal mini guitars shown below. At least half of their products were novelty items. With miniatures, their focus was making single color, pvc plastics. They did not have the tools or specialists here for fine detail painting, but did have a lot of experience in assembling multiple pieces with seams that needed to be hidden. Some of the examples below also show the pressing they were able to do to create two colored coins.

From gallery of JulieGBG

This dragon was one of several dozen miniatures I inspected that day. I was looking at the seams in assembly. It’s something I do for all of our minis when we receive the proofs for them. It is a job I always take seriously, but it had such an immediacy being in the factory where they were made.

From gallery of JulieGBG

During our tour we were able to examine the mold for the dragon that was being assembled. It was here that I saw the intricate detail in reverse. Thanks to the number of scales and arms on this particular piece there were 12-14 unique pieces that needed to be glued together after. Because of that, this mini had its own mold, and each mold weighs several hundred pounds.

From gallery of JulieGBG

After the plastic is piped into the molds by machine, mechanically removed, and dropped into a bucket, the pieces are brought to a seperate room for manual assembly. There were additional rooms for wiring, painting and stamp imprinting as well. The factory was working on three different products when we got there, the skull casings that required a logo stamp and the imprint of the skull in one area, what looked like dollhouse furniture with some electronic components to them in another area, and then the miniatures. This way the factory could maximise their output for three vastly different companies.

From gallery of JulieGBG
From gallery of JulieGBG
From gallery of JulieGBG

It was an amazing first step, but not the last. Our next stop was to see how molds are made. I’ll talk about that in another post.