While Erik and Calder were having a lot of fun at Dreamhack, they sent me (Jeroen) to the other side of the world to try and fix some issues with the keyboard. You can read all about our findings on the trial keyboards in this blog. In this blog I will talk about the whole trip, which took about a month and took me to Taiwan, Hongkong and China! Look out for another blog or stream about the results of this trip and what it means for the keyboard.
Part 1: Trying to figure out what’s wrong in Taipei
The first two weeks were spent at the office of our keyboard manufacturer in Taipei, Taiwan. When I arrived they surprised me with my very own desk. The desk was of course way too small for a Dutch guy, so I had to remove the drawer to even fit under the desk. A lot of measurements were done at this small desk in the first two weeks to try to get a better understanding of what’s going on with the keyboard.
During the first two weeks I stayed at a hostel with some wonderful hosts with a typical Taiwanese hospitality. They love to show you around and feed you all kinds of stuff.
If there’s one thing the Taiwanese love, it’s food. It’s even represented in their language, they don’t say “Hello” they say “Have you eaten?”. Tables full of delicious recipes which are shared by all. The fish on the picture was caught by a cousin of the hostels host, he also cooked all the food on the table!
Time to go back to work. After the first two weeks I felt like we were not making the progress we wanted. Being at the office itself already helped a lot, but to actually make the big difference we wanted I had to go to the factory in China itself. The Chinese are very strict with their immigration and require a visa for everyone that comes in. This visa was not possible to get in Taiwan (Chinese Unification), so we had to make a different plan. I had to go to Hong Kong, get an express visa there and cross the border to China from Hong Kong.
Part 2: Weekend in Hong Kong
I booked my flight for Saturday morning, so I had the weekend to explore the city a bit. From the moment I arrived I was blown away by the size and density in the city, along the beautiful hills and water. In Hong Kong there are people walking everywhere and they walk fast. Some sidewalks couldn’t even fit the amount of people walking on it.
A great thing about Hong Kong though is that you can just take one of the many ferries to the island to escape the crowd. Me and some guys from the hostel took a ferry to Lamma Island. This island is a small fisherman island with a nice beach and a huge power plant. I will definitely go back to Hong Kong soon, with three days I felt like I barely scratched the surface of everything in and around the city.
Part 3: The keyboard assembly factory in Zaoqing
The application for the visa went without any issues. After filling in about 5 pages of paperwork I got my visa and went off to china. The first of many surprises started at the train station. To be honest, my expectations of China were low, very low. This image got shattered immediately when I walked into a brand new train which was right on time and very fast. China has been working very hard on their infrastructure and it shows.
At the factory I put my lab coat, hat and slippers on and got a tour. The factory itself was very clean and felt well arranged. As an electrical engineer I was especially surprised by the whole SMT production line. All the circuit boards for our keyboard are soldered and tested in the factory itself. This is especially important for us, since the analog keyboards are very sensitive to variations on the PCB.
Part 4: The switch factory in Dongguan
The switches of the keyboard are produced in another factory in another city, called Dongguan. This city is really a factory city. The very polluted air and bland buildings result in a city that feels like it misses a soul, it’s just a city built to cope with the insane growth of the Chinese industry. I was honestly pretty shocked by the realization that almost every product we use in the western world is manufactured in places like this.
The day before the visit to the switch factory I was promised that there would be a new version of the switch which would have everything we wanted. I was really sceptical at first, since this isn’t the first time they didn’t deliver on their promises.
The switch factory itself was again very modern and clean. Now the moment I waited for so long was finally there, a demonstration of the new switch. The performance of the switch was indeed way better than before. It was very stable and the range was all the way from 1.5 mm to 3.8 mm. I was of course very happy to see this, but it’s still a trial switch. They’re working now on the tooling for this switch, which we can use for mass production. Hopefully we can share some actual results very soon.
I wasn’t allowed to share any pictures sadly. I would’ve loved to share the pictures of me smiling and shaking hands with the project manager in front of the company sign, a typical thing in Asia.
Part 5: Back to Taiwan and home!
As I’m writing this I’m back in the cold in Holland and feeling pretty jetlagged. While I didn’t go into too much detail in this blog about the technical stuff, we did make a lot of progress while I was there. It’s been a long journey, but we are very close now. The next big part is our configuration software, AKA the Wootility. Expect some blogs about our progress on that very soon.