CHICAGO (Sept. 19, 6:30 p.m. EDT) — Chinese injection press giant Ningbo Haitian Group Co. Ltd. and its new partner, Absolute Machinery Corp. in Worcester, Mass., are taking a fresh approach to U.S. and Canadian markets, officials said at NPE 2006.
Haitian has sold about 200 machines in North America in five years of actively selling in the region, said Helmar Franz, Haitian's executive vice president.
“We think we can improve our business in North America,” he said. “I think there's a good basis for machines, which we can supply to the American customers, so we feel we can improve our business to an extent. So we need to enlarge our operation here in the United States.”
NPE took place June 19-23 in Chicago, just a month after Haitian and Absolute announced their alliance. Haitian abruptly ended its five-year relationship with its North American division in Toronto. Some customers were confused, and Haitian leaders told the Toronto operation to close down, but never explained their plans to the employees there. The company also shuttered its U.S. warehouse and sales facility in Itasca, Ill.
Franz admitted the transition was choppy.
“You have a transition, but once the news comes through, some people are happy, some people are unhappy. This is normally what happens,” he said at Haitian's NPE booth.
The Ningbo, China-based Haitian issued a news release May 23 naming Absolute Machinery as its sales and service partner, now called Absolute Haitian Corp.
Absolute Haitian President Mike Ortolano said the Massachusetts firm also has been contacting Haitian owners to explain the change.
“We're trying to touch the customer base using a lot of different mechanisms,” he said. “And the reality of it is, when there's a change it takes some amount of time for everybody to catch up with it. No matter how well you try to communicate it, there's people who don't get the information, and it takes a little bit of time.”
Franz, a well-known German plastics machinery executive who was hired by Haitian in 2005 to oversee strategic business development, said the Chinese firm needs to step up its North American efforts to improve parts and service. Quite a few customers bought one or two Haitians, lured by prices that can be 40-50 percent the cost of a European or U.S. injection press. Keeping them satisfied will lead to more sales.
“The first machine is sold by salesmen. The second is sold by service,” Franz said.
Haitian, which said it shipped more than 14,000 injection presses in 2005, is boosting its technology. At NPE 2006, the company showed five presses, two of them all-electric machines and three hydraulic toggle presses.
“We've had a tremendous amount of interest from customers on the all-electric presses, and we've had a lot of interest from the competitors on these Chinese machines, with our very aggressive pricing,” Ortolano said.
He said Absolute Haitian has “loaded” the presses with options required for a broad range of molding jobs. Standard features include four air-blown circuits, two core-pull circuits, a robot interface and automatic clamp lubrication.
Haitian claims to hold about a 60 percent share for large-tonnage presses in the highly competitive China market and about a 15 percent share for small presses — a strong position in the world's fastest-growing economy. But moving into international markets will help the company improve, Franz said.
Franz is among a group of investors that is setting up a company to make premium-brand injection presses in Germany, called Zhafir Plastics Machinery GmbH. The investors include other senior managers from Haitian.
Franz said the stronger presence in Europe and the United States will help Haitian remain strong in its native China, because the machinery maker will get closer to multinational manufacturers. That gets Haitian a place at the table when those companies make their press-buying decisions.
“We want to talk to them in their language and really try to understand, 'What are their requirements?' ” Franz said. “Because when we will meet those global operating customers only in China, it's two years too late, once they are there.”