Equipment maker Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH plans to assemble injection molding machines in China by 2013, its first such production in Asia, in a bid to reduce costs and shorten delivery times.
The Vienna-based firm will begin assembling presses in its EcoPower series up to 180 tons at a new plant near its factory in Kunshan, China, said Jonathan Ching, managing director of Wittmann Battenfeld (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.
Initially the plant will have capacity for about 200 machines a year, he said in an interview at Applas — the Asian-Pacific International Plastics and Rubber Industry Exhibition, held Sept. 6-9 in Shanghai.
The facility will assemble EcoPower injection presses of 55 tons, 110 tons and 180 tons, and will serve the Chinese market. It also will export to other countries in Asia including India, and will serve Australia and New Zealand as well.
“If there was no financial crisis, probably we would have started production already,” he said.
Wittmann Battenfeld is talking to local authorities in Kunshan to find land, probably near its factory where it already makes robots and other auxiliary equipment.
The company is diversifying its injection press production base. At last year's K show in Düsseldorf, Germany, executives said they planned to start making the EcoPower presses at the firm's factory in Mosonmagyaróvár, Hungary, by the end of this year.
The firm, which acquired the Battenfeld press business in 2008, said at K that the Hungary expansion will free up capacity to make larger injection presses at its Kottingbrunn, Austria, facility.
The company is also trying to standardize its press models to boost efficiency, reduce costs, and help 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 Wittmann Battenfeld 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. ... 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 has also changed in three years — with more than 50 percent of its robot sales coming from Chinese-owned plastics firms now, compared with 95 percent coming from foreign-invested firms in China three years ago. “The private entrepreneurs do not want to hire more people,” he said.
At Applas, the firm showed its EcoPower series and introduced two new robot models that it is now making in China, its W828 and W818, which can accommodate presses up to 500 tons.