Un-phased in Many Parts of the World: LEADERMAC

Last year at the Interwood Exhibition in Taipei, LEADERMAC stole the show with their Thundermac model 4-sided moulder. wfd approached General Manager Mr. Michael Chang in hopes of attaining some in-depth technical details, but the flurry of activity didn't provide a very conducive environment. That's the polite way to say it. In an economic climate like this it behooves the leaders to hold their cards close to their chests. What we did get to witness though, was how it performed in the Woodworking Machinery Design and Product Competition. Suffice it to say that action speaks louder than words... It didn't matter about the technical secrets; the speed and precision exhibited was the clincher. Thunder and Lightening ---------------------------------- After they demonstrated a typical tool change-over of about 8 seconds, they fired up each of the ten spindles ten seconds apart from each other. Rpms ranging from 6200 to 8000 gave each spindle its own particular whir, which culminated it an overall quiet sort of thunderous cacophony. One not familiar with machinery would take the sight in and think they were witnessing a spaceship preparing for launch. What got launched however was a rough pine board, and like a lightning bolt it made the 5 meter distance in under 2 seconds. With all four sides simultaneously shaped, a beautiful length of moulding slid gently to a stop, ready for packaging. Everything inside the machine is so finely tunable that the precision delivered eradicates the need for post-op sanding. With constant automatic in-feed, the Thundermac puts out about 80 meters of product per minute. After an 8 hour shift a yield of 38,400 meters product is produced. That's about 1,600 eight foot lengths of moulding ready for market. This is what the company shows as normal output, but apparently that output can be doubled from the same machine. Production like this puts LEADERMAC on par with the best in Europe, making the company world-class. Hands down they won the first place prize in the moulding sector of the competition. What We Didn't Know... ----------------------------------- Averaging an output of 1,300 units per year keeps LEADERMAC busy and rather hard to arrange an interview with, but they finally made time for wfd . Mr. Michael Chang, CEO of the company humbly accepted our congratulations on winning the contest, and pointed out that while the Thundermac does a great job, there is the Super Thundermac which was not at the show. That's what nobody saw, the "ace in the hole" so to speak kept even closer to their chest. Compared to the Thundermac's impressive output, this model doubles it. How many lengths of say, 2-7/8" by 3-9/16" cornice molding would it take to fill a twenty foot container? We calculate a rounded down figure of 3,500 lengths, with room to maneuver. The Super Thundermac pumps out 6,400 lengths in an 8 hour shift, or roughly two containers of typical cornice moulding. Four containers per day and six if you run around the clock. At on-line list prices of USD$38 per length (poplar)… what more need be said? Priced at around a third of what Italy has to offer it's no wonder LEADERMAC sells to over 60 countries. Not Just About the Sale..."Brand Image" ---------------------------------------------------------- When you search LEADERMAC online, the first 32 pages contain 281 hits. The company has got agents in over 50 countries around the globe, all geared up and equipped to meet customer requirements at the drop of a hat. At the general headquarters in central Taiwan, all sales engineers and personnel are fluent in English and poised to provide immediate responses. "One policy we operate under is that all enquiries be responded to within the same workday we receive them," says Michael Chang. "Brand image is vital." What Michael is talking about is a reputation based on high technology, sophistication, reliability, expertise, follow through and client profitability. "We keep a fully loaded warehouse with all components ready for same-day, high speed delivery. On a regular basis we personally train our agents around the world 'hands-on' to ensure minimum down time in the event that a machine needs servicing. If our clients aren't profiting, in the big picture it means there will be consequences for us too." Indeed, and in economic times like today companies like LEADERMAC are building the future with less talk and more action. "Service is not just a slogan... it is LEADERMAC." Trends and Numbers, Not all that Bad ------------------------------------------------------- In reference to the latest industry report from ACIMAL, we noticed that while Taiwan's ranking for export of woodworking machinery has dropped from third to fourth globally, it has actually been on the rise as much as 196% to some places like Ukraine. Exports to other European countries and Australia are also on the rise in terms of import value. It has fallen in North America and the European Union, but looking at Russia as an example we see a rise in planning, milling and moulding machinery of 125%, for 2008 from Taiwan. In 2009 it's still climbing. "For me the market in Russia hasn't dropped. Domestically, demand is high due to increased housing reconstruction. Right now, China, Russia, India and Brazil are four countries which have been making money over the last decade, and they continue to develop internally." LEADERMAC was one of the pioneers to provide these areas with 4-sided moulding technology. "Some things you can't share in public" ---------------------------------------------------------- In response to the inevitable question, "What can Taiwan do to ensure itself a piece of the pie in the future, with China on the rise as it is?" the basic answer was "They have a tremendous 'reverse engineering' power... Our technology has taken us a long time to develop, so we must be very careful." Mr. Chang pointed out that both Rolls Royce and Lamborghini knock-offs are readily available, but are forbidden to be sold outside of the country. In fact, with two thirds of well established original manufacturers around the world losing nearly a trillion US dollars to copy cats per year these days, it's no secret that piracy is an impossible reality to conquer head-on. Some companies know that if you sell your top of the line product there you are shooting yourself in the foot, and that's why you'll find brand new Volkswagon Jettas on the market in China. "They are brand new, but they are the 1988 model..." We asked if LEADERMAC would be willing to sell a SUPER THUNDERMAC to China, and initially we got the polite answer. "One company wanted to replace its thirty machine fleet with five of ours. We went there personally and viewed what was supposed to be their tool room. The way out was to explain that they don't have the right grinding capacity to do the machines justice." If you don't have the right octane content to run your Lamborghini, you're just wasting your money. What it boils down to is if it's an "entry level machine" LEADERMAC is happy to sell to China. "They don't have any copyright law enforcement... You can get a patent, but the government only helps the big companies…Woodworking machinery producers are considered small companies... Court is a waste of time and money," says Chang. "I can teach them how to sharpen tools and set up the machine, but what happens after we leave?" Remembering our initial quest at Interwood for technical details and the polite way in which INNOVATOR diverted our attention to the actual performance, we asked if 'the tool room' reason was just a diversion from his real concern that they would disassemble the machine and reproduce it. "I think so," was the answer. Traitor Traders and Typhoons ------------------------------------------- In April of this year Franz-Josef Bütfering, president of Eumabois released an inspirational report explaining how the 800 member strong European federation of woodworking machinery companies are standing together against piracy. With 56% of the world's output under threat, they've got a strong initiative. We asked Mr. Chang if he had any comments. "In the next five years China will catch up to Taiwan's level of quality", he says. "The way to stay ahead is to think outside of the box. Grow more sensitive to market needs that will arise. Put yourself in the clients' shoes, think 'automation', think 'invention', think 'total solution', think 'service'." He continued to explain that the competition is getting smarter, but they lack the concept of customer service. And when it comes to actual manufacturing technology, China is buying components like spindles and guideways from "tai jie" traders or, "traitor traders" in Taiwan. Traders that specialize in selling advanced and sensitive technology to the competition at cut throat prices. "Customization and flexible manufacturing are becoming more important all the time. This is where we are strong because we have the history of experience, and you can't buy or improvise thirty years of that." "Even now, the victims of Typhoon Morakot here in Taiwan are rejecting pre-fab homes from China because they contain carcinogenic materials. They'd rather sleep in the temples." On North America --------------------------- In 2007, non-U.S. subsidiaries of Lehman Brothers were responsible for over 50% of global revenue produced. Since their bankruptcy the ripple effect financially around the world is still ongoing. In the US, real estate financing both domestically and commercially has been stalled or squelched, meaning there is little building going on. "From what I've seen in the news the biggest decrease in the USA has been in the furniture industry. Right now the situation is still unclear, but my major agents in North America tell me that next year has to be better because it couldn't possibly get any worse… We really hope their economy gets back to normal soon." Chicken Heads vs Ox Tails ------------------------------------- We've noticed that in the past, the knock-off activity across the Straights has been something known about but uncommented upon by the Taiwanese. More industrialists are willing to speak candidly on the subject, and we thank Mr. Chang for his insights. Back to the question of what Taiwan can do, he emphasized an old saying which translated, "Chicken heads versus ox tails." What he means is that in the past, industrialists preferred to be the boss of a smaller firm (chicken), rather than just a part of the greater whole (ox). Internally, companies need to refine and streamline their production/ business methods. Externally they should continue on with the camaraderie which permeates the woodworking industry here. "Customization, customer support, R&D, and teamwork are things we as an industry have been doing for over ten years, and it needs to accelerate. In Taiwan's woodworking industry we respect each others' niches. We have for twenty years. This doesn't happen in China." So no, we didn't extract many technical secrets this time with LEADERMAC, and it's got nothing to do with, forgive the pun, being stubborn as an ox or politeness. It's about survival. There were hints of magazine in and out-feed systems, and incorporated packaging. Fair enough. At the end of the day it's about whether or not the client is profiting, and this company's clientele does. To get a good look at what LEADERMAC has to offer you can find it all on the very comprehensive website. In closing we happily report that so far in 2009, exports from Taiwan to Europe are up about 20%.
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