Connected devices, smartphones, and other technological products that we know and love, reach us through a long process going from innovation to mass production. As product engineers prepare the blueprints for an innovative product, its design evolves gradually to consider financial feasibility, user-friendliness, technical features and quality. Further, a manufacturer brings raw materials, technical resources, workers, and equipment together to make these products on a large scale.
In a “contract manufacturing” model, companies with innovative products appoint a contract manufacturer to turn their innovation into reality. In the Chinese context, Saimen is the leading Canadian-owned contract manufacturer today. The company is mostly known for taking projects early-on, helping with the last stages of the product development cycle to ensure its quality and ease of manufacturing, before launching production on a large scale. The model is particularly well adapted to support technology start-ups, having very innovative products but lacking the expertise and capital to launch their products into mass-manufacturing on their own.
The group is led by Mr. Carl Breau, a seasoned engineer from Canada. Carl comes from a product engineering and manufacturing background, having worked for manufacturing companies in Canada, USA and Germany for over 25 years before coming to China. He established the Saimen group together with his wife, Jing Liang, an economist from Fudan University, in Shanghai, in 2015.
Promoting High-Quality Manufacturing Practices
It is interesting to listen to Carl speak about China’s business environment from his unique perspective: he is a successful business owner, speaks Mandarin fluently and so is often invited as a public speaker and university lecturer on the topic of business in China.
In Mr. Breau’s own words, the company stands out from other contract manufacturing companies: “Because of our strong engineering team, we can take a project at an early prototype stage, and then finalize its product design and make sure it can be manufactured efficiently. We finalize the document package needed for mass-production, such as assembly procedures and quality control standards. We then manufacture our products and manage all logistics,” he explains. This allows customers to focus resources on their sales, marketing, finance and R&D. This ability to focus makes the company’s model very successful, especially for tech start-ups with limited resources.
One of the key elements of a successful contract manufacturing collaboration for tech companies is IP protection. At Saimen, integrity and IP protection has always been the priority. From systematic protection of drawings and IP secrets from suppliers to having all employees sign a business conduct contract, everything is in place to protect customer information. Saimen is unique in having achieved the ISO 27001 certification, this certifies that the company has specifically set up processes to protect confidential information in place.
Lessons Learnt from the COVID-19 Pandemic
“The last year has been particularly challenging for us, as with most companies involved in international trade. At the same time, having offices and factories both in China and in Canada gave us a privileged point of view on the effects and the management of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to members of our team being frequently asked to either be interviewed or present webinars on the topic; at the end of last year we have over 25 million views on social and conventional media,” says Mr. Breau.
The pandemic affected the company in two ways. First, their online presence in social media and conventional media increased greatly, bringing them lots of visibility and opportunities. Second, the company started creating new products in response to new needs in the market and many companies contacted them to put their new ideas to their market.
“Innovation often comes out of necessity. We contributed on the product design, manufacturing and the rapid launch of a new versatile disinfection holder for construction sites that can be clipped directly onto scaffolding or directly attached to steel surfaces using magnets. We also created a totally new patented media-display phone charger that is being launched in China and North America,” Mr. Breau says. These are just a few of their seven new products introduced into the market in the last year directly on behalf of their customers.
The past year helped the company further realize the crucial importance of certain aspects like financial management, controlling costs, letting go of inefficiencies and focusing on their product assembly.
“To succeed in times like these, you need a strong team that believes in your vision and values. We are very lucky to have such a team. Being a multi-cultural and multidisciplinary team makes us even stronger. Managing such a team can be chaotic at times, but I believe that the best solutions to problems often come from different and conflicting points-of-views, resolved constructively,” Mr. Breau shares.
Towards a Brighter Future
In a little over five years, Saimen has become the largest Canadian-owned contract manufacturer in China today.
“We are coming out of 2020 even stronger than we were when we came in. The crisis forced us to be more focused, better control our costs and it also highlighted how resilient and creative our teams really are. I love our team, our new products offering, our amazing customers and partners, our increased social media presence and credibility. I am really looking forward to a strong recovery in 2021,” Mr. Breau concludes.