When Chinese plastics machinery manufacturer Haitian International first started selling its injection molding machines into Europe, the initial response of the market was somewhat hesitant.
Much has changed.
Over the past 10-15 years, as the Haitian machines have proven their worth to customers across the continent, sales have shown steady growth, with the company successfully expanding its market share.
"But what's more important for us is that we've generated trust among our customers — they know they can count on our machines running," said Dominik Wiesner, responsible for the marketing & communications for Europe at Haitian International Germany GmbH.
That trust, combined with Haitian's good price to performance ratio, have meant that the company has been far less affected by the current economic situation than many of its competitors in the European market.
"With sales volumes and order levels that are just slightly under last year's, for us the year has, until now, been quite satisfactory," Wiesner said.
The lower purchase price of a Haitian machine offers an advantage in situations like the present, where companies have little room for investment, he conceded.
"But once customers try the machines, they tend to stay with us. The package we offer — energy efficient, all-electric injection molding machines that are suitable for fast cycling applications, good service — is extremely attractive."
From standard to turnkey
The message Haitian is seeking to communicate to the market is also changing, Wiesner said.
"In the long run, not only in China, but also worldwide, we want to be a turnkey solutions provider. When we started our message was that we were your partner for standard applications. Today, we have six divisions within the Haitian group: injection molding, computer numerically controlled (CNC), diecast, and additive manufacturing or laser technology. We also have two supporting divisions for robots and drive systems. And we have a very clear strategy for Europe: In the future, we are looking to be a one-stop shop, providing everything from a single source, down to the safety fence, automation and handling equipment — with a range of products and services that cover almost the entire spectrum of modern injection molding technologies, including compression molding, various 2K/3K molding solutions, LSR, medical applications and many more. Whatever the niche, we will have a solution."
Traditionally, the company's biggest markets in Europe have been Italy and Germany, which together generated around 50 percent of European sales. Currently, Czech Republic, Poland and France are also performing well. Competition from other Asian brands is something that has also been growing noticeably in recent years, Wiesner said.
These companies are coming to the European market with "good, solid" technology, at prices that can even be under those of Haitian, with their own sales and service networks.
"They're entering the market almost 15-20 years later than we did, but they have a reliable and solid product technology. These are not cheap quality Asian products, but well-established brands. The Chinese companies especially are closing the gap."
Haitian is well ahead of the pack, with local employees, agents and distributors close to the market in each of the countries in Europe.
"In Germany alone we work with seven agents, including 70 sales and service engineers, plus the 90 people working at Haitian. That's about 160 people only for the German market. Today, Haitian International Germany more than 500 customers in Germany," he said. "More than 1,500 machines have been installed in Germany to date, of which 350 units are with two-platen technology, as well as around 600 electric ones.
"Our network now includes more than 200 sales and service engineers throughout Europe. And customers are happy with the technology, happy with the price and happy with the service. And I think that's the main reason why so many customers nowadays think twice when making a new investment: Do they really need the Bentley to go shopping or will something a little simpler do as well?"
So, what's new? At Fakuma 2023 in Friedrichshafen, the company demonstrated production from its current portfolio, including a dual-platen JU 4500 III injection molding machine from its well-known Haitian Jupiter series that is molding a sliding element made of acetal. The mold is from Igeno; FloSense temperature and flow monitoring is integrated into the machine control. Removal and storage are performed by a Hilectro V1300ID-X4000 with an extended X-axis. The safety fence and conveyor belt are also from Haitian.
The real news will not come to Europe before the beginning of 2024, Wiesner said.
"In China, Haitian has already introduced its fifth generation of machines on the market, but the new machines will not be available for another few months here."
The new generation of machines will be standardly equipped with numerous smart features such as process stabilization, including viscosity monitoring; energy consumption measurement and other features designed to make life easier for the injection molder.
"These features also make the machine easier to operate, an aspect that is especially beneficial in times when skilled personnel is scarce, as is now the case in Europe," he explained. "We have been doing the research and development work on this new generation for many, many years, during which we also strongly relied on the feedback we got from our customers."
Sustainability is the future
One issue that is growing more and more important for Haitian is sustainability. "Not only in terms of environment, but also in terms of social responsibility, and so on," Wiesner said. The company been reporting on its ESG impacts for several years now and will also take part in the Carbon Disclosure Project next year. CDP is a not-for-profit charity that provides a global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states, and regions to disclose their environmental impact. Haitian has also earned a Bronze rating from EcoVadis.
"At first sight this may not sound all that impressive for a manufacturer, but it is, in fact, really outstanding. I may be wrong, but I don't know of any other Chinese manufacturer that has this kind of rating," he noted.
"So, sustainability and environmental issues play an important role and will clearly continue to do so. That's what the most important focus for the fifth generation has been: resource-saving and energy efficiency, not only in production but also our products.