So, What is the Deal with Potain China?
In the 90’s, Potain opened a factory in Zhangjiagang, China due to the rise of material cost. In order to be more competitive and deliver to its customers more value, some products are produced in the Zhangjiagang factory, However, since its inception in La Clayette, France in 1928, Potain has maintained its “Bureau d’etude” or study center in France. The design of all the main crane components and their mechanism (hoisting and slewing, trolleying, luffing, traveling), and Information technology are produced in France, Moulins. We want the customer to know that Manitowoc OWNS this factory. Indeed, Potain tower cranes have been produced in China since 1994, through licensing agreements and joint ventures. Problems relating to control, coupled with the obvious demand for good quality cranes, prompted Potain to establish a wholly owned manufacturing operation. Helped by the Zhangjiagang municipal authority, it bought out the local manufacturing company that is now called Zhangjiagang Potain Construction Machinery, in Jiangsu Province.
“Our goal is to build cranes specifically tailored to the local market while at the same time reproducing the high standards of quality and control we have at our other factories around the world,” says Etchart, who was the managing director of the factory at the time of this article-01 February 2003, Potain in China.
The Zhangjiagang Potain plant produces models ranging from a 40tm class up to 320tm. Models produced are the, MC 80, MC 120, MC 170, MC 200 and MC 300. Added to these, is the new MC 230, which was officially launched (though not exhibited) at Bauma China in November 2002 and topless cranes such as the MCT205, the MCT385, available in 14-ton and 20-ton version and luffing cranes like the MCR160, MCR225, and MCR295H20.
They also developed a new mast section called the M mast, which is unique to cranes made in China. This mast was designed by the “Bureau D’etude” in France. Jib lengths across the range begin at 40m and go up to 70m ( now 80m with the MC465 and MC475). Maximum capacities at jib end range from 1t to 3t. Crane structures (jib and masts) are all fabricated in-house, but mechanisms are imported from Potain’s factory in Charlieu, Europe.
The 11.5ha factory site in Zhangjiagang includes a massive 60,000m2 (6ha) of production facilities. The plant also acts as a structural steel work subcontractor for other Manitowoc Crane Group factories and can turn out 500t of processed steel a month working just one shift. More than 200 people are employed at the facility, only four of which are not Chinese.
Etchart says that there are about 200 tower crane manufacturers in China, many of which are state owned enterprises making small cranes. Most sell only in their own region. For bigger cranes, there are ‘only’ about 10 players. “We have a niche market strategy,” he says. Potain is aiming at that 10% or 15% of the market that is prepared to pay a price premium of between 30% and 50% for better quality. This market niche seems to be growing. “Slowly, the concept of safety is gaining ground in China,” Etchart says.
We invite customers to see the factory as there is immediately a big change in perception: the quality of Zhangjiagang cranes is “getting close” to that of Potain’s cranes built in Europe.
How is Potain China Different from Chinese Manufacturers?
Therefore, just because the tower cranes or parts of it are manufactured in China, the Quality and Design remain controlled by France. Potain does a lot of quality testing in their testing center in Lusigny and that is why products are only introduced to the market after being tested for six years. Testing is done aggressively on the structural components and mechanisms as well as simulation tests done on real life extreme scenarios.
Quality control and quality assurance are done through the entire process of manufacturing as shown below
Each step of the process is controlled by an operator using a checklist and control card. Welding especially in particular is unique to Potain because only certified and trained welders can be part of the process. Potain’s strict quality is also applied from the beginning through the design phase. The design of Potain tower cranes complies with EFM (European Federation of Materials) Handling and EN (European Norm). That is why we saw it fit during our campaign to use the superior software used by Potain as a background from the AD to convey our message:
Potain French Engineering from design to implementation to your job site.
Price & Competition
All this control over testing and design are costs added to the final price of Potain. Quality is a cost, so to compare Potain Tower cranes, even those produced in China, to any Chinese manufacturer is unfair and it is a war that us, supplier, cannot win. Imagine buying a fake iPhone – you will be happy to pay 500 Dhs for it but after a few months, you would still need to spend over the price to be able to fix it.
Speaking of iPhones, did you know that iPhones are assembled in China?