The original of this report dates from 08/31/2015 by “Pretending to be a geek” aka “geeker_ding” (who somewhat seem to retired in 2016) and was translated into English by me.
Cited facts and figures are most likely not up-to-date and changed over the last 2 years – this post is mainly meant for historic reasons/entertainment and completeness.
There’s another tour taken one year later in 2016 – can you spot the differences?
Let’s take a stroll…
Since Gee-whiz Lee and his team officially appeared on the scene, the NIU scooters became an industry talk. Since its announcement, due to the delays of the delivery the nerves of the industry, the media and the customers were a bit stressed.The co-founder of Nippon Technology, Hu Yilin, explained “pretending to be a geek” that the NIU factory, would be a buzzing production scene. So at the end of August, “pretending to be a geek” was one of the first media, which was allowed to visit to the NIU factory. The NIU factory in Changzhou City, is located in the Jiangsu Province inside the Wujin Development Zone. It consists of an office building and two factory buildings.
Niuwei Technology Supply Chain Vice President He Weihua is currently responsible for the operation and supply chain of the factory, as well as transport logistics but also in charge of accessories and after-sales services. According to He Weihua, the Changzhou factory is mainly engaged in the assembly of electric vehicles.
The NIU scooter core components consists of about 54% OEM parts, while the remaining parts are NIUs own design or custom developments, some of them being ODM (Original Design Manufacturer). Before visiting the factory, He Weihua showed us a process flow chart. 16 steps are necessary from the parts to the final vehicle:
- parts delivery
- parts assembly
- frame assembly
- electrical assembly
- electrical performance test
- QA of the assembly
- QA test
- off the assembly line
- road test
- vehicle inspection
- SN code write
- overall inspection
- ID’ing packaging
The whole tour through the factory basically following this process.
The first things you see in the production workshop are parts which were delivered and were currently in QA. We saw a small mentioning of Kazakhstan [on the boxes].
The Battery: 60V20AH
When buying a NIU scooter, the battery is included. Batteries are using the Panasonic 18650 cylindrical lithium cells, allegedly the same as used in Tesla cars. To our understanding, the battery packaging is build by Yan Wanda/Shenzhen. Yan Wanda is a well-known supplier of lithium-ion battery module solutions and products to companies like Apple, Philips, Amazon, Lenovo, OPPO, backgammon, Haier, SanDisk and other brands in China as well as internationally.
Even by using Yan Wanda products, you can not get rid of the fate of quality problems, so each of them has to be tested. According to He Weihua, the main reasons for failure are serial number errors, an abnormal self-discharge rate or transportation damages.
“Pretend to be geeks” noted that the NIU scooter lithium battery connector had – in addition to positive and negative – three data-lines. Through these, the NIU master controller can read the battery serial number and other parameters.
When talking about the battery, the co-founder of NIU technology, Hu Yilin, explained that the specific shape of the battery design was made to enhance the physical theft protection, so it can not be used for other brands of electric scooters. Also, because each battery pack has a unique serial number, even if the thief is trying to sell the battery to other NIU scooter owners, the stolen battery won’t work properly in another scooter.
The NIUs motor is a customized Bosch model, at 60V800 watts. This motor is different from an ordinary motor as its energy conversion efficiency is about 89-90%, while the efficiency of other “ordinary motors” is generally only about 80%. Bosch (Ningbo) Light Electric Vehicle Co., Ltd. General Manager Luo Dacheng said that this is Boschs first customized version of electric scooter motors in this country [China], since Bosch went into cooperation with domestic electric scooter companies, in order to provide standard motor models. The NIUs customized version of the Bosch motor offers a higher energy conversion efficiency, maximum torque and other details than the standard model of the product. So it can provide longer mileage, faster acceleration experience, higher stability and a lower running noise.
The tire assembly area: In a semi-automatic process, tires and tubes will be assembled in a single step.
Detail of greasing the NIUs fork bearings, allegedly they use car-manufacturing quality grease so that during normal use of two or three years, there will be no more than 1mm clearance.
Putting it all together
(This production line assembled 4707 NIU electric scooters since its start)
NIUs Changzhou factory has four production lines, of which three are overhead conveyors and the fourth is a non-hanging line.
NIUs frames. The manufacturer for frames is Wuxi Jiade, allegedly also supplier for the new continent Honda motorcycle frames.
The frame gets its serial number here. We learned that from the beginning of this step, the vehicle will have a “process inspection card.” Assembly workers will record each operation, assembly step etc.. If the finished scooter has a problem, you can go through this card to trace back the step which might be a problem.
Step by step scooter assembly
NIUs master modules. This is the NIUs electric scooters brain. Due to the internal GPRS and GPS module, you can locate the scooters position and return data to facilitate its management.
The USB charging port, convenient to charge your mobile phone and other mobile devices during the ride. This is just a charging port, no data connection (haha).
Test, test, 1, 2, 3…
The final inspection area consisting of: appearance check, road test, vehicle inspection and other quality inspection. Among them, the road test involves bump test, downhill test and brake test and others. After passing the inspection, all electronic components receive their corresponding serial numbers, move into the NIU temporary storage and ultimately get a legitimate “identity card.”
Writing the serial number code after the final test, including a last check of various points.
(These are substandard models which need fixing)
Delivering a promise
NIUs electric scooters are delivered as “ready to ride”, unlike some other electric scooters which require the retailer to do some serious assembly. After assembly and testing process, the product yield is less than 80%. Allegedly, this yield has been far better than with some other electric scooter manufacturers. Flawed vehicles will be placed in the corresponding area for further processes and adjustment.
The scooters finally hit the wooden frame packaging. At present, only two production lines in the Changzhou factory started, so the loading and unloading is done by the use of forklifts. According to He Weihua introduction, the factory will have an automatic loading and unloading platform when it is in full production, – then we will be able to see 3000-4000 electric scooter loading and unloading every day.
Loading a truck
Each Truck has a capacity of 72 NIU scooters. According to what we learned from our guide, about 8-10 trucks a day are leaving the factory. Debon logistics will then quickly transport those to the Jingdong warehouse, and finally by the Jingdong logistics to the customers door.
Accompanying those NIU scooters from parts to the finished product throughout the factory was impressive. We not only saw the hype of an Internet start-up company, but a real product becoming reality.
During the visit, flaws in the factory and unqualified products were shown to the eyes of the media and not deliberately hidden. If the company is able to keep this open way of communication to the media and ordinary users, giving them a better understanding of the details, I believe they will get even more attention and support.