Shunde, China — Guangdong Yizumi Precision Machinery Co. Ltd., one of China's leading makers of injection molding machinery, made a splash in January when it announced it had hired former Engel Chief Technology Officer Hans Wobbe as chief strategy officer.
The busy consultant also teaches at the Institute of Plastics Processing (IKV) at RWTH University in Aachen, Germany, and now serves as a strategic technology advisor for Trexel Inc. The 30-year industry veteran's impressive resume includes stints as head of development at Werner & Pfleiderer GmbH and managing director-technology at KraussMaffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH.
Yizumi will be at K 2016 in Düsseldorf, Germany, Hall 13, D80.
Recently Plastics News sat down with Wobbe at Yizumi's Shunde headquarters, near Guangzhou, to talk about his goals for the company.
Q: What attracted you to Yizumi?
Wobbe: I like to manage in an international environment. International to me means away from Germany, away from Europe, away from Western countries. When I started my career in the early ‘80s in Germany, “international” meant Switzerland. The next step was that everyone went from Europe to the U.S. But no one in the ‘80s thought of going to Asia.
Going international means, for someone in plastics machinery, he has to go where the market is and today that's Asia.
I'm also very interested in the culture. You can learn a lot. You learn that your culture is not the best, you learn that a mixture of different cultures is much better. That's my personal view.
Q: What's strong about Chinese manufacturing culture?
Wobbe: Here, quality is defined on a different level than quality is defined in Europe or North America. When we Europeans talk about quality, we mean a product which is rigid, a product which should last your whole life. ... Here in China, I've learned that quality means the product should be new, innovative, and look good, but there is no need for it to be reliable for a whole lifetime. If you talk to people here, their attitude is, “Oh, in 10 years, I'll purchase another product. I will not need that old one anymore.” That's the main difference.
The speed here in China is much higher than in Western companies. R&D here is like that 30 years ago in Germany when I was starting my career. At that time, [if your customer wanted a non-standard machine], you developed and sent it to the customer. Then you started a discussion to improve the machine. You worked together with the customer.
I see that, here, in China now. As an engineer, I like that. It was accepted 30 and 40 years ago in all Western countries, but it's not anymore. And to be honest, I hate that. If you want to be in the front on innovation, you have to take risks.
Q: Have you heard any feedback or comments from your colleagues in the industry?
Wobbe: They understand completely.
If you go back 10 or 15 years, no one understood if a person like me or Mr. Helmar Franz [at Haitian International Holdings Ltd.] working for a Chinese company. But nowadays, it's changing because the colleagues see our industry is driven by the Chinese industry.
Q: You've spent a lot of time in China, including helping establish Engel's Shanghai plant. What's the most interesting experience you've had here?
Wobbe: I first came here in 2004. At that time it was very different. In Western countries, 12 years is not a big difference, but it is here.
At that time I traveled to look for land for the new Engel plant in Shanghai. ... Even then, I was impressed by the speed here. We were staying in a hotel, and at the beginning there was a field beside the hotel, and by the end of the year, it was a skyscraper! That's still typical here.
Q: How are Chinese and German companies alike and how do they differ?
Wobbe: Here, you have to have more discussions than you do in Western countries. You have to convince everyone. Otherwise, you have no chance that they are following your directions. They disagree, but they do not tell you. I needed a lot of time to understand that.
There's also a difference in knowledge. In all Western companies, the knowledge of the regular staff is much higher. They are better educated. In engineering and R&D, they have much deeper basic knowledge. If you know more, you want to understand everything in detail. That's good for quality and understanding, but that's poor for speed.
In the West we have a lot of staff with a bachelor's or graduate degree in plastics processing. That's almost unheard of here. Here, many staff have only a two-year degree.
China has two universities that offer specialized education in plastics technology, turning out 200 graduates a year. RWTH Aachen University each year has many more graduates.
Q: You aim to open R&D centers in both Germany and China. Why do you need two?
Wobbe: For sure, you need a R&D center in the headquarters, that's here in China. But due to the issue of education about process knowledge here in China, I want to establish a second center in Germany, because I believe that in the area of plastics processing and plastics machinery, we [Germany] are pretty much one of the best educated places in the world.
The R&D team in Germany will help with screw layout and screw design, the plasticizing unit, the kinematics of the toggle system, those sorts of things.
If you do not have this expertise in detail, the machine [can still] run well, but I want the machine to be better. I have to know everything in detail and then I can optimize it.
I'm also teaching the engineers here. If they understand better, they can optimize better.
Q: Part of your brief is to upgrade product quality. How will you plan to do this?
Wobbe: With my Western eyes, it's not stable enough here. Sometimes the quality is high, and sometimes it's low. They do not know why sometimes they're very good and sometimes not.
The reaction here in China is, “If we do higher quality, it will be at a much higher cost.” It's not. That's the first thing I have to convince them of.
Unstable processes are the main challenge with the companies here. And not only with manufacturing, but also with assembly, with the supply chain, with sub-suppliers. It's the whole chain. It's a very big job to convince everyone.
You have only one chance. If you come the first time with poor quality, then you can forget it for the next 10 years. So if we go international, we have to go with internationally accepted quality. That's the first thing I want to do here.
We also need increased process knowledge. That's the driver of our industry. We have machine and polymer knowledge, but we need to integrate them.
For example, in designing a screw for a specialized application [for example, using both polypropylene and polystyrene], you need to realize that polypropylene resin has a much higher melting point. That's an example of where process knowledge is critical.
Q: Do you think language is a challenge?
Wobbe: It is a challenge. But how was it 10, 20 years ago? You looked for someone in Western countries who could speak Chinese.
Now my main focus is engineering. If I hire young engineers, twenty-five or thirty years old, I tell them, it's not a must that you know the Chinese language now, but you must learn it in the next two to three years.
Q: Why start with a R&D center in the West, not a sales and service network?
Wobbe: European and North American companies start with selling. It's wrong, I think. If we want to go international, we have to convince our international customers. We have to convince them that we can make innovations with an R&D center. And then, if we can convince them, they will ask for an offer.
It's the long game. We'll establish R&D centers first. And in the long run, we'll be able to convince customers that of what we have to offer.
I'll look into [possible acquisitions] too, but first you need a sound basis. That's why I'm focused on upgrading our technical base. I've had two companies phone, asking if I'm interested in buying them. [Laughs] I've said, “No thanks. Maybe later on, but not yet.”
Q: Right now, are you a consultant or a full-time staffer at Yizumi?
Wobbe: I'm a consultant. I come here every month for one week.
Q: What is your position at the Institute of Plastics Processing (IKV) in Industry and the Skilled Crafts at RWTH Aachen University?
Wobbe: I consult and give lectures there, on combination technologies in injection molding. This means, for example, combining polyurethane technology with injection molding, or a combining metal with plastic injection molding. I just wrote a book about that, in German.
I work with the assistants at Aachen IKV, discussing whether their new ideas are practical or not. I like working with young people and their new ideas.
In Western countries, if you want to be a professor of engineering you need, say, 10 years' experience in industry. That means you have a good network and you're down to earth. Compare that to China, where I've never found a professor who's had experience in industry. It's a disadvantage, from my point of view.
Q: What is your outlook for the Chinese injection-molding-machinery industry, and Yizumi in particular, for the rest of the year?
Wobbe: I expect a small decrease in total sales for the total injection molding machine industry, but I see an increase for Yizumi. We're well-prepared and we're on a good track.
Other injection molding machinery suppliers, mainly smaller companies, will have some problems, I believe.