An exceptional source of power at the heart of China, the metropolitan region of Chengdu has a population of 16.5 million. Along with the Hungarian factory in Veszprém, one of Balluff’s two major production facilities is situated here: Balluff Sensors (Chengdu).
Of bravery and pandas
Chengdu is one of West China’s economic centers and is regarded as the “panda capital” of the world. More than 100 of these Chinese national animals live at the breeding and research station. The region is also renowned for its spicy cuisine. “We always give brave guests the chance to try the Chengdu specialties,” says Erik Oortwijn, managing director of Balluff Sensors (Chengdu). “Some of our guests are even more adventuresome. I recall a colleague who cycled back to the hotel undaunted by the rain and dark – covering a distance of 30 kilometers – alone, and without a word of Chinese. It is a miracle that he didn’t get lost.”
Pioneers in the west
“Chengdu’s success story begins in Switzerland. In 2000, we took over a company there that already had contacts to Chengdu,” recalls former Balluff Managing Director Michael Unger. “After a lot of discussion, we decided on this site. It was a godsend for us, because there are so many highly qualified people in the region.”
Balluff founded its subsidiary in Chengdu in 2004. “At the time, we were pioneers, because we were the first German production company to come here,” says Frank Nonnenmann. The Balluff Managing Director is responsible for setting up the global production and logistics network. In West China, Balluff produces more than 2,300,000 inductive and mechanical sensors, linear position sensors for industrial automation, and other products. “In Chengdu, we currently operate on a one-shift basis. However, we have taken growing demand into account in the wake of expanding our capacities,” says Erik Oortwijn. “We are therefore ready to switch to a full two-shift system and double our production output.”
Young and experienced: the Chengdu workforce
In Chengdu, we currently employ 230 people – 160 in production, seven in product development, and the remainder in other departments. “The average age of our workforce is just 33. Yet despite this, 80 of our employees have been with us for ten years or longer,” comments Erik Oortwijn. “This low employee turnover is exceptional for the Chinese labor market and shows the great trust that Balluff has earned locally as an employer.”
A real team …
“One reason for the loyalty of the workforce is the exceptional spirit of solidarity among the employees. The family company culture is very much present here,” says Erik Oortwijn. Balluff’s policies with regard to working hours and leave take employees’ work-life balance into account. With the exception of the managing director, all key positions in Chengdu are held by Chinese nationals. The team spirit is reinforced by a common passion for soccer. “In 2014, the atmosphere was euphoric. The entire workforce celebrated the German national team winning the World Cup with, among other things, the largest company cake Chengdu has ever seen,” recalls Erik Oortwijn and adds: “Losing to South Korea four years later was all the sorer. On impulse, we lowered our flag to half-mast.”
… even in hard times
In 2008, a devastating earthquake occurred in Sichuan Province, where Chengdu lies. Some 70,000 people died, and many buildings were damaged. Balluff was lucky. None of its employees were injured and the new factory building was scarcely damaged. Production continued uninterrupted. Just eight days after the disaster, the former managing director of Balluff Group, Michael Unger was at the scene. “The danger was far from over, as there were still many aftershocks. All of our employees thought highly of him for coming,” emphasizes Erik Oortwijn. As Michael Unger adds: “Just four weeks before the disaster, we had a meeting of Balluff managers in Chengdu. And so, of course, the horror, sympathy and feeling of solidarity within the group was all the more acute when the news of the earthquake broke around the world.”
The best of both worlds
In the region, Balluff stands out as a flagship of industry, and of manufacturing quality in particular. “We are justifiably proud of our products. “Made in China” is a real seal of quality. We owe this success to our magnificent production team,” stresses Erik Oortwijn. Balluff Chengdu has been featured more than once on local television, and politicians regard the company as a prime example of modern German high tech manufacturing. In addition to the products, visitors are interested in how Balluff’s management culture, which thrives on openness, is so successful in the Chinese business environment.
Balluff Sensors (Chengdu) was founded in 2004 as an independent subsidiary.
In 2004, Balluff Sensors (Chengdu) became a production facility. It has had its own development department since 2014.
In 2017, Balluff extended the factory by 50 percent.
The site currently cover an area of 20,000 m². 8,000 m² is taken up by buildings, of which 4 000 m² are production facilities.