On June 23rd 2022, I traveled with t0mb3ry across Germany to visit GMK's Headquarters as they invited us to show us around their company and asked for our assistance in some new developments. We arrived at the Hotel in Regensburg where we met biip, who traveled from France, and later also Zambumon who flew in from Spain and got to enjoy the punctuality of the Deutsche Bahn. We explored the city for the night and the next morning MiTo, who came all the way from Brazil, also joined us as we set out to drive to GMK, a short Autobahn ride to the north.
There, we were greeted by Mario, who is one of GMK's sales representatives and also acts as a community manager. He led us through the new office building, which was recently constructed as an attachment to the previous space, to a meeting room where we also met with Franziska, Sebastian and Franz, who are designers and technicians at GMK, and also Christoph, one of the two CEO's at GMK. The first part of the day was spent on reviewing and giving feedback on a new product that GMK is currently developing, which I can unfortunately not share with you all just yet. I appreciate the opportunity they gave us in helping them finetune it so early in the development, it's very important that fresh eyes get a chance to evaluate your creation before everything is set in stone. I'm certainly looking forward to its release!
After lunch and some more workshopping, we headed over to the new production facility that GMK has also raised nearby over the recent two years. Franz, who is essentially overlooking this realm, showed us around and answered any questions we had. This new factory hosts a total of nine injection molding machines that are all responsible for making keycaps, which is roughly 200% the capacity of the first factory that also continues to produce keycaps for us and other commercial clients. Around six different sets were producing in parallel on this floor when we were visiting, one of which was Striker 2 that Zambumon was certainly happy to see!
Each machine produces multiple keycaps at a time, for example the one making Striker 2 was spitting out Tab, Alt and Code with each cycle. We were also shown giant binders full of color samples, both rejected and finalized ones. To this date, GMK has created 895 custom plastic colors, of which 565 ended up being used for the various designs the community has created. A set of drawers contained many of the legends used on the keycaps, we spent a short while here identifying what sets they belonged to, a fun little game. In total, GMK's library counts almost 7,000 different legends!
We continued to stroll around the factory floor, keenly observing the machines as they pumped out keycaps without pause. Several technicians were constantly inspecting the keycaps being made as a first step of quality control. Should a issue be detected, the machine would be adjusted immediately to avoid it producing any more faulty keycaps. Production runs 24/6, except for Holidays, split into three shifts. Also present in this factory hall was a section for upkeep. Four full-time employees are solely responsible for maintaining the machines and also constantly creating fresh tooling using in-house CNC milling machines, among other gadgets. I certainly did not expect that amount of effort going into maintenance, but it showed their commitment to keeping a high level of quality for their products.
Later in the day, we traveled back to Regensburg together to go for some classic Bavarian food and ending the night relaxing in a comfy cocktail bar. The next day, we visited the office once more, continued the workshop for a bit, and then set out to travel back home.
GMK is certainly aware of how things developed in the past couple of years. The pandemic had put a giant wrench into their plans, from shutting down production due to lockdowns to the following material supply issues when the industry started booting up again. They are committed to working through the current backlog and expect to be back on track with reasonable lead times in 2023. Over the years, the custom keycap business has grown to be half of the companies yearly revenue, so there is a very good reason to continue pursuing to satisfy this growing demand.
Each year, from 2019 to 2020 and from 2021 to 2022, the amount of keycaps produced has roughly doubled, and with June of this year closing now, they have already almost reached the production volume of last year. The target they have set for themselves is around 16 weeks for sets that don't require color matching, from the order being placed to the palettes leaving the warehouse. To help reach this goal, GMK has not only invested into new production machines, but also a custom built sorting machine that will be installed later this year. It will massively alleviate the manual sorting process by sorting roughly 1,000 base kits a day, running day and night.
I'd like to thank GMK again for their invitation and hospitality, we had a great time with a lot of insight into what they are up to. The direction they are going feels right to me, and I am looking forward to helping them release their new products to the community.