AOF Factory Tour at Dongguan, China
We were invited by the Philippine distributor of GE digital cameras and AgfaPhoto to visit their ODM (official device manufacturer) in Dongguan, China.
Since there was no direct flight from Manila to Dongguan City, we had to go thru Hong Kong and take a bus to cross the Chinese border towards Guangdong province.
Asia Optical (AOF) is one of the top 5 ODMs in the world (where Foxconn is #1) and is the one producing products for AgfaPhoto and GE Digital Imaging. GE Digital Imaging is a new company formed sometime in 2007 and licenses the brand from GE to distribute very affordable digital cameras in North America, Latin America, SEA, Middle East and Europe.
Their most popular camera is the small, dSLR-like GE X5 (we featured and gave away one unit here before). They have since introduced the GE X500 (disclosure: I won one of these last night during the welcome dinner in HK).
AOF produces a lot of devices and parts — DVDs, camera lenses, camera bags & cases, digital cameras, printers, cellphone cameras, laser products, projectors, PC boards & circuit boards, CIS for printers, photonics and more.
They also make rifle scopes and has a manufacturing plant in Mandaluyong for many years now (i.e. Scopro Optical Co., Inc.).
Other customers include Canon, Nikon, Epson, Fuji, Olympus, Omron, Ricoh, Sanyo, Sony, Sharp, Kodak & Xerox. There were several more top companies but since there’s a signed NDA, we cannot disclose them.
They make tons of lenses (12 million plastic lenses, 1.5 million hybrid lenses and 3 million GMP) every month. The plastic lenses are mostly used for camera phones (including that fruit company which cannot be named).
Each floor has a dedicated room for assembly of devices, depending on which brand requested for which parts. They don’t mix the workers (mostly engineers and designers) so there’s no contamination of intellectual property.
They also make camera bags and cases, like this one for the iPad (don’t know which version but was hoping we’d find a case for the upcoming iPad 3).
I also spotted what could be an iPhone 4 connected to a pico-projector. I am not sure if I am allowed to say or show that photo.
The complex is so huge the cluster of buildings houses over 10,000 workers with 80% of them live in dormitories within the campus (and nope, I didn’t see the building being lined with nets to catch the jumpers like in Foxconn). It’s also interesting to note almost all of the workers here are very young — probably mid-teens to early twenties. And, because of their white uniforms, the factory feels like it’s a huge student campus.
If you look closely in the middle of the photo below, they also have their own power plant which generates about 11,000kW just to make sure the machines will continue to operate 24/7 even if there’s a city-wide blackout.
Took a lot of video footages but it’s taking a long time to upload them here. Will update once that’s done (with annotations).
This media tour allowed us to show how the GE and AgfaPhoto digital cameras are made and appreciate the engineering and R&D invested into producing these affordable cameras. Besides, knowing that all big companies get their parts and products from one of these ODMs makes you realize that the difference in the retail prices will mostly boil down to other non-production cost (like marketing, etc.).