SHANGHAI (Sept. 6, 1:15 p.m. ET) — Equipment maker Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH plans to start assembling injection molding machines in China in 2013, its first such production in Asia, in a bid to reduce costs and shorten delivery times.
The Vienna, Austria-based company plans to start assembling injection molding machines in its EcoPower series up to 180 tons at a new facility near its existing factory in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, said Jonathan Ching, managing director of Wittmann Battenfeld (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.
The facility will start with capacity of about 200 machines a year, he said in an interview at the APPlas show, held Sept. 6-9 in Shanghai.
The facility will assemble EcoPower presses of 55 tons, 110 tons and 180 tons, and will serve both the Chinese market and export to other countries in Asia, including India, and Australia and New Zealand, he said.
“If there was no financial crisis, probably we would have started production already,” he said. The company is talking to local authorities in Kunshan to find land, likely near its existing factory where it makes robots and other auxiliary equipment.
The company is diversifying its injection press production base. At last year's K Fair in Düsseldorf, Germany, executives said they planned to start making the EcoPower injection presses at their existing factory in Mosonmagyarovar, Hungary, by the end of this year.
The company, which acquired the Battenfeld press business in 2008, said at the K Fair that the Hungary expansion would free up capacity to make larger injection presses in its Kottingbrunn, Austria, facility.
The company is also trying to standardize its injection press models to boost efficiency, reduce costs, and help better implement a new web-based service allowing customers to get help from service technicians anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, Ching said.
Customized machines are still available, he said.
Ching said the company is seeing increasing demand in China for its robots and auxiliary equipment, even as the Chinese manufacturing sector has slowed in recent months. Companies are looking to offset factory wages that have been rising at least 10 percent annually.
“The automation demand, in spite of the economy slowing, is still big because of the shortage of labor,” Ching said. “This is really the right moment to introduce robots. China in the past was labor-intensive but the price of labor is increasing so rapidly.”
The firm is doing some smaller capacity expansions and streamlining in Kunshan to boost production of those auxiliary equipment lines, he said. It also plans to add about 40 production employees in Kunshan over the next year, up from 110 now, he said.
Its domestic market for robots has also changed, going from about 95 percent foreign-invested firms in China three years ago, to more than 50 percent of robot sales to Chinese-owned plastics firms now, Ching said.
“The private entrepreneurs do not want to hire more people,” he said.
At APPlas, the company was showing its EcoPower series and introducing two new robot lines that it is now making in China, its W828 and W818 models, which can accommodate molding machines up to 500 tons.