It's Time to See the Light - Extend Light Machinery Co., Ltd.

Mr. Jakie Chang President of EXTEND LIGHT MACHINERY CO., LTD. ** Insight from an industry veteran for the next generation ** You may have nothing, but you can do anything! ** Japanese influence and responsibility ** Sacrifice = pride in your work ** Dealing with the Chinese ** Random words of advice ** Insight from an industry veteran for the next generation Visiting home for the holidays, my father and I spent some time in his workshop. I grew up in that sort of environment and a convenient excuse to spend time with him would be to draw a plan of what I wanted to build and get him to teach me how to make it happen. Snake habitats, coaster carts, waterbeds, tree forts… His motto was always, “Plan your work, and then work your plan.” He'd let me take over his factory after the late shift went home and I would be on my own till sunrise building my projects. All those years I would rummage through Great Grandpa's massive chest of dovetailed drawers searching for bits I could use and not really knowing what most of the stuff was. Eventually, I became a woodworker like my father and somehow ended up doing it in Taiwan. Now, back to spend a couple precious weeks with Dad, I saw an old photograph of a man building a chair. It turns out that it was my great grandfather, and I was surprised to discover that he too, was a woodworker. In fact, the first relative of ours to leave Europe and immigrate to America was a woodworker as well. We must have saw dust running in our blood. But this story is about a special company in Taiwan called EXTEND LIGHT MACHINERY. One of the many reasons that serious woodworking factories around the world buy their machinery from Taiwan is that they are backed by generations of hands-on experience. Visiting with company boss Mr. Jackie Chang, he shared with us his story of how he got started with woodworking machinery and where the journey has brought him. At a time when Taiwan is revamping its woodworking machinery industry to stay ahead of those nipping at its heals, the next generation of industrialists will find these words worthy to heed. ** You may have nothing, but you can do anything! It seems that Mr. Chang comes from a very humble beginning, and through challenging times has emerged with the success he deserves. He grew up learning all about traditional sewing machines from his father, and began his apprenticeship with a well known 4 sided moulder company, LEADERMAC. This is where he absorbed the mechanics of woodworking machinery until he was drafted to the army. When he got out he started his own power tool company and slugged it out with increasing competition until 1991. It was time to shift gears, so Mr. Chang started EXTEND LIGHT MACHINERY. “I didn't have any money, but I had good friends in the industry.” The leap from power tools to heavy machinery was tough. Lucky for EXTEND LIGHT, friends in the industry would furnish the components and bill Mr. Chang would pay for them once he had made some money. “It took me and three employees eight months to build our first machine, and we only sold two of them in the first year!” His focus was on building a 4 ton double sided planer the world had never seen. Back then they were typically chain driven, but Mr. Chang insisted on upgrading to universal joints. When one Malaysian man saw the machine, he bought it immediately. But celebration of the first sale ended abruptly when Mr. Chang learned that the U joint snapped. So he took his earnings, bought a plane ticket, and filled his luggage with U joints and tools. (He machined the U joints himself.) “I couldn't know the maximum size coupling that would fit until I got my hands in there,” he explained, “so I made a range of sizes to bring with me.” For the first three years he got no salary. But there were no more glitches with the double sided planers since the first one, and for the next six years the machines found their way into factories around the world. Cooperation with a company in Czechoslovakia ensued and EXTEND LIGHT began building frame saws. “We choose to specialize in these two types of machine and no more. This way we ensure that all of our effort is focused on quality.” ** Japanese influence and responsibility Mr. Chang said that Japanese culture has influenced many old school Taiwanese like himself. In fact, the Taiwanese way to say adjustable wrench or spanner is “mbonkay”, or “monkey wrench” in the English that the Japanese got from the West. A motorcycle is called “autobye”, or “auto bike”; cylinder head is “heado”; screwdriver is “doriva”; a tomato is “tomado”; "trans mission” is “me-shon” , etc. "The Chinese are not very responsible. There might be 30 companies copying each other and building the same machine. When they realize they can't compete, they stop production and don't stock any replacement parts. This leaves the customer helpless when their machine breaks down. The Taiwanese are similar to the Japanese, because a long time ago they controlled this place. My father and his father grew up with the Japanese style, and so did I. We spoke Japanese at home. We have a different sense of responsibility.” The Malaysia story is an example of this, and there is more. ** Sacrifice = pride in your work At the point when he could afford a Mercedes Benz, he invested that money in a state of the art spray room. “I don't want my technicians to breathe in the fumes. So I drive an old car.” As demand grew, his wife even sold her heirlooms to install a crane hoist in the factory. The core value of EXTEND LIGHT lies with the technicians who have been loyal for over twenty years. “I don't want my employees to have a bad back like mine, so we use scissor jacks to save them bending over.” When the subject of price wars came up, Chang takes a very strict stance. “It is irresponsible to let the competition cut your prices.” He explained how Taiwan's reputation needs to be kept intact. “Some Taiwanese don't take pride in their quality, and when they can't compete at home anymore, they go to China where it's standard to produce substandard stuff. This hurts Taiwan's reputation. It makes the client compare prices and try to lower mine. I tell them they can't compare our machines to the copycats because the quality is different. I tell them I will wait for them. Invariably, those very same clients come to me within a year and want my machines. When you lower your prices you have to skimp on quality, it's that simple. If you want to be responsible to your industry, keep your quality high, provide distinguishing features and don't make the same machine as the others. If we all do this, we establish niche-type roots and an industry that can be cultivated for everybody.” This led to a comment about the call for Taiwanese companies to merge like HOMAG. Many issues back we interviewed then TWMA chairman Mr. Bill Hong, he revealed plans to merge with other heavy hitting Taiwan companies to enter the South American market. “I am sure they will succeed, as long as each of them is making different machines.” EXTEND LIGHT machines are already there in force, as well as in most other parts of the world. ** Dealing with the Chinese There were 15 or so frame saws under construction out on the floor, and Mr. Chang said they were destined for China. Apparently bamboo is all the rage there and frame saws save lots of material because of the thin kerfs. We asked what it's like to deal with the people there. “It's not good to generalize. In the Northeast they are tough guys. They are rude and loud, but they say what they mean and mean what they say. They do a lot of solid woodwork there so they like my machines. People in Shanghai are the opposite. They keep you hoping when there's no hope. They say one thing and do another. That is hard work. But the hardest work is in Guangzhuo. Don't even bother. I can't tell you about western Chinese yet, but we'll be in Kunming soon. They will be using timber from Myanmar since the wood from Russia is depleted.” Of course, it's not nice to lie but Jackie jokes about a lie he often tells the Chinese. He tells his clients that the machine output capacity is just 75% of the actual capacity. “You see, the workers there are lazy. Since the machine is so fast they have to work hard to keep up with the feeding. They look for chances to take a break all the time, so you have to take 25% off the performance figures due to laziness.” ** Random words of advice The afternoon disappeared before we knew it and we asked Mr. Jackie Chang what else he could tell the Taiwanese industry if it were a phone conversation with a nearly empty battery. “It's all about brand strength and customer confidence… Make sure your quality is strong before letting the salesman make his pitch… Sell people along with your machines (rent the client a technician to live there for a period of time to ensure they know how to keep production lines running smoothly)… Change your designs every year so copycats can't keep up… Don't take your wife and kids to exhibitions… Old masters teach the best hands-on skills, so get your hands in there… Be the top in quality but moderate in price. This way pressure is down but stability is strong… Don't go to Brazil. I've been there 8 times and one round trip takes a hundred hours!... These are some things they can think about.” -- So sayeth Mr. Jackie Chang, the man who brought a company from the trenches to be an icon that the new generation looks to for insight. On our way through the factory he explained that his planer could remove over 5mm in a single pass. I told him about having to join two planks of timber to form a table top, and it took my little planer 30 passes to remove 20 mm of hard teak. “Next time,” He laughs, “just bring it over here!” Extend Light Machinery Co., Ltd. -
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