South China processor and mold maker Manufacturing Modes International Ltd. recently bought 18 new Battenfeld injection presses and on July 17 opened a 200,000-square-foot, 46-press plant in Shenzhen, China.
MMI has invested US$2.5 million in the past nine months in the molding equipment alone, and plans to buy 40 more presses during the next three years, according to Dominic Mak, chairman and chief executive officer of the firm, which makes its headquarters in Hong Kong.
Mak, interviewed June 23 at Chinaplas in Guangzhou, said MMI also has invested US$3 million in the leased land and the factory. He said the plant was to start with 550-600 workers, or a little more than half of the company's 1,000-person workforce.
Other top officials at the company include Mak's brother, Lawrence, who is president of sales and marketing, and Chief Technical Officer Larry Wright.
Wright, who has worked off and on with the Maks for many years, said the new facility includes a Class 100,000 clean room with eight electric presses, and a Class 100,000 assembly area one floor above it. It also will feature a Battenfeld HM8002P press - the first 800-ton, two-platen, retractable-tie-bar press that the German machinery maker has sold in China. Other new hardware includes: two 150-ton, vertical, rotary-table molding machines; a pair of 270-ton, two-color presses; and a 40-ton HM model that also can do powdered injection molding.
The 18 new presses will give MMI a total of 60, with clamping forces of 35-800 tons. Along with the new Battenfelds, the firm has shifted 28 machines from another plant into the new plant. MMI already runs machines from suppliers such as Japan's Toyo and JSW, Taiwan's Po Yuen and Germany's Boy. It has used no presses made by China's mainland suppliers.
Mak said MMI picked the Battenfeld machines because of their reputation as being versatile, precise, energy-efficient presses; the last point is especially important in a country where government-imposed energy blackouts are commonplace.
Mak estimates that each of his current three factories in south China typically suffers a five- or six-hour power outage once per week. But the local government does provide advance notice, and Mak said one learns to manage around such inconveniences. The new plant includes three 715-kVA electricity generators that will allow it to work through such outages, Wright said in a July 11 telephone interview.
In addition to molding, MMI also manufactures 30-40 injection molds per month, about 60 percent of which are for export and the balance for in-house use.
In the late 1980s, the Maks and Wright worked for a sourcing company based in Danville, Calif. Dominic Mak ran the Hong Kong office for that firm. It was successful for a time and the owner made enough money to retire, but then, Wright said, ``nobody wanted to pay for a middleman.'' Mak saw the writing on the wall, and decided to jump into manufacturing in Asia.
He established Manufacturing Modes in Hong Kong in 1990, and acquired a tooling plant in Shenzhen, with the emphasis on making molds for export.
In 1999 MMI built a 150,000-square-foot plant in Dongguang that employed 550. In early 2001 MMI expanded by buying a 250-person tooling maker in Shenzhen called Ching Mei, and the following year acquired another toolmaking business that it folded into the existing plant.
Now, MMI is moving around some of its production assets to make the best use of all its facilities. The shifts will allow it to sell off its oldest building in Shenzhen, and will leave it with three factories, including the new plant.
The company currently makes pharmaceutical products - nothing invasive, but items such as pill-counting trays, some diagnostic devices and the like, Mak said. MMI also serves the information technology sector with products such as enclosures, docking stations for Apple iPod music players, protective cases for personal digital assistants, and indoor/outdoor audio speakers.
MMI now is molding housewares for what Mak called a leading European producer that sells into the U.S. market. He sees today's kitchenware items as requiring high-precision presses with coinjection and two-color capabilities - hence some of the company's recent purchases. And Wright said MMI is looking seriously at getting more involved in surface-mount technology and electronics-related assembly.
Mak also wants MMI to be more than a manufacturer, and he's expecting more growth. He predicts the new factory will employ 800 by the end of 2007.
He said that for nearly a decade MMI has worked closely with IDEO, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based product design and development firm, and continues to interact with it, both in the bay area and in Shanghai.
``We started working with IDEO in 1995-96,'' Mak said, on the integrated plastic/metal cases for the very first Palm Pilot PDAs. ``We built tools for them. We were their secret weapon in the southern part of China.''
Andy Switky, president and general manager of IDEO's Asia-Pacific operations in Shanghai, confirmed that his firm has worked closely with Mak for years and said MMI is a terrific partner.
``Dominic is so interested in getting better and becoming world-class,'' Switky said in a June 30 telephone interview. ``He's building a company on quality and on keeping fussy customers like me happy. I'm hungry for that type of company in south China.''