What make a Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) so valuable?
I recently attended a successful Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) for the electromechanical ADE actuators that we supply during the renovation of the...
Date: 20 October 2016
Once you've passed the 40, you were raised with the idea that everything from China is cheap, often copied and mostly fake or bad quality. Those were my exact thoughts too. Meanwhile we are long aware: the world changes, and especially China. Seeing is believing, and thus Olaf van de Ven and I flew to China in september for the first time, to get a better understanding of the culture and mentality of the Chinese. En foremost to take a look behind the scenes of our first partner from China, producer of servomotors and drives: Estun in Nanjing.
Ja, het is goedkoop, of misschien beter gezegd een hele interessante prijs voor onze Europese markt. Maar belangrijk daarbij, het is indrukwekkend en kwalitatief heel goed. Die Chinezen zijn al lang niet meer aan het kopiëren. Yes, its is cheap, or rather quite an interesting price for ou European market. But the key is,that it is impressive and of high quality. Those Chinese have long since stopped copying.
We all know the mails in your inbox in the morning: "Dear Friend, ...", once again someone from China thinking he might sell something to the West this way. You wonder if this would ever succeed. Up untill three years ago, when I recieved a neat mail from Jenny Cao, sales engineer of Estun bussiness center overseas. She described EtherCAT solutions with CiA402 protocols, for which many European suppliers were not yet ready. After a acquaintance at the SPS/IPC/Drives fair in Nuremburg, it was clear that Estun wasn't just a Chinese company. The exhibition stand, presentation, people projected professionalism and ambition.The combination of this ambition and particularly determination, with the desire to cooperate in a good way, convinced me. And let's be honest, after seeing the prices, I was convinced we should look into a possible collaboration. Thus we we performed the first internal tests in 2014. These tests were convincing and in 2015 we did the first deliveries with a few customers. Of course you face some specific questions and we learned that Chinese approach situations a bit different. But actually all in a positive way. Very practical, hands-on, and mostly determined.
As expected not every customer or potential customer is positive about a supplier from China. But didn't we respond just like that in the eighties to a car and later to a servo supplier from Japan? In the mean time we know better now. How can this be so cheap? Doesn't it compromise the quality? All logical thoughts, and the answer lies in China. Therefor we took the plane to Shanghai and combined our journey with a large trade fair in the field of power transmission components in Shanghai. At such a fair soon you notice the difference between those companies who only just want to sell quickly, and those, often listed on the stock market, with a highly professional look and approach.
From Shanghai we took the express train to Nanjing, waar Estun is established.
Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong. You know the names, the images and foremost that it is crowded. This is is obvious in Shanghai straightaway. Getting into Nanjing gives a different picture. Compared to those other cities, Nanjing is "small". But what is small with 4 million inhabitants? Cities like Rome or Madrid appear modest compared to that. And as Nanjing was the capital of many empirs up until the establishment of the Republic of China, this city is an open-air museum with various palaces, temples and the spectacular old city wall. Fortunately we had a day in the weekend to discover this.
Characteristic for the people on the street is the pell-mell commotion, where everyone is incredibly tollerant and friendly. Despite the bustling nobody harasses one another and to us it feels safe too. Every one bursts with energy and wants to move forward, literally and figuratively, to achieve their personal ambitions in the new China climate. you can also taste this ambition in the "old" city of Nanjing, which isn't just old. Take the metro and within no-time you're within reach of the old city wall standing in front of huge modern and high buildings. Literally a highlight is the Zifeng Tower of 450 meter high, opened in 2010. Not a skyscraper in New York that high. There's no bigger contrast between new and old.
The ambitions of the street is also evident with Estun. Motivated, friendly and especially competent people. On the on hand these people at Estun are similar to us, Dutch people. Entrepreneurial and determined as well as room for humour now and then. Soon, at Estun it is clear that the relationship between employees and their managers are, just like in the Netherlands, different than countries like Japan, or for instance Germany. They speak their mind and that helps you forward easily.
Jenny Cao and Joe Jiang (sales manager overseas business) took us for a look behind the scenes for two days. And you may certainly call this a professional and impressive office and factory location at the periphery of Nanjing.
Estun, established in 1993, has grown into a company with 800 employees and a turnover of 70 million Euro. Typical for the innovative character; 250 of those employees are engineers. Primarily Estun started as supplier and system integrator for sheet metal working machines like bending and punching machines. Already an upcoming markted in China at that point. From the start they have represented Delem in the Netherlands, specialist in CNC control systems.
In 1998 they started developping their own line servo motors and servo drives, in the first place for sheet metal working machines. Meanwhile this line has grown to a wide range with a power range of 50 Watt up to 33 kW. The drives have I/O control and CANopen or EtherCAT with all control-based and drive-based protocols according to CiA402.
It certainly was impressive and most convincing to see the production and assembly locations. Everything neat and spotless, as well as well organised. The production employees take visible joy in their work and are highly disciplined and effective. By now, I have seen quite some factories from the inside. The working method and quality of Estun certainly level up to these others. In fact, the production speed, i.e. output, is fascinating. Besides the low wages, of which we all speak in Europe, the big cost savings are mainly a result of that great output.
In the meantime the production capacity of Estun has increased to 100,000 drives per year. A number comparable to many renowned Western brands. The largest sales market is of course China, but Estun has also succesfully developped on the American and European market. For Europe a service point is available in Poland. Typical applications like simulators, medical equipment, laboratories, textile machinery, gantry and pick-and-place systems are markets where Estun is applied. Main reason: compact, price and good quality drives. Applications and reasons we are convinced to be interesting for the customers in the Benelux.
At that point we thought to have seen a lot, untill we drove a few blocks ahead, introducing us to the robotica department of Estun. A division established in 2010 and already outgrown it's production facility. A new location is being build as we speak. Here, over more than 1,000 robot are constructed each year, primarily articulated arm robots and scara robots. Up untill recently only deployed in Asia, but in response to the growing European market - especially the automotive market - Estun has CE certified the first articulated robots. Centre of the robots are the KEBA motion controllers, communicating through EtherCAT with the Estun servo drives. Main strength is that the articulated robot can be supplied as a complete solution with equipment and welding torch. Here too, prices are attractive. This speaks volumes about the ambition and the spirit of enterprise of Estun Automation.
The question is, of course, to what extent are the Estun servo drives interesting for the Benelux. And what position does it have in the delivery programm of ATB Automation. First and foremost every industrial product should be reliable. Most important goal of our visit might have ended up being us taking home that trust. That, of course, next to the projects we have implemented succesful since 2015. With the right price, this surely opens doors, especially in industries where cost prices are under severe pressure. In many of these markets where CANopen is a standard - like laboratories, simulation platforms, horticultural technology and medical equipment - Estun is attrictive with, for instance, the 3 axes ETS servo drive.
In production lines with control platforms like Codesys or TwinCAT, the href="https://atbautomation.eu/en/brands/estun/481-servo-drive-estun-pronet-ethercat.html">Pronet-EtherCAT servo drives with the standard CiA402 protocols can be deployed. Within the delivery program of ATB Automation, this, in combination with the Trio MC4N-ECAT motion controller and the HSB linear axes are an interesting solution. Technically interesting with a minium wiring, a compact construction and posibilities like interpolation with XYZ systems. Added to the attractive pricing.
And support? Our software engineers, familiar with servo technology and motion controllers, have already a good unstanding of the Estun technology. Naturally in the beginning there might be a question or two needing to be answered by Estun. But whoever knows ATB Automation, also knows how rapidly we can build up our knowledge and therefore are the right partner. For supply of the components, as well as the technical support and commissioning.
Those of you who are familiar with our delivery program, are aware that Stöber Antriebstechnik is an important partner and supplier of ATB Automation. Doesn't that conflict? Honestly: no. Ok, maybe we might sell a Stöber drive less within an application where Stöber actually would have been too much a luxurious solution. An application where we could have supplied thanks to a good relationship and our knowledge, but actually the price would be to high.
But in general, the Estun program is an addition next to the Stöber servo drives program. The power of the Stöber program is and remains the high accuracy and high dynamics. Stöber has a faster drive, has a higher resolution in the feedback and processing in the drive, has a beter running smoothness, and off cours, a perfect combination with the directly mounted backlash free gear boxes. Perfect with regards to low inertia and compact design. But is this significant for a pick-and-place system in the horticulture or in a X-ray scanner in a hospital? The answer is no.
For ATB Automation and especially our customers and relations, the Estun program offers only more posibilities.
I am very excited. Or rather; at ATB Automation we are all very enthousiastic.
You too? Or at least a bit curious? We can demonstrate it all. So just let us know wenn you'd like to get a demonstration.
And conclusion of our trip to China? I already told my mother: Cheap isn't always a bad buy.
China well on it's way .... and special.
Similar experiences or in fact other experiences? Tell us below!