Committed to optimism
fact it is changing at a dizzying pace. If you want to visit a restaurant in the evening, you had better call in advance. Not to reserve a table, but to make sure that the restaurant is still there. It’s a country in mad transition. On TV there is an advertisement for growth pills. Add between 6 to 15 centimeters to your height within six months!
A bold promise in an even bolder country. But now one thing is certain, suddenly it pays to work. That’s why people are moving in droves into the cities that are changing so fast that a reliable road map is hard to come by. But that, like everything else, is cause for optimism and celebration. In China, the words for crisis and opportunity are each composed of two characters. In both words the character Ji is used. So the Chinese conclude that every crisis is an opportunity. Committed to optimism.
That is true for Julie Sun, who faces the future with confidence and with a raft of personal goals.
She commutes to work on a bicycle, but soon she hopes to swap it for a car – preferably a VW Polo. She stands in the kitchen of her new apartment and cranes her neck out the window. She should almost be able to see the Wörwag plant. It is only three kilometers as the crow flies but the road is still unfinished. A construction fence and trees obscure the view. In a couple of months construction will continue all the way from here to her work place.
The entire residential complex consists of several 18-storey blocks. 5000 people will be moving into the new apartments by the end of the year. They will live in the middle of a green oasis; an idyllic development reminiscent of a holiday resort. There are ornate paths, romantic waterways with small bridges, cozy seats, shade trees and a huge playground.
No wonder the development is called Huaxi Zhuoan, which means “flower garden”. Half of Langfang is plastered with adverts for this residential area marketed with the slogan “Sunny and colorful days”. When Julie Sun talks about her home she is radiant. It is everything she imagined. And it was planned by the Chinese government.
Langfang is located some 70 kilometers south of Beijing. More than four and a half million people live here and more are arriving every day.
A thousand companies have moved to Langfang. With Wörwag, there are 200 from Germany. It is a strategic location. Many automotive manufacturers and suppliers of major brands have settled around Beijing, and a second capital airport will open in the south of the city by 2018.
Julie left her hometown Chifeng in Inner Mongolia in 2002 along with her childhood sweetheart Zhidong Wu. Seven years ago, their daughter Wu Mingyang was born. They want her to have a better future, surrounded with greenery and trees, not just in picture books, but in a real and healthy environment. All of the conditions are right. Langfang is an official eco-development zone.
It is all happening very fast. In late 2012, Jiutian Leisure Valley opened in the city center. It is an artificial indoor recreation park with a huge rainforest, a hotel, restaurants and leisure activities. The park has 100 000 square meters under continuous irrigation. In the city center, malls, residential complexes and hotels are springing up like mushrooms. Neon signs and giant screens light up the evening sky.
In between them parks are being created and mature trees planted. On the green central reservations boxwoods are carefully pruned. The transformation into a model city is in full swing. Planners are addressing the past mistakes of unchecked, extremely rapid industrial growth as quickly as possible; but some plans still take time.
“It is important to think about products, the market and the prices. But it is equally important to treat the employees well.” Junxue Qin
Germany, the model
Wörwag understands the need for patience, and is now being rewarded for the long-term strategy it adopted when it came to China. A small sales office in Shanghai became a Wörwag subsidiary in 1997, and the Langfang presence was established in 2003. The current plant was opened in 2008.
Now revenues are 18 times above the 2004 level and rising. “That’s a huge development,” says Junxue Qin, who has been General Manager since 2005. He still remembers one of his first management moves: “We had to build toilets. People were always driving home to use the bathroom.” Qin studied business administration in Mannheim in 1988. “I consider myself very socially responsible, which is something I learned in Germany,” says the 56-year-old. “It is important to think about products, the market and prices but it is equally important to treat the staff well and pay them fairly.”
This ultimately pays off in their identification with the company, their performance and motivation. Our employees have realized that Wörwag is offering great ways to get qualifications, build a career and assume greater responsibility. Julie Sun is an example of someone who has seized the opportunity.
“We are customer-oriented and always up to date with the latest developments. Our products contain German know-how,” Junxue Qin says.
The Chinese subsidiary Worwag Coatings (Langfang) Co., Ltd. is located at 11, Baihe Street. Above the blue corporate names are their corresponding Chinese characters. The company site is about as big as a football field – but Wörwag outgrew it a long time ago. Nearly 100 people are employed here, 30 of them in a rented office building three kilometers away.
Ten employees are based at customer premises. The Wörwag site is surrounded by a brick wall. Standing in the courtyard, you can see man-sized red letters on the inner wall. On one wall it says, “Safe production is the priority.” The corporate values , “Innovation, quality, service and performance,” are painted on another wall in Chinese and German. Everyone, including Junxue Qin, knows how important the “Made in Germany” label is. “We are customer-oriented and always up to date with the latest developments. Our products contain German know-how,” the general manager says.
“Therefore, all of our products are extremely innovative. We can offer performance that competitors can not match.” Customer satisfaction rates are posted each month on the blackboard in Langfang. The goal for 2013 is 98 percent. Apart from a drop in April, the Wörwag subsidiary has exceeded the goal by a wide margin.
Wörwag’s plan to enter new markets is working. In Langfang, like in other international locations such as the USA, South Africa, Switzerland, Poland and Spain, Wörwag has invested in more than technology and machinery. The key to its success are the employees. When Julie Sun comes to work shortly after seven o’clock in the morning, her first stop is breakfast with her other colleagues.
Wörwag is the only company in the Langfang industrial zone offering both lunch and a second free meal. For breakfast is Chinese bread that resembles a whitish steam bread, soup, roasted vegetables and tea. In the past everyone ate on the way to work at the mobile roadside food stands. “That was not very hygienic. People were always sick,” said Qin, “I would rather pay for their breakfast and have fewer absentees.”
The employees appreciate this added value. They identify with the company, which results in people staying with the company for many years, longer than normal in China.
Employees see good prospects
People have to eat in shifts because the two breakfast rooms are always overcrowded. In recent years the company has been growing at a rate of 10 to 15 new employees per year. Now, almost all of the offices at the company premises are too small. Growth means constant improvisation. This is especially true for the warehouse. Coordinating incoming and outgoing goods requires plenty of organizational talent.
Yi Ding seems to have it. He is 33 years old and started working for Wörwag in June 2013. He proudly shows off his new office, a flatroofed extension opposite the canteen. “My job satisfaction comes from seeing the company flourishing,” says Ding. The German standards and specifications for his work are a daily challenge.
Everyone is well aware that Wörwag sets the highest standards. But the effort is worth it. That is what everyone, especially the younger employees, like about their jobs. The average age of the workforce is just under 30, so the work teams often get together after work.
Julie Sun is an important contact person both in China and abroad. She is the connection to Germany on a whole range of topics, which is why she has been to Stuttgart for training three times already.
The international activities are coordinated by the International Technology Management (ITM) department at the head office. Friendships have developed, and now the Stuttgart team is not just there to provide support in a crisis.
When Julie Sun was in Germany in June 2013, she gave a DVD set with a Chinese language course to Giuseppe Polito, the Regional Manager responsible for the Chinese market. Of course, he was quite amused because he knew how much he needed to learn some Chinese. “We are the interface with the market.”
His colleague Georg Bussmann stood in the lab in China ten years ago mixing the first batch of paint with two pots and a bead mill. Today he is head of ITM and spends several weeks a year traveling in China, mainly for customer projects.
“We define success based on quality, not volume.” It is important to adapt and transfer our expertise. But the whole thing is not just a one-way street. We need feedback. That is why English is a Wörwag employment criterion in China. “So when questions suddenly arise, every employee is able to report directly to Germany,” explains Bussmann.
The efforts and investments are paying off. Wörwag was one of the first companies to successfully offer water-based coats in China. A Wörwag technician and his personal translator spent almost a year working on the production floor of the customer’s plant. “That was hard work but they finally saw that our products were better than those of our competitors’,” said Qin. Although water-based paints currently account for just ten percent of sales, the General Manager is sure that it is well worth the effort.
“If we don’t get in now, we have no chance. It’s the future.” The fact that Wörwag’s latest technology is always introduced almost simultaneously in all markets underlines the importance of regions like China.
In Search of a New Construction Site
In the search for a larger facility in Langfang, Qin has been discovering that you cannot always make your own plans for the future. In his office is an award that honors Wörwag for being a good taxpayer in 2012. Hopefully that will help in the search for a new construction site. The pace of Wörwag growth in China remains high.
Within the next five years, revenues are expected to double. At the same time the number of employees at Langfang will also increase. However long Junxue Qin has to wait for a new plant in Langfang, the firm’s plans give Julie Sun a sense of security in her own planning. Rising Sun. No doubt: this is true in China for Wörwag.
In 2012, no other country built more cars than China. The bulk of them were destined for the domestic market, as a glance at the export figures shows, but that had little impact on car density in China.
Car production: The 2012 top 5 (in million units). Source: Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA); 1) Including light commercial vehicles
Car production: The five countries in the world where the most vehicles are manufactured (in millions of units). Source: VDA
Car density: In 2011, the United States was the country with the highest car ownership per 1000 inhabitants. Source: VDA
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motor vehicles (cars, trucks, buses) were on the roads worldwide in 2011. Source: Ward’s Automotive Group
The LabPainter is an all-rounder that simulates a variety of future production line conditions. Using this test method, Wörwag is able to manufacture products of consistent high quality in growth markets such as China.
Head of Process Engineering, Materials Engineering and Analytics, Dr. Alexander Gissel can watch the LabPainter working at the Chinese Langfang site, even though he is 8000 kilometers away in Stuttgart.
The remote link is a major strength of this test process. Gissel can access all the conditions and parameters of the process in China and compare them with other locations. The device was put into operation in late 2012 in Langfang following the successful implementation of a system in the American Wörwag site in Lafayette, Indiana.
From Stuttgart, Gissel has constant access to the facilities in the USA and China. Wörwag is concocting the perfect formulation, like a chef collecting the best seasoning tips from all over the world. “We developed the machine concept, application methods and process engineering, and demonstrated and documented it all in Stuttgart,” says Gissel. “A nomenclature was also defined for the the every aspect of the process so that Wörwag application technologists can all speak the same language all over the world.”
Liang Wang knows the code. The painter in the test lab in China is preparing for the next round of experiments. Using a paper funnel , he carefully pours paint into the flow cup of the LabPainter. 100 milliliters of lacquer suffice. A geared pump then delivers the liquid via a four millimetre thick hose directly to the high-speed rotary atomizer.
The miniature paint system, largely developed by Wörwag and implemented in 2004, simulates in minute detail the painting processes of automobile manufacturers and their suppliers. Basically, Wörwag can use the LabPainter today to test the painting processes of tomorrow. This is the key to the successful development of new paint formulations.
In the four-by-three-meter spray booth, it is 23°C and humidity is 70 percent. Controlling the ambient conditions is an energy-intensive process but one that is fundamental for the high reproducibility of the coatings. Silver is applied – Diamond Silver for Mercedes.
Wang adjusts the substrate facing the atomizer. He closes the door. Then, looking at the screen, he activates the electrostatic high-speed rotary atomizer. The substrate is sprayed automatically.
After venting, the paint is allowed to dry before the clear coat is applied. Then, after more venting, Wang puts the substrate back into the oven to dry. This process is repeated with different formulations. The LabPainter is a tireless marathon runner. With perfect preparatory work and two shifts, up to 80 sprays per day are possible.
Gissel is satisfied with the results from China. Evaluation of the color panels is important for the development of coatings.
“Because we test the application process conditions,” says Gissel, “we can find out to what degree a new color tone will be affected by variations in production line conditions and application technology.”
The LabPainter is flexible, easy to use and requires little space. It is suitable for waterand solvent-based coating systems. All types of atomizers can be used and it can be adapted to the latest technology. Gissel is certain of one thing: “We have to keep on top of developments. Customer demands are constantly changing.”
Text: Michael Thiem
Photos: Laurent Burst, Luxwerk (1)
Sources Infographics: Verband der Automobilindustrie (VDA), UN Comtrade, Ward’s Automotive Group
Map Infographics: Shaded Relief Archive / Kenneth Townsend