Fuyao Ohio plant comes online

Updated: 2016-04-05 11:08

By HEZI JIANG in Philadelphia(chinadaily.com.cn)

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Fuyao Ohio plant comes online

A worker inspects parts at Fuyao Glass America, the US branch of China's largest automotive glass maker, on March 29. The company is working toward achieving full production capacity at its 1.6 million-square-foot facility in Moraine, Ohio. HEZI JIANG / CHINA DAILY

The 1.6 million-square-foot factory that used to be a dank and deserted space - except for a few raccoons - is now reborn.Robots transport fabricated glass in a flowing rhythm, while men and women, many of whom were unemployed a year ago, busily work three fully up-and-operational production lines and installation stations.

Fuyao Glass America, the US branch of China's largest automotive glass maker, is working toward its goal for 2016 of achieving full production capacity at its first US manufacturing facility in Moraine, Ohio, and further sealing their corporate image as a global manufacturer.

It's been about 20 months since Fuyao took over the vacant plant abandoned by General Motors years ago. The factory now has 1,300 workers - about 700 full-time employees and 600 with part-time jobs that could turn into permanent ones with benefits after 90 days.

The factory will employ a total of 1,800 to 2,000 local workers by early next year, said John Gauthier, president of Fuyao Glass American.

Ohio Gov John Kasich, a candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination for president, has been highly supportive and very proud of the project. He met with Cao Dewang, chairman of Fuyao Glass Industry Group, many times to finalize the deal.

On March 11, Kasich hosted a town hall attended by more than a thousand locals at the Fuyao factory in advance of the Ohio Republican presidential primary on March 15.

"The whole process has gone smoother than I expected,"said Cao. "Every Chinese from Fuyao has been working really hard. It's also very important that the US support us. Otherwise, it would never be possible."

Apart from 120 Chinese workers from Fuyao's Chinese factories who are running the installation of Fuyao-designed equipment and new employee training, everyone was hired in the US, mostly from the Dayton area.

"Our largest challenges lie in the language barrier and cultural differences," Cao said. "We are working on bridging that culture gap. We have to learn a lot of things. For example, American workers demand a break room, which we never have in our Chinese factories."

"We have to localize. We tell our Chinese leadership to respect the US management team, and help them establish credibility," he said.

Including Gauthier, four of Fuyao America's top nine management executives are Americans.

Dealing with US Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and unions are among the challenges Chinese manufacturers face.

Also, American workers are different from workers in China. Many have no experience in auto glass-making, and they have different working hours and habits, said Gauthier.

"We are establishing our own culture by puttingFuyaoculture, Chinese culture and American culture all together into a hybrid culture," said Gauthier.

He said that some departments have been doing a "Word of the Day" exchange, where Chinese workers teach American workers a Chinese word, and the Americans will teach Chinese workers the equivalent English word - like bo li and glass - and they practice throughout the workday.

"It all comes down to trust," said Gauthier. "It's about building the relationship with trust."

"It's a rare chance that we get to work with a Chinese team, get to know people in a personal way," he said.

"Challenging? Yes. Frustrating? Yes, sometimes. But to work through the cultural issues as a team, to come to a greater understanding of the Chinese culture and history, and make that fit with the American culture, to me, it's so exciting that way," he said.

Gauthier has been in the glass industry for years. His last job was as plant manager of a glass manufacturing facility in Mt Zion, Illinois, which was acquired by Fuyao in 2014 to make pre-fabricated glass for the Ohio facility.

"It seems like we had been managing decline," he said. "It's been very exciting to be involved in a project like this where we have real growth, real potential and such a bright future.

"It's tough days, but you really feel like you are working on something important. You really feel like you are making a difference," said Gauthier.

Not only does Fuyao America provide jobs, Cao said, the Americans welcome the new manufacturing plant because it fills a gap in the US auto parts market.

During the financial crisis, many American auto part-makers shut down. Now as the auto market has been recovering, the fact that Fuyao America opened a new factory is great news for its US clients.

"Our American clients are thrilled," Cao said. "We now fulfill their orders faster, and they can communicate with us right away if any changes of the products have to be made."

The factory is now making windshields, backlights and sidelights for Chevy Silverado pickups, Hyundai Sonatas, BMW X5s, Ford F150 pickups, Jeep Grand Cherokees, Honda Civics and VW Passats, among others.

"I prepared for 20 years before opening this facility," said Cao.

Fuyao has had two offices and warehouses in Alabama and South Carolina since the 1990s. Eight years ago, it opened a bigger facility in Michigan to offer direct support to its clients in the Detroit area. The facility now employs close to 400 people.

In 2014,asFuyaowas growing bigger as a brand and Chinese labor costs kept going up, Cao decided the time had come.

"Raw materials we need are cheaper in the US, and having a plant will effectively reduce our transportation cost for orders from the US," Cao said.

He bought the glass manufacturing facility in Mt Zion, Illinois, and refurbished the Ohio plant, which is Fuyao's newest and most automated factory in the world.

Fuyao has factories in 15 Chinese provinces, employing 25,000 workers, and a factory in Russia serving the European market.

Cao said that 60 percent of its revenue comes from the Chinese market, and the rest comes from foreign markets, with North America and Europe the largest buyers.

"As driverless cars become the next big move, glass plays a more important role. Driverless cars need a lot of data, and all of that will come from the windshields," Cao said.

He said Fuyao was putting about 6 percent of its revenue into research and development. "I'm planning to open an R&D center here in the US," he said.