Report by Liz White, editor
Polyurethane equipment specialist Hennecke GmbH opened a new facility in Xinzhuang Industry Park in Shanghai 5 Sept, a day ahead of the UTECH Asia/PU China event on the other side of the city.
Andrew Chan, general manager of Hennecke Machinery (Shanghai) Ltd (HMS), said the company's €2 million ($2.75 million) investment in the 3500-m² plant was only the first step.
Growth is so high in the Asia Pacific region that Hennecke's owners, investment group Adcuram, would like to see a further expansion, to allow the company to further exploit the 10- percent and above growth the PU sector is seeing in the region.
At the opening, Hennecke showed its latest project, a WKH oval conveyor automotive seating line the company has built for a seat maker in south Asia.
HMS's purpose-built machine hall, labs and offices, will employ 50 to start with, but has space for an additional 20 personnel which Hennecke will start to recruit soon.
The site will form the German-based company's competence centre for moulded foam for car seating and for refrigeration, another high-growth sector in China and Asia Pacific, said Chan.
Customers want local suppliers for complete high-end projects, Chan noted. With these new competence centres, Hennecke has the engineering, production management, and service skills to supply into these two key areas.
HMS wants to offer fast, comprehensive solutions to customers in China - and to broaden this to other parts of Asia Pacific, such as Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Chan added.
Seat foam lines a major outlet
At the opening, Hennecke displayed an oval conveyor line built on site see below.
With the equipment, users can devise formulations of different hardness, density and cost to meet car makers' needs, he indicated.
In China, MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate) is used for seat foam by some of the global seat makers, Chan agreed. But a lot of TDI (toluene diisocyanate) is also used, by local makers of car seats/foam, he pointed out.
For seat suppliers such as Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), one of Hennecke's major customers, conveyors such as this allow a lot of flexibility on one line, Chan said.
Lear and JCI are big customers for Hennecke in the west, and both are active in China, so Hennecke develops business in Asia-Pacific from that. It also sells to seat maker Faurecia in China, Chan said, and has smaller local customers as well.
Chan said that while the move of the global automotive OEMs into China encouraged their Tier 1/2 component suppliers into the region, the local OEMs have traditionally made everything (scats and seating foam) in house.
But Chan's view is they cannot make very high quality products in this way, as their quantities are relatively small and they cannot gain economies of scale.
Local OEMs have also used cheaper local equipment, rather than the top-quality machines which the Tier ls and 2s demanded for seat foam, he thinks.
But now that is changing as the local OEMs realise they cannot gain better comfort and quality without a different approach, Chan said. "Even Chinese companies are now buying Hennecke equipment," copying the key players here.
Hennecke also makes equipment for pipe insulation, a fairly major sector in China, Chan added.
It also offers spray-skin machinery for making instrument panels.,
In flexible slabstock - where Hennecke is a major equipment supplier globally and China is the biggest producer worldwide - so far the industry has been focused on high-volume throughput, using local machinery. Chan said.
It has not aimed at high-quality differentiated products, but to satisfying mass demand.
So Hennecke's customers for flexible slabstock equipment in China have largely been for technical foams, for automotive headliners and thin FR layers for automotive seat foam, he said.
For Hennecke in China, automotive forms about a third of its business, with refrigeration accounting for a quarter, and single machines - for water-heater manufacture, headrests d 1 1c..l armrests, pipe insulation, bike saddles and cool boxes - making up 20 percent.
Equipment for use in making building and construction products, sandwich panel lines for example, form another 20 percent of the business.
Custom seat lines
At the opening, HMS displayed the first WKH 32 oval conveyor line for making car seats that it has built at the new site.
This has 32 carrier cassettes, with double mould conveyors to hold two small moulds or one big one.
All connections for compressed air, water, temperature control of the conveyor, and opening and closing of the mould and tilting is by rail.
The line on display was due to be shipped in 2-3 weeks and is the first one of its type - a special design for the customer, said Edgar Knobloch, director of international service with Hennecke.
Here the control is fully automatic, for flow into complex front seat shapes.
Hennecke only displayed the dry side of the seat plant, but Chan noted that it will be used with a MT 22-6 mixhead, which allows a feed of up to six components, so the customer can use two isocyanates and four polyols.
This gives, "almost unlimited flexibility, for formulation design," and is state-of-the-art technology, said Chan. Mainstream use has been for four-component mixheads here, he said,
Six-component mixheads require users to have a lot of expertise, and only certain customers know how to use them, Hennecke indicated.
Looking at the value involved in a seat-foam line, Chan estimated that perhaps 25 percent is the wet side, the mixheads and feeding/ mixing systems for the liquid components, and 75 percent is the dry side, the conveyors, the carousels, the mould carriers and moulds, plus the control systems.
Oval lines such as the one on show are "not low-tech," and every customer demands their own modifications to make it a customised system, Chan pointed out. Knobloch noted that WK H conveyors are being sold to India, China, Thailand and Indonesia from the Shanghai unit.
The one for Thailand is up and running already, while India and Indonesia are next in line.