Japanese high-end press maker Sodick Plustech Co. Ltd. has opened its first injection molding machine assembly plant in China, designed to tap into growing demand there.
Sodick opened the facility in Xiamen in February and plans to produce about 150-200 presses a year there, said Shigeru Fujimaki, executive managing director of Yokohama-based Sodick. He spoke at KoPlas, the Korea International Plastics and Rubber Show in Seoul, held March 30 to April 3.
Sodick's expansion comes as its sales held roughly steady at about 700 presses in the fiscal year that ended March 31. That's a sharp contrast to overall conditions in Japan's machinery industry, where press sales fell more than 50 percent in 2009.
Fujimaki said Sodick's business has held up well in the economic downturn in some higher-end markets, including molding of medical equipment, parts for light-emitting-diode systems, auto parts and components for mobile phone battery casings.
The LED lighting business in particular is very strong among Japanese, South Korean and Taiwanese customers, he said.
It is quite busy, he said. We have quite a few back orders.
Sodick's China-made machines will be about 15-20 percent cheaper than its Japan-made equipment, with a slightly modified design but with overall quality remaining the same, Fujimaki said. That was a key factor in deciding to set up in China, he said.
Our injection machines, we decided, can be made in China at the same quality as in Japan, he said.
Still, he said, the firm wants to continue tapping into lower costs in China and is searching for other ways, such as more local procurement of parts and raw materials.
He said the company was able to maintain quality levels because it is making the molding machines within a Sodick factory set up several years ago in Xiamen to produce electric-discharge machines.
The firm already has invested about 8 billion yen ($85.2 million) in the Xiamen factory, including for the much larger EDM production, he said. The company will make a version of its 100-ton injection press there, and will add other press sizes such as 60 tons and 150 tons later, Fujimaki said.
Initial demand for the Xiamen machines comes from the China factories of Japanese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and other overseas companies, but Sodick also believes demand from domestic Chinese companies will grow over time.
We are looking at five, 10 years in the future, he said. The Chinese market will need this type of machine.
The China-made machines are planned strictly for sale in China now, to those overseas customers there, but he said in time Sodick could start exporting them to other markets such as the United States, where its medical business is strong, Fujimaki said.
He added, though, that the company is in no rush to export from Xiamen.
Overall, demand for Sodick's presses has held stable in the economic downturn, with the firm expecting demand to grow this year, possibly topping 1,000 machines, he said.
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