The rise of Chinese manufacturers 01 Dec 2016

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

bauma China in Shanghai this month (Nov 2016) was a revealing shop window for all types of tunneling equipment and consumables. The exhibits held no doubt that Chinese manufacturers are finding their feet in the art of product promotion and communication with international buyers and it was evident that international customers were keen to know more about product specifications, manufacturing processes, quality, track record, price and reliability.

2,953 exhibitors, 170,000 visitors and 300,000m<sup>2</sup> of exhibition space created bauma China 2016
2,953 exhibitors, 170,000 visitors and 300,000m2 of exhibition space created bauma China 2016

High on the list of models in showcases were soft ground TBMs. From metro sizes to road and rail diameters, these machines apply to areas of infrastructure on which China’s urban and infrastructure surge is largely based. TBMs in the 4m diameter and below for segmentally lined and pipejacking water supply and sewerage tunnels were rare but must by now be manufactured principally by Chinese manufacturers.

On its tours of the 2016 bauma China showgrounds, TunnelTalk visited with five Chinese TBM manufacturers. One of them, CRCC, China Railway Construction Heavy Industry, was exhibiting also drilling jumbos and shotcreting machines as well as the pre-milling excavation method (images 2-4). Also visited were numerous drill bit and drill rod manufacturers, segment mould fabricators, concrete batching and handling systems, manufacturers and suppliers of carbon carbide bits, roadheader and breaker units and all things in between, including a manufacturer of diecast equipment machinery scale models (images 5 - 8).

The CRCC stand and its equipment case exhibits

Perhaps indicative of the slowdown in China’s economic growth, space at the eighth staging of bauma China at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC) was still available and could have accommodated more than the reported 2,953 exhibitors taking up 300,000m2 of space. Most visitors and exhibitors approached however, were of the opinion that the slowdown might well be in other sectors of China’s economy but not in the building of its infrastructure. Excavation for underground space remains high and growing, is the report, with particularly metros and new road and rail tunnels rolling from one project to the next without any delay or holdup. This rolling programme of work is required to solve chronic urban congestion and to improve regional connectivity.

The need to supply the never ending demand for machines, materials and supplies to these continuous construction operations have initiated the expansion of Chinese manufacturers and it is their state ownership status or commercial connections that is now driving the international export efforts. Ambitious targets have been set for international sales – “10, 15 or 20 TBMs into the international market next year” - and rigid pricing strategies leaving the sales teams little room for price negotiations.

Tools to button bit to scale models - all on display

One notable absentee from among Chinese TBM manufacturers was CREG and its Wirth intellectual property acquisition. With 60% or more of the current domestic TBM market, perhaps exhibiting in China gave way to the company’s first attendance as an exhibitor at the bauma Munich event in Germany earlier this year in April (2016).

CSSC, a Chinese shipbuilding company, also exhibited TBMs on its stand with Zhefeng Shi, the sales and Marketing Business Department Vice Minister and Pipejacking Project Manager, hosting the visit by TunnelTalk.

The China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) stand had the greatest number of TBMs featured in posters and as scale models in show cases. Cao Miao, Project Manager of the Overseas Department explained that CCCC has been manufacturing TBMs since as early as 2002 and under the Tianhe brand name and in its own expansive factory since 2010. The CCCC ‘brother’ company has a long history of constructing tunnels for all purposes. The largest machine, at 15m, was manufactured for a tube of a twin tube under river highway tunnel in Nanjing and as part of a “share package” for the project for owner, the Nanjing Government. One of the twin tubes was excavated by the Tianhe manufactured TBM and the other by a Herrerenknecht machine.

Tianhe brand of Chinese TBMs
Tianhe brand of Chinese TBMs

“We have dozens of TBMs now running,” said Cao, “mostly for metros. There are eight machines running in Shanghai for metro projects for a construction company that is an out-of-family company. We manufacture about 50 TBMs per year and we will try our best to go overseas.”

At its stand, Robbins of the USA hosted senior managers of its new Chinese merger company NHI who were also representing its other TBM acquisition NFM of France. Media relations manager Keri Lin for Robbins China could report little concerning the arrangements for NFM and Robbins under NHI ownership except that both NFM and Robbins will continue to operate under their own brand and with their own sales teams in the international market. Some rationalization of manufacturing capacity within China was also likely to take place once the merger is finalized. The manufacturing bases in France for NFM and in the United States for Robbins were also to operate as they have done for the foreseeable future.

Robbins stand hosted members of it new NHI owner
Robbins stand hosted members of it new NHI owner

TBMs featured prominently on the Liaoning Censcience Industry stand with its acquisition of the Lovat TBM intellectual property from Caterpillar in 2014 being presented as its gateway into the international marketplace under the brand name Lovsuns and from its North America base in Toronto, Canada. Shuangzhong Liu, President of the company’s research and design institute, and Kexin Ma of the marketing department hosted the visit by TunnelTalk when it was explained that the company envisages manufacturing 84 TBMs in 2017, most for China but with 10 earmarked for overseas customers.

Herrenknecht was among a list of western manufacturers exhibiting at the show and promoting products, equipment and expertise to Chinese customers.

China remains an important market for Herrenknecht with a poster on the stand illustrating the projects in China to date that total more than 700km of metro tunnel construction. The emphasis now, among government and Chinese project officials, is for the experience, reliability and track record of Herrenknecht to help them tackle projects of high technical demand, be it very large diameter or under extreme pressures or challenging logistical needs.

China remains an important market for Herrenknecht
China remains an important market for Herrenknecht

A major concern for Shanghai for example is that its top 35m to 40m of underground space is now almost fully exploited and that new projects for metros, railways, roads, and utilities will have to be deeper, in the 40m to 100m deep range. This imposes high technical demand on equipment and systems to withstand water pressures and earth loads. This is a particular concern in the saturated mud geology that is predominant beneath Shanghai. Herrenknecht’s portfolio for taking on and succeeding with projects of high technical demand has it at the top of the list for new projects of equal and greater risk dimension.

Sany and Zoomlion had two of the largest stands at the show and both based on the outdoor area. Sany has recently manufactured its first TBM in association with SELI Technologies and for a contractor and project in Thailand, but it was its expansive range of construction equipment and sales services that were on display along with the pumps and concreting equipment of Putzmeister which it bought in 2012.

At Zoomlion, it was tower cranes that dominated the skyline with the Italian concreting formwork and equipment of its 2012 CIFA acquisition providing the main tunneling and underground space interest.

Among other Chinese equipment manufacturers was CSSC, a Chinese shipbuilding company, which exhibited TBMs on its stand with Zhefeng Shi, the sales and Marketing Business Department Vice Mistier and Pipejacking Project Manager, hosting the visit by TunnelTalk.

TunnelTalk also visited the stands of drilling jumbo manufacturers God Drill, perhaps the western verion of a name that got lost in translation and also Hebei Hong Yuan, which happened to be located directly adjacent to the Atlas Copco stand in hall W5.

In a separate feature, TunnelTalk presents a survey of Chinese drilling jumbo manufacturers who are, and have already started, forging a place for them selves in the international drilling equipment marketplace. These include the giant hydraulic equipment manufacturing company Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group, or XMCG, which had a large stand in the outside area at the show and had on display several of its drilling jumbos.

When enquiring on the Atlas Copco stand if the jumbos on display were manufactured in Europe or in China, the reply was “Neither, they are manufactured in India” and it is to India that the bauma trade show is staged next, from 12 to 15 December this year (2016). TunnelTalk will also visit that show and will report the news from Delhi.

From the smallest to the largest of drilling jumbo manufacturers represented

To close the report from Shanghai, TunnelTalk also visited several concrete handling and casting manufacturers. On the Hicorp stand, Sales Manager Vicky Xu explained the segment moulds and full segment casting yard installations available from the company. At the neighbouring Finebey stand, a live scale model demo of a concrete mixer truck washer was drawing the interest of the visitors while at the Shandong Toyoojx stand Sales Manager Sharon Xu reported that concrete batching plants of all sizes and configurations were being exported by the company to international customers.

In addition to about 70% of the exhibitors being from China, the show hosted seven national pavilions from Germany, Italy, Korea, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the USA. Padley & Venables, the Sheffield-based manufacturer of high precision rock drilling tools, was part of the UK pavilion which Chemgrout was an exhibitor within the USA pavilion and Fiori, the self-loading, self-mixing mobile concreting vehicle supplier of Italy was also exhibiting and explained that it has hundres of units currently operating in China for Chinese manufacturers.

Concrete casting and handling equipment being exhibited

It was the first time for TunnelTalk to visit the bauma China show and a very interesting event it was. There was a strong sense that the construction industry is in a phase of transition with the international market about to become very familiar indeed with Chinese-made brands and equipment. As several visits said, when approached by TunnelTalk to know their opinion of the chow and Chinese made equipment, the era of the Chinese manufacturer is pending. “The quality of the Chinese made equipment is better than anything you can find made in Australia,” remarked a visiting Australian buyer. “Soon everything will be made in China.”

That is an interesting forecast and perhaps the only remaining questions is by when.

Following this year’s event - which was only overshadowed by a sudden and unexpected spell of very cold weather, even by November standards in Shanghai - the next bauma China will take place at the same showgrounds in 2018 from November 27 to 30. We look forward to meeting our new Chinese manufacturing contacts again then, if not before.


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