SHENZHEN, CHINA — Casual visitors to Shenzhen think of the city as glittering skyscrapers, high-end shopping malls and throngs of tourists crowding theme parks. But a half-hour cab ride from the city's posh side lies a gritty Shenzhen that provides the muscle to the city's hectic growth — and where plans are being laid to continue that growth.
Shenzhen Ango Mould Co. Ltd. is one of the many small mold makers crowding Shenzhen's industrial Bao'an District.
“Business is good,” said Ango Mould founder and Chairman Fan Guo Qiang. 2014 sales were 65 million RMB ($10 million), up from $7 million the previous year. Forty-five percent of sales are for auto products, including customers Subaru and BMW, and 38 percent go to office-equipment vendors such as Brother, Toshiba and Canon. The remaining sales come from the home appliance and medical equipment industries.
Next door, 30 injection molding machines at subsidiary Shenzhen San Ban Fu Technology Co. Ltd. pump out electronic connectors and cases for power tools. Last year's sales were 16 million yuan (about $2.6 million).
Ango focuses on exports to developed countries: Forty percent of its sales go to European customers, 30 percent to the United States and 10 percent to Japan. The strong RMB makes for some rough going, with foreign customers driving hard bargains.
“One European customer asked for a 30 percent discount,” Fan said.
Finding and keeping qualified staff has emerged as a key challenge in recent years.
Ango has struck up a joint training program with the Hubei University of Technology, in which students spend three years at the university, then one year training at Ango. In January, the company started making molds for the auto industry at a 2,600-square-meter subsidiary there, set up in conjunction with the university.
“We have many chances to grow in Wuhan,” Fan said.
In a shift from traditional Chinese factory management, Ango offers significant bonuses tied to key performance indicators, such as delivering finished molds more quickly. Mold assembly manager Yang Maojun, speaking through a translator, said: “I meet with my workers a lot to solve problems. We also get training. In the past two years we have already cut the number of days to make a mold from 30 to 25.”
The company's 50 engineers are typically working on 50 molds at a time, a figure that declines during the summer but picks up to about 70 molds during the busy months leading up to the Chinese New Year in January and February.
Fan said the biggest change since he founded Ango in 1995 “is the automation of work that we used to do manually.” A tour of the Ango shop floor confirms this, with a bevy of Japanese-made electrical discharge machines and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines running round the clock. Ango plans to pour $600,000 into new production equipment this year.
Watching a test mold is Bercely Padilla, a production director from France-based Legrand Group. Padilla oversees about 50 molds every year for circuit breakers, switches and other electronic components. “It's an excellent company,” Padilla said. “They provide good quality and fast turnaround at a good price.”