Last week we met with Dimitri, designer of the Smartduino, in Shenzhen, China. Dimitri is a 6 year veteran of the Huaqiangbei electronics wholesale market. He first arrived 6 years ago, and quickly opened his own stand because it seemed like the best way to make deals in the market is to become part of it. He now runs 8 stands all around the market and says each building has a unique story to tell.
Dimitri started with a single stand in on the third floor of a building, the top floor at the time. That building now has 10 floors, and another building is being built next to it. The pace at which the Huaqiangbei market is developing is staggering. In his estimate the market has grown a 100 times in the last 6 years.
View of Shenzhen from Dimitri’s office.
Dimitri’s attraction to Shenzhen is based on getting things done. Only in Shenzhen can you think up an idea on Monday, and have a working prototype in your hands on Thursday. Proximity to the world’s largest wholesale electronics market means that any IC, any connector or part you need, is but a few blocks away. It’s like having your local electronics shop be as stocked as Mouser or DigiKey, without the inflated retail prices.
It’s not just electronic parts, but anything required for the full project is available. Solder paste stencils are delivered the next day, PCBs are at your doorstep in 48 hours, and all the tools you might are just steps away.
As the market grows and becomes more of a tourist spot, Dimitri thinks prices are getting higher. Like many people we talked to Shenzhen, he is utilizing more and more online part sources. Chinese sites let buyers post requests, and the sellers contact them directly with offers. Dimitri now conducts 80% of his sourcing in this manner.
Dimitri does his prototyping in house. He has a solder paste stencil rig, and a reflow oven capable of cooking 9 Arduino sized boards in 6-7 minutes. He feels this is much faster than hand soldering, and quick-turn stencils make it super convenient.
The successfully kickstarted Smartduino* is a snap-together prototyping platform based on the Arduino and a “Smart Bus” connection between board. A core board with an Arduino-compatible AVR microcontroller is broken out into the Smart Bus that can be connected to over 50 different extension boards simultaneously. The project is aimed at people who find the full Arduino platform too cumbersome for a small commercial product, but don’t want to design custom boards.
A huge thanks to Dimitri for a tour of his office, high up overlooking Huaqiangbei.
*While we were in China this project became the subject of controversy. We present this interview as a documentary of our meeting with Dimitri who is very passionate about his projects.