In March 2011, Trailer Magazine was given the opportunity to cast a glance behind the scenes of Fuwa’s 180,000m2 plant in Shunde Guangdong and the much talked about ‘FHI Industrial Park’ in Taishan.
“Fuwa has nothing to hide,” says Chris Barrett, National Sales Manager of Fuwa K-Hitch, the corporation’s Australian division. “We provide a good, honest product, and we want people to forge an opinion.” Therefore, Fuwa K-Hitch invited a group of Australian industry connoisseurs to Asia, providing a first hand experience of the Chinese production facilities.
In Shunde, a district on the edge of Foshan, with a population of 1.1 million people situated in the Pearl River Delta, 2800 employees produce Fuwa’s patented one-piece axle beam, which has been designed to provide more stability, increased load capacity and less tare weight as opposed to a conventional three-piece welded beam. “It’s a masterpiece,” says Chris, glancing at the iron entrance gate. “The one-piece beam will revolutionise the industry, providing a deformation resistant, anti fatigue product which has a strong ability for mating OEM standard.”
A common axle beam is normally constructed of two axle stubs that are welded to a hollow axle tube. Fuwa, however, has found a way to forge the entire beam out of one piece, mastering the inherent vulnerability of a welded construction by adjusting the wall thickness accurate to the millimetre. The production process and the heavy machinery involved used to achieve such a precise outcome are both part of Fuwa’s corporate secret.
Inside the factory, lathes are lined up on a green, linoleum covered floor, and computer-aided hoes work nonstop as the group inspects the factory. The bustling production line traverses the entire building, piecing together Fuwa’s patented one-piece beam axle in a smooth, unceasing motion. “That’s Fuwa’s blood flow,” says Mario Camenzuli, Executive Director of Fuwa K-Hitch. “The company’s DNA.”
Nearby, automated welding machines are sparking, and the golden gleam is reflected in the polished axle stubs that will soon be hidden by a dull, olive wheel end. Countless axles are stored next door, soon to be key components of state-of-the-art trailing equipment somewhere around the globe.
Close by, the R&D department is examining the axles’ deformation resistance in a long-term test set-up. In addition, an armada of research personnel is gauging the product accurate to a millimetre, establishing a database including every axle ever built.
“We are committed to international quality standards,” says Mario. “We know the competition, and therefore we know that we cannot take a shortcut in the manufacturing process if we want to be a serious contender, whatever product we manufacture.” In total, the Shunde factory can produce up to 800,000 trailer axles, 300,000 landing leg sets, 250,000 mechanical suspension sets, 100,000 air suspension sets, 100,000 fifth wheels, 50,000 king pins, 1.8 million brake chambers, 7 million brake linings and 2.5 million slack adjusters per annum.
Overall, the Fuwa Group employs more than 3,800 people, including over 30 foreign senior management experts and PD engineers from Europe and America. “Our talents closely collaborate with Chinese elite teams, which ensure that Fuwa accurately grasps various market demands, so Fuwa products can satisfy different countries’ technical requirements,” Mario explains. “That’s why we are growing at such a rate.”
In fact, Fuwa is expanding on a grand scale. In addition to the plant in Shunde, Fuwa made a $1 billion investment in 2007, establishing the FHI Industrial Park in Taishan, hosting heavy-duty truck and semi-trailer part manufacturing and a new, enlarged R&D base. The new factory consists of 12 large-scale manufacturing workshops, occupying a floor area of 1 million m2.
“All production processes meet a world leading level, and all our key parts, such as axle housings, gear sets, brakes and axle shafts, are made in-house to ensure a high quality standard,” Chris explains. “It is hard to believe that the state-of-the-art facility in Shunde has become too small after five years in operation. But we realised that we had to move on, and the result is the Taishan Industrial Park – one of the largest industrial facilities in the world.”
Each covering 800 x 75 metres, the six main buildings host the suspension and landing legs division, Fuwa’s trailer axle production line, a comprehensive component production line, and a new truck axle factory. The truck axle division is equipped with state-of-the-art gear cutting equipment and latest generation carburizing furnaces that meet the stringent CQI 9 requirements. In addition, one building is reserved for a newly established venture between Fuwa and German company Wabco, who will manufacture high quality, single-piston air disc brakes in China – starting with the PAN 22.5 series.
Six additional buildings, measuring 600 x 75 metres, accommodate the stamping division, the in-house friction material production, a hot forging factory and the off-highway axle production line. After acquiring Carlisle’s manufacturing equipment and brake dynamometer, Fuwa now has the largest brake dynamometers in China.
Only an aerial image can capture the true size of the FHI Industrial Park, which includes a staff village, a police station, an organic farm, a company hotel and restaurant, a fishpond, and a gym. A stroll along the trailer axle production line can take about ten minutes – one way – and the personnel uses motorcycles to avoid wasting time on the way to the corporate canteen. Every detail, the vitreous showroom and the representative gardening, the floating restaurant and the staff village, all lead to the throne of the global trailing equipment industry.
The machinery sourced from around the globe has only just been unpacked, but the Fuwa staff is already gearing up for a production at full speed. The concrete floor is immaculate, and the production line, bordered by a vibrant red steel construction, has already begun to move as inexorably as the Shunde equivalent.
Fuwa’s Taishan Industrial Park is an iron anthill, bustling, yet organised, striving for expansion 24/7. After all, the challenge is to redeem a $ 1 billion investment; and Mario Camenzuli cannot see a reason to slow down the pace. “On the quest to become the world’s most influential component manufacturer, the Taishan project will boost Fuwa’s position in the global market,” he says.
In China, the company already occupies a market share of around 75 percent. At the moment, the export is generating 35 percent of the total sales volume. But according to Fuwa, there is still potential to improve, tackling the transport market in North America, South America, Australia, South East Asia and South Africa. To handle the ever-growing export volume, Fuwa has just opened an in-house wharf, handling 180,000 TEU and 1.5 million tons of bulk cargoes per annum. “We have laid the foundation,” says Chris Barrett, overlooking the vast Taishan facility from a gaunt mountain nearby. “Now there’s no turning back. We want to emerge as a worldwide leader and create value for our customers by leveraging our experience, speed, and innovativeness.”
Shunde total capacity pa
800,000 trailer axles
300,000 landing leg sets
250,000 mechanical suspension sets
100,000 air suspension sets
100,000 fifth wheels
50,000 king pins
1.8 million brake chambers
7 million brake linings
2.5 million slack adjusters
Taishan total capacity pa
600,000 trailer axles
200,000 drive axles
200,000 front axles
500,000 landing leg sets
300,000 truck/ bus Mechanical and air suspensions
3 million brake components
200,000 disc brake callipers
9 million brake linings
The FHI Industrial park in Taishan enables Fuwa to produce an unmatched range of truck and trailer equipment in-house, including truck steering axles, drive axles, fifth wheels, air disc brakes, actuators and slacks, drum brakes, suspensions and propeller shafts, and auxiliary axles. The trailer range comprises of axles, drum brakes, disc brakes, slack adjusters, actuators, suspensions, landing gear and king pins.