When Walter Wang, owner and CEO of the world's largest plastics pipe manufacturer, decided to expand into mainland China in 2012, he never thought his new business would be impacted by his longstanding extrusion equipment supplier in a way that would end up in court.
The heir to the Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group and owner of Los Angeles-based pipe extruder JM Eagle embarked upon a grand mission — to make tap water in China safe to drink, a revolutionary concept for the country's 1.4 billion residents. As a first step of his “Eternal Spring” initiative, Wang decided to invest $440 million to build a pipe plant in northern China.
He named the new company Hebei Quanen High-Tech Piping Co. Ltd.
Fast forward four years, Quanen has fallen behind on its original schedule, and the cause, according to the company, was extrusion machinery supplied by Bad Oeynhausen, Germany-based Battenfeld-Cincinnati Extrusion Holding GmbH.
On May 24, three months after Battenfeld-Cincinnati allegedly missed a deadline to resolve all machinery issues, Quanen filed a lawsuit against Battenfeld-Cincinnati in the California Superior Court in Los Angeles for a number of complaints — design defect, breach of warranty, negligence, intentional misrepresentation, and negligent misrepresentation.
The civil case — involving machinery made in Germany, the United States and China, for a U.S.-owned company working on a major Chinese government project — may be a case of plastics industry globalization gone wrong.
Battenfeld-Cincinnati denies Quanen's allegations.
“Battenfeld-Cincinnati does not publicly comment on pending legal matters, but we can tell you that the allegations are without merit and we intend on vigorously defending ourselves if necessary,” Gerold Schley, CEO of Battenfeld-Cincinnati, said in a July 15 statement
“As a company, we stand behind the quality of our products and ensure that our manufacturing practices comply with all applicable laws and contractual requirement,” Schley said.
A trial date has not been set.
Lawsuit filed in Los Angeles
In the suit, Quanen says it chose to file the complaint in California because the essential terms of the contract between Quanen and Battenfeld-Cincinnati were negotiated and agreed to at a meeting in Los Angeles on Aug. 24, 2012.
According to the lawsuit, Quanen agreed to grant Battenfeld-Cincinnati $75 million of total business, and in return, then Battenfeld-Cincinnati CEO Jurgen Arnold agreed to extend a 40 percent discount. In a phone interview with Plastics News, Quanen CEO Franco An, who also participated in the meeting, said the 40 percent discount is “common practice” in the industry. “Just a numbers game.”
In September 2012, as part of the $75 million deal, Quanen ordered 16 polyethylene pipe production lines and nine PVC pipe lines — totaling annual capacity of more than 200,000 metric tons — for its Hebei plant, with a total price of $38 million.
Quanen's An said the plan was to start with the Hebei plant and then replicate the project in other locations such as Chengdu — which would have meant buying more machines from Battenfeld-Cincinnati as part of the $75 million deal.
According to the suit, Battenfeld-Cincinnati decided to make some parts in Europe and/or the United States, and other, more basic parts, in China.
The plan was to assemble finished machines in Hebei, using components made at multiple Battenfeld-Cincinnati factories. According to the lawsuit, Battenfeld-Cincinnati had never built extrusion lines that way, assembling them at the customer's plant without integration and final runoff at the machinery company's plant.
Quanen's sister company JM, the world's largest plastics pipe extruder with estimated sales of $2.45 billion, has been a Battenfeld-Cincinnati customer for several decades, purchasing “tens of millions of dollars” of extrusion equipment, according to the suit.
However, a slew of serious problems started to emerge with the Quanen project, according to the lawsuit.
To begin with, when the parts arrived at Quanen, Battenfeld-Cincinnati technicians had “numerous difficulties integrating the parts for the various lines, causing substantial delay,” according to the suit.
“The problem was exacerbated by the fact that, as the Battenfeld Cos. later acknowledged, some of the parts made in China as a cost-cutting move malfunctioned or did not work as intended, creating additional delays,” Quanen said in the lawsuit.