Sunrex visit, makers of the Ben NanoNote keyboard

Wolfgang Spraul wolfgang at
Wed May 12 21:36:03 EDT 2010

how do 6500 people work together in one factory to produce a product that
is sold for 3.50 USD a piece? A question from our recent visit to Sunrex,
the vendor making our nice Ben NanoNote keyboards.

One answer would be that it's all exploitation and slave labor, and that
is definitely a sensitive issue in a keyboard factory as we also learnt.
But then we hung out with local staff (the managers had no time for us being
such a small customer), so I believe we got a realistic picture, and they
spent the whole afternoon and evening with us, inside and outside the factory.

We saw an amazing mix of high-tech machinery, cleanrooms, and thousands of
people working together on the many worksteps that exist in keyboard
I'm sorry that I didn't take any pictures inside the building, and didn't
even ask. We are a tiny, almost irrelevant customer to them, and they already
went more than the famous extra mile for us, so I thought that was enough.

My notes, taken on the new OpenWrt 0507 image:

--- Sunrex

*) Founded in 1975 in Taiwan, 6 factories in China today.
*) The factory that makes the Ben NanoNote keyboards is in Jiangsu province,
   the small (by Chinese standards) town of Luxuzhen.
*) GPS location 31.01892,120.85274
*) factory opened in 2002, picture of building [1]

*) Makes about 4 million notebook keyboards per month, plus 1.5 million
   'small mobile keyboards' like in mobile phones or devices like the
*) 6500 people in this factory, keyboards have many different worksteps
   and are very labor intensive.
*) 3 types of clean rooms: class 10K, 100K, 300K

*) 3 largest keyboard makers are: Chicony, Sunrex, Dafon (Acer Group)
*) For desktop and notebook keyboards, most keyboard factories are large,
   and there are only a few large customers.
*) For small mobile and phone keypads, there are many small factories and
   customers as well. They can be found in the Shenzhen/Guangzhou region
   and we will get some pointers (maybe easier to work with than giants
   like Sunrex).
*) Notebook keyboards cost 10-30 USD, with many different factors
   contributing to price, such as bacteria or fingerprint resistant
   plastics, printing, laser, plating. Backlight module alone can be
   another 10-30 USD.
*) Keyboards nowadays almost all either use rubber domes or metal domes.
*) Tactile feedback is specified by a pressure curve, first going up to f1,
   then down to f2, then up to the fire point (fp), etc.
*) Typical values would be f1-f2 >= 30g+-10g and fp = f2+10g
*) Rubber dome keyboards normally have f1 = 85g+-15g, metal dome keyboards
   have f1 = 150g to 400g (note sure what the Ben NanoNote has, because
   Sunrex doesn't make the metal domes so we need to ask that vendor).

*) price of Ben NanoNote keyboard is ca. 22 RMB (3.50 USD)
*) If we want to order different keyboard designs, minimum order quantity
   is 1000, lead time 20 days (10-15 after design is confirmed).
*) We couldn't really pinpoint why we had to do several rounds of sending
   samples back and forth when making the Ben NanoNote keyboard (spent over
   a month on that). We kept having problems with vertical alignment, because
   most phone keypads only have 3-4 columns and we use those tools. So the
   NanoNote keyboard is printed in multiple runs from left to right, which
   introduces the alignment problems.
*) We agreed that on the next order, we will establish a precise vertical
   tolerance. They said minimum would be .3 mm (.15 mm top and bottom), but
   that would reduce the yield. So they will send us multiple sets, produced
   with different tolerances (.3, .5, .8 mm), then we pick the one we still
   find acceptable and from then on we hopefully can avoid time consuming
   go arounds.
*) Addition of backlight is possible, but Sunrex only makes the top part
   of our keyboard, not the metal dome underneath. So I don't know how the
   light source could reach the keys nicely from underneath. Forgot to ask
   whether/how backlighting can be used with metal dome based keyboards.

Bottom line - spent a great 5+ hours with cool guys from a keyboard factory
churning out 5+ million keyboards per month. We have a clear plan if we
want to order more, or customized, NanoNote keyboards from them.
In parallel they will introduce us to a smaller mobile-phone keyboard
factory in or around Shenzhen, we'll see what we can find there.



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