Heavy lifting: Inside SDLG’s China production plant

Anirban Bagchi visits SDLG’s sprawling facilities in its home city of Linyi to get a first-hand account of the brand’s passion for its products and dedication to quality

About an hour’s drive out of Linyi city in east central China, in a dimly-lit cavernous storage facility at Yizhou Cement plant, where the ceiling is so high and the walls so wide as to be lost to the darkness, an SDLG LG989 wheel loader is hard at work loading and unloading quarried aggregate for storage.

The top-of the-range wheel loader from Shandong Lingong Construction Machinery Company Ltd. – or SDLG – has a long, hard day ahead of it. Or make that a week or more. The machine will not be switched off for the next 100 hours and will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the plant premises.

The grueling shift duration aside, it is also dealing with rough, abrasive materials and working to peak capacity, something it has to keep up until its tank runs dry and needs refueling. Such is the build quality of the machine, however, that Zheng Yong, the plant’s machinery fleet manager, says he has had no complaints from it. Or from the other 17 SDLG wheel loaders that Yizhou owns across its facilities.

Such performance must be the result of a robust build process, and that is evident around 60km away in SDLG’s manufacturing facility in Linyi city, its home base from which it has grown to become one of China’s most preferred construction machinery brands in its domestic market and a flag bearer of Chinese manufacturing globally.

China’s meteoric rise as an economic superpower has seen the inevitable explosion of successful home-grown construction equipment brands that have taken advantage of its construction and infrastructure spending over the decades to become among the top global brands. SDLG is one of those brands that have piggy backed on the Chinese economic miracle and then come out of the country to become one of the best-known global brands. Even in the Middle East, SDLG, is a prominent presence in the construction machinery landscape.

It all started in Linyi in 1972, the year the company was established. In the 40 years since, its growth first saw it relocate to the Linyi Economic Development Zone in 2005 and then expand its premises there to the 1.3 million square metre facility it occupies today.

Another landmark year for the company was 2006, when global machinery giant Volvo Construction Equipment brought SDLG under its umbrella. What has followed is a series of successful expansion sprees across the globe, and especially in the Middle East, where SDLG is among the top Chinese machinery brands today.

There were initial hiccups in the partnerships, however, says Guo Shaohua, director, Brand Communications Department, speaking with CMME at SDLG’s corporate headquarters at its sprawling premises in Linyi.

“Volvo did not have full confidence in SDLG’s manufacturing initially, especially for excavators. We only started making excavators in 2009, so it has only been a few years,” Shaohua says. “At first, Volvo allowed SDLG excavators to be sold only in the Middle East and Brazil, apart from the Chinese home market. But after continuous improvement, SDLG got the go-ahead from Volvo about four years ago to sell its excavators in other markets worldwide.”

Those excavators are produced at a factory right next door to the corporate building, as are the wheel loaders that Yizhou Cement swears by.

As Shaohua leads CMME to the factory floor for a closer look at the production process, he explains: “SDLG’s manufacturing standards are benchmarked against Volvo CE’s standards – the VPS or Volvo Production System. The 2016 results have been very positive; we have shown steady improvement and are now very near to reaching the full VPS standards. So, Volvo now has greater confidence in our manufacturing.”

On the floor of the 17,000sqm wheel loader assembly line, it is apparent why. The well-lit factory has a judicious mix of natural and artificial light flooding its two assembly lines, one of which is for domestic market models and the other exclusively for machines meant for overseas markets.

“That’s sort of our premium assembly line,” says Shaohua, the element of pride at being able to provide the best of Chinese manufacturing to the world palpable in his tone.

And pride, it seems, is what every worker on the SDLG floor takes in their work. A guide is quick to point out that almost all the innovations in the manufacturing process are developed in-house, including the automatic guided vehicles (AGV) that deliver just the appropriate variety and quantity of parts to each of the 22 work stations on the line that produce wheel loaders ranging from 1.8t in capacity to the 12t ones that are helping Yizhou Cement keep its productivity high.

The AGVs were developed by Qiu Feng, an automated field engineer and a member of SDLG’s research and development team, says the guide.

“Feng is among the most highly regarded industrial research engineers in the Chinese construction machinery industry,” Shaohua adds. “And we are happy he is a member of the SDLG family.”

Pointing out other salient features in the SDLG manufacturing process, he says the factory follows the ‘Just In Time’ production model, which ensures that just the right amount of inventory is held at any moment, reducing overheads. The wheel loader shop floor has a capacity of 300-500 units per day, depending on demand.

Meanwhile, the excavator lines in an adjacent 90,000sqm floor also follow the same production design and principles in assembling the 1.6 to 50t capacity units. There are two painting lines, nine welding lines with automated robotic welding arms and three main assembly lines where the excavators come together, Shaohua says. The assembly line is a three-part one with one each for the upper frame, one for the lower carriage and another for the main line. A maximum of 100 units can be produced each day.

“The thread that holds the entire production process together is the LPS or Lingong Production System, which leads into SDLG’s motto of ‘Reliability in Action’,” explains Shaohua.

“It is made up of five pillars: Team co-operation; Stable Processes; Manufacturing Quality; Just-in-time Production; and Continuous Improvement. The last one is of special importance to the 60-odd workers on the floor. They are encouraged to come up with suggestions to improve a continuously evolving process and the best ones are adopted and highlighted throughout the floor.”

That the efforts of the SDLG staff and their dedication to improvement is paying off was proven recently when the China Machinery Industry Federation ranked SDLG 35th in its list of the country’s top 100 mechanical and industrial businesses. The company was also named as the fourth largest mechanical engineering concern in a report by the body, which ranks the country’s top engineering enterprises.

Since it was first published 12 years ago, the listing has established itself as one of the best-respected and authoritative guides to China’s leading industrial businesses. The SDLG range of construction equipment has been on the list since 2007.

With more than 50 national patents in China and a reputation for manufacturing some of the best quality construction equipment in the nation, SDLG products have gained recognition not only in China but also worldwide.

As one of the world’s largest producers of wheel loaders, the company has introduced its product line to a global customer base. In recent years, the machines have launched in Turkey, Canada and the US. Committed to becoming the world’s leading Chinese construction machinery brand, SDLG has established a global dealer network that covers more than 80 countries. As the company looks to grow, it’s focussing on developing its range of machines and reducing emissions. SDLG is currently the leading Chinese equipment brand in terms of energy efficiency, with machines that consume about 10% less than other Chinese equivalents.

“Being ranked as one of the biggest mechanical engineering companies in China provides great motivation to SDLG and further reinforces its vision of becoming China’s leading construction machinery company,” says Yu Mensheng, executive president of SDLG. “To this end, we will continue to uphold the principles and core values that underline our ‘Reliability in Action’ philosophy.”

In the final analysis, the proof of the machine is in the performance, and SDLG has been able to prove its quality in the markets it is sold in, not least in the Middle East, where the brand’s value and quality propositions have become well known at several construction sites as operators here use the machines that were made with dedication and love in Linyi.

New SDLG graders for the Middle East
SDLG improved its motor grader offering in the Middle East this year with the launch of the variable horsepower versions of two of its biggest selling graders for the regional markets.

The new G9190 and G9220 VHP (automatic variable horsepower) motor graders provide an automatic mode for transmission, allowing operators to shift seamlessly between manual to automatic transmission. This gives them greater control over the grading process while optimising fuel efficiency.

“The new VHP models give the operator greater control over the grading process, with the freedom to shift from manual to automatic transmission when they choose,” says Shahir El Essawy, SDLG’s business manager for Hub South.

“They are also fitted with a piston pump hydraulic system that always delivers the optimum oil flow to the hydraulic functions, regardless of engine speed. In this way, VHP allows the operator to concentrate on grading with greater precision for superior results, while the machine focuses on being more fuel-efficient.”

The standard versions of the G9190 and G9220 motor graders were launched in 2015 and have been well-received in the market, says SDLG. The graders are well-balanced with good traction and excellent blade down force. The G9190 features a blade width of 13 feet with a blade pull of 9,990kg, while the G9220 has a blade width of 14 feet with a blade pull of 10,530kg.

The unique SDLG circle drive system comes with three support shoes and non-greasing slide bushings for better grading and easier maintenance. SDLG graders also feature an asymmetric drawbar ball stud that can be rotated 180 degrees to keep the drawbar in horizontal level position – vital when performing fine grading.

The cab is designed to offer high all-round visibility, with easy-to-use industry-standard controls, comfortable seating and air conditioning as standard. Maintenance access is made easy with large side and rear doors, as is greasing point access for efficient daily maintenance.

“By improving fuel-efficiency and operator control on some of our most popular machines, we are demonstrating our continued commitment to those customers,” says El Essawy.

Hard yards in Saudi highway projects
Nearly 60 SDLG machines sold to the Shibh Al-Jazira Contracting Company (SAJCO) last year are now working on a large-scale road maintenance initiative involving 20 government-funded projects across Saudi Arabia spanning seven areas of the country.

Established in 1965, SAJCO is one of the largest contractors in Saudi, with a fleet of over 1,500 machines. Last year, SAJCO took delivery of a 58-machine order from SDLG, comprising 30 LG958L wheel loaders and 28 G9220 motor graders, supplied by SDLG national dealer Al-Futtaim Auto and Machinery Company (FAMCO).

Motasim Abulhasan, SDLG central region sales manager at FAMCO, says: “In the beginning, SAJCO requested two and a half cubic metre loaders but we advised them to choose the LG958L because it has a three cubic metre bucket, meaning it can handle greater workloads.” The LG958L offers high traction and breakout force, as well as fuel efficiency, more uptime and productivity, he adds.

“As for the graders,” Abulhasan continues, “SAJCO needed a machine with a 14ft plate and a power rating above 150kW; for that, the G9220 grader was perfect.”

The G9220 is a well-balanced grader with good traction and excellent blade down force. The 164kW Dalian Deutz engine, in combination with the ZF power shift transmission, delivers easy and reliable operation. Three distinct power curve settings aid achieving smooth grades on any surface.

SDLG bested fierce competition from Chinese and Western equipment suppliers to bag the order, and Essam Al-Malik, central regional manager at FAMCO, explains that the reasons for this “include our ability to deliver the machines to the customer’s precise requirements, SDLG and FAMCO’s combined exceptional customer support and after sales service, and our short lead time for delivery.”

Over the next 20 months, SDLG and FAMCO will together ensure support and service. “Our product support teams are visiting the sites every six months to review performance,” says Paulo Cristiani, product support manager, SDLG. “Some machines have already clocked an impressive 1,000 hours in under six months.”

SDLG keeps black diamonds flowing
A 20t SDLG L968F wheel loader is proving instrumental to the operation of a new Turkish coal mine run by the Yurtsever Group in the foothills of the Ilgaz mountain range, 60km south of the Black Sea town of Kastamonu.

The machine, which was supplied by Turkish SDLG dealer Ascendum Makina last August, is busy clearing overburden and shifting the 50t of coal produced every day at the 4,000sqm site.

Site director Mehmet Aydas says: “On this site, which sits at about 900m above sea level, we have both open cast and underground mining possibilities. We’re using the SDLG L968F wheel loader to clear overburden from the open pit as well as to handle the coal that’s coming up from 50m underground,” says Aydas. “Despite the varied workloads and different demands placed on the machine, it has not missed a beat and we’re very happy with the decision to turn to SDLG. The machine and support we’ve had from the dealer has been 100%.”

The L968F, which is fitted with a 3.6 cubic metre capacity SDLG rock bucket, boasts Z-bar linkage offering up to 210kN of breakout force, which Aydas believes is more than enough to get the job done.

Furthermore, the 20t class wheel loader is fitted with SDLG’s VRT200 rigid-axle transmission converter and synchronised four-speed transmission, developed to enhance stability, traction, reliability and efficiency. When this is combined with the machine’s 191kW engine, it can drive up inclines of up to 28 degrees.

This feature is much appreciated by Aydas considering the mountainous landscape in which the mine is set. “What’s more, when it comes to stopping, the hydraulic wet disk brakes have proved equally effective and reliable,” he adds.

During the summer, the region sees temperatures of over 30°C, while in the winter it can drop to below -25°C. “We have up to five months of snow, and sometimes it can reach depths of over 75cm, so as well as handling production, the L968F is also tasked with snow clearing duties,” says Aydas.

“What we’ve seen since taking delivery of this machine is that it clearly has the capabilities and reliability to keep production going whatever the weather throws at us.”

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