Ace Mold Co. Ltd. has a mission to break those nagging perceptions about companies in China.
Do U.S. companies use Chinese mold-making and molding shops purely because of cost? Well, Ace has both equipment and technology in China that put it on par with European and American companies.
Do work standards at Asia-based companies fall below those in the West? Ace runs three air-conditioned, climate-controlled plants in China and provides continuous training in-house. A majority of its 1,700 workers come from universities and technical schools.
Ace, based in Shenzhen with financial offices in Hong Kong and a smaller factory in Shanghai, has a reason to rely on quality work, said Jack Yeung, vice president of marketing and business development. China's economy is maturing so rapidly that being a low-cost producer is not sufficient to survive, he said.
``Precise, complex tools are highly demanded in China, and a majority of Chinese companies are not capable of that type of manufacturing,'' Yeung said in a March 1 interview at the Plastics News Executive Forum in Litchfield Park.
Ace, owned by 16 employees from Hong Kong, does about 80 percent of its work with American and European companies with manufacturing plants inside China, Yeung said. About half of its customers are U.S.-based.
With more goods assembled in China, Ace has adjusted with the times. In 2002, the tooling company started a molding division, Ace Plastics Co. Ltd. The molding operation moved to a free-standing building in Shenzhen this year, bringing 1,000 people to the 180,000-square-foot site.
Two years ago, Ace opened a 110,000-square-foot plant in Shanghai that performs molding and mold making. The company had six injection presses five years ago; today it has 125 machines, Yeung said.
Those operations include a Class 10,000 clean room, automated spray painting lines, electroplating and insert and multishot molding, Yeung said. Parts are made for a variety of products including cosmetics, shavers, cameras, personal digital assistants, golf-shoe spikes, electrical switches and connectors, and medical parts.
Its 150,000-square-foot mold-making facility in Shenzhen has Charmilles and Makino automated equipment and specializes in molds with as many as 64 cavities, according to Yeung.
The company also has its own U.S.-based consultants. In February 2004, Ace acquired Raincross Group, a two-person company in Riverside, Calif., started by former executives with injection molder United Plastics Group Inc. Robert Alvarez, former UPG vice president of technology who now works with Ace, said that the demand for injection molding in China has meant large changes.
``A good portion of mold makers are converting shops to injection molding because of increasing demand,'' Alvarez said in an interview at the forum ``It's already the second-largest consumer plastic-resin nation in the world. It's a natural evolution; if a company doesn't improve itself to better compete, it might not be able to survive.''
Ace is trying to stay ahead of the development curve in China, Yeung said. With Alvarez's help, it provides decoupled molds, a process using technology from Traverse City, Mich.-based RJG Inc. to completely prepare a mold to go into a press before shipment.
As for its U.S. presence, Ace launched a custom design shop in 2003 in Bernardsville, N.J., to develop cosmetic and skin-care products, Yeung said. Those products include compacts used to apply makeup and formulations for lotions.
The China firm also works with a U.S. mold shop to manufacture and repair some of the molds companies contract through Ace, Yeung said. And while Alvarez and partner Brett Hyder work from a California office, Ace also runs a sales and technical office in England.
The company's program managers are schooled in English, taking two years of private lessons to help them communicate with customers, Yeung said.
Ace also prides itself on work conditions, having been named by Shenzhen local officials as one of the top 50 companies for which to work, Yeung said. Its dormitory, called Ace Gardens, sits two blocks from the factories and has 182 apartments, most of them air-conditioned.
Workers are encouraged to bring family members to live with them, including parents and cousins. About 40 children are driven each day to kindergarten.
``Hopefully, what we've done is please employees and have close personal relationships. That is as important to us as anything else we do,'' Yeung said.