Approximately 100 kilometers north‑west of Shanghai, in the province of Jiangsu, lies the county‑level city of Changshu. Changshu is where the private company Longteng Special Steel was founded in 1993. The Longteng factory site in Changshu’s eastern suburb Meili Town is impressively big: On the car ride through the factory premises to the main office building, large warehouses, sky‑high industrial chimneys, hundreds of trucks, and multiple blast furnaces and steel production sites pass by the window.
With 5,500 employees, Longteng Special Steel has focused on integrated steelmaking for almost 30 years. The steel mill’s main incentive is to supply raw materials for downstream processing – with sintering, iron making, steel making, steel rolling, metal processing, power generation, and scientific research being the main fields of activity. “We have always focused on niche markets, for example the production of tailor‑made steel bars for customers in the shipbuilding industry,” explains Mr. Shawn Xu, Vice President of the enterprise. The output of various special steels reaches 4.5 million tons annually – a quarter of which is exported to markets all around the world. The most important industry segments for Longteng Special Steel are mining and shipbuilding. The company’s total assets amount to 15 billion Chinese yuan (2.1 billion Swiss francs).
However, the steelmaking business also has its risks and challenges: oversupply is an issue; steel prices are fluctuating heavily. “We recently bought the Hatebur HOTmatic HM 75 XL because of our strategic decision to invest in our downstream processing capabilities, to open up new markets and possibilities, create added value and to mitigate risks of an overly one‑sided company portfolio. We think big, and our vision is to become a leading manufacturer in certain niche markets – producing high‑precision parts for booming industry segments such as electric mobility, wind and solar power, as well as new and clean energy,” says Mr. Xu. “The HOTmatic HM 75 XL gives us the opportunity to take a big step in that direction!”
In the summer of 2022, Hatebur’s biggest hotformer went into operation at the Longteng Special Steel facilities. The journey to change the company’s DNA, however, began a few years earlier: Longteng first experimented with a smaller forging machine and produced small bearing balls for customers in the wind power industry. In 2020, in pursuit of higher volumes, added value, and new possibilities, the company got in contact with Hatebur Shanghai. “When we talked to the Hatebur experts, our eyes quickly fell on the HOTmatic HM 75 XL. Not only because we like big machines and big potential – but also because we saw the chance to differentiate ourselves from others in the market. Not many companies can take this step,” emphasizes Mr. Xu.
First in China
In fact, Longteng Special Steel became the first company in China to buy the HOTmatic HM 75 XL – the largest horizontal hotformer. When visitors witness the machine live in operation in the Longteng factory, it becomes clear why the company’s Vice President is proud of the investment: The HOTmatic HM 75 XL is truly impressive with its innovative servo‑infeed, shearing concept, transfer unit with individually adjustable and monitored transport grippers, superior technical design and outstanding features for forward extrusion operations. The four‑station hotformer can process steel bars with a diameter of up to 90 mm and a length of 12 meters. The press capacity is 20,000 kN, and the output is up to 80 parts per minute. The machine manufactures parts with a maximum input weight of 7.5 kg and a diameter of up to 180 mm. The servo‑infeed in combination with ESA 600 the bar‑end detection system guarantees maximum process reliability and minimum material waste. The Longteng Special Steel engineer, visibly delighted to operate this huge machine, controls it effortlessly and quickly via an innovative touchscreen.
Shawn Xu is a young, dynamic, and smart executive who is leading Longteng Special Steel in the second generation. His father founded the company. Mr. Xu, a Changshu native, studied in Australia and entered the enterprise 12 years ago. “There are cultural differences between China and the West when it comes to doing business. While many Western companies might spend years assessing risks and potential, we – as a private company – take decisions quickly. As long as we can manage the risks, we want to grab opportunities as fast as possible,” he says. Longteng has proven this quick decision‑making when it came to the investment in the HOTmatic HM 75 XL. Mr. Xu: “We were and are investigating market chances in new vehicles, electric mobility, and new materials. These seminal markets are developing fast – and the lead time for ordering a machine of this size is two years. We decided to invest in the future. With the forging possibilities inhouse, we can become a first mover and produce for these growing markets.”
Overcoming Covid-19 roadblocks
After the HOTmatic HM 75 XL was delivered to Changshu, the installation and commissioning process started. Because of the ongoing Covid‑19 pandemic and travel restrictions in China, Hatebur could not send a technician from the Swiss headquarters, but the experienced engineers and technicians from the Shanghai office stood ready. In close cooperation with Longteng Special Steel, the installation and commissioning process was successfully completed in less than three months, efficient and quick for a machine of this size. “Initially we had hoped it would be possible for an expert from the Hatebur headquarters to come and oversee this difficult and important process. But then the Hatebur Shanghai team managed the commissioning very well – I am very satisfied with the service quality and support,” explains Mr. Xu.
Fifteen specialists from Longteng Special Steel were involved in the whole process and received in‑depth training, including long video conferences with Hatebur experts in Switzerland and comprehensive training on the machine. Mr. Xu says: “This know‑how is crucial. After all, we plan to make full use of the HOTmatic HM 75 XL in order to maximize its output and the benefit for our company. Our team will work in three shifts around the clock on the machine.”
Right now, Longteng sources and buys some of the materials that are being processed. The company is planning for all of its steel materials to be provided directly by its own upstream facilities in the near future maximizing efficiency and productivity. After the forging processes, Longteng Special Steel also runs subsequent machining steps to make final parts. Mr. Xu explains,: “We are keeping an eye on this and may further expand the machining processes in the future.”
Currently, the HOTmatic HM 75 XL is used for the production of flanges for the oil and gas industry – but that will change soon. The engineers of Longteng Special Steel work on a part design for the electric mobility market, and first test runs for this part are about to start. “While we are still evaluating possibilities, we have already ordered our second Hatebur machine, the AMP 70, which is in assembly and will be delivered in early 2023. It will further increase our part output,” ex‑plains Mr. Xu. “We see huge potential in the electric mobility market, and if production goes as planned, we will order more machines soon.”