Opened in late 2018, SBM’s product exhibition hall, situated in a large ultra-modern, aircraft-style hanger building within the grounds of the firm’s Shanghai headquarters in eastern China, is extremely impressive. Libo Fang, the company’s executive vice president, is proudly showing me around after I’ve travelled down to interview him after attending the 6th China International Aggregates Conference in Wuxi, a city two hours north west of Shanghai.
Above the large range of assembled SBM crushing, screening and washing plant is a large array of national flags, many belonging to countries to which SBM already exports its equipment and technology. Established in 1987, SBM posted annual sales of around RMB 3bn (US$427.1mn) in 2018. Employing around 3,000 people and with six production factories in China – three in Henan province, central China; two in Shanghai, and one in Jiangsu province, eastern China – SBM has established itself as by far China’s biggest and most successful crushing, screening and sand-washing plant maker. Also known for its feeders, heavy-duty conveyor belts and grinding equipment, SBM exports its products to customers in regions and countries including South East Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East, India and Australia.
“We are already a global standard manufacturer that does business all over the world. The advance of new technology and technical knowledge in China means we can progress our product offer more rapidly compared to developed countries in other world regions,” says Fang. “The Chinese aggregates market that is booming with all the major infrastructure works taking place.”
Turning his attention to SBM export sales, Fang continues: “Exports are always important to us. We began internet-based marketing and export sales in 2004 and currently sell our plant to customers in 170 countries. We have very good co-operation with Google’s management team in Shanghai who have advised us and supported our efforts to reach customers online. This is particularly helpful in putting our very large customer engineering support teams in contact with export market customers. Exports sales are currently around 45% of our total sales. East Africa has been a good region for us, and South East Asia is currently a very good market. There is rapidly growing equipment demand in countries like Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.”
Fang says that domestically and globally, cone crushers are SBM’s biggest-selling crusher type. “We have many different efficient static and mobile cone crushers across our HPC, HST, HPT, PY and CS series models. They are very versatile machines which meet our customers’ needs. Chinese demand for mobile crushers and screeners is growing rapidly, largely due to the growth in materials recycling which offers far higher profitability.
“The need for better quality final product and a better quarrying and mining environment in China has led to an increase in demand for our washing plant.”
Delegates at the 6th China International Aggregates Conference held at the Intercontinental hotel in Wuxi (9-12 December) heard a keynote speech from Hu Youyi, president of China Aggregates Association (CAA), who explained how China is embarking on a green quarrying revolution that will transform the aggregates production industry across the world’s most populous country; a country whose 20 billion tonnes a year aggregates market equates to 40% of total world demand.
Hu said that future Chinese quarries would have four development models: Aggregate 1.0 – green environmental protection aggregate plant; Aggregate 2.0 – extending the aggregate industrial chain; Aggregate 3.0 – green building materials industrial park; Aggregate 4.0 – eco-industrial park based on a quarry. Hu also noted that with the support of 5G technology, digital, unmanned quarries and smart mines in the aggregates industry will become a mainstream trend. The same technology will also see a rapid rise in the intelligent transport of aggregates and the use of intelligent logistics.
In an interview with this magazine during the conference, Hu said that 80% of Chinese quarries will reach the required green standard within the next five years.
As a prominent CAA member, SBM actively participates in various aggregates- sector enhancing activities organised by the association. The company also follows CAA policies and suggestions on how to best promote the healthy development of the Chinese aggregates industry. Indeed, SBM chairman Yang Songke is the CAA’s vice president.
Commenting on the grand Chinese green quarrying plan, Fang says: “It’s a very important issue. The future for quarrying and mining in China must be about the production of good material and the greater use of recycled materials as part of a wider environmental focus. The Chinese aggregates industry has undergone huge change in the last three to four years, as the Chinese government have a very strict environment policy. A lot of smaller mines shut down and producers can no longer excavate gravel from rivers and lakes. This kind of change can only happen in China, and it is very good for the industry.
“As a company to tie in with Aggregate 4.0, SBM is looking to produce high-quality design, high-performance and low-emission plant solutions. We also want to provide wider solutions that cover the whole green quarrying and mining operation, including site design, transportation and waste disposal. We are putting a lot of research and development resources into this and are co-operating with a number of other companies.”
Fang says 2015 was a key year for SBM due to big investment in enhancing not only the company’s plant range, but also its production capabilities. “The domestic aggregates supply and equipment market was very tough that year, so our chairman decided to take advantage of lower building costs to invest in our headquarters, including the building of our exhibition hall, and in new and extended production factories. This meant we were better able to meet market domestic and export demand when it increased.
“The quality of manufacturing here in Shanghai is the best in China. We have some very good, tech-minded neighbours, such as Tesla and Google. This means we can share a lot of technology and ideas. We buy a lot of new machines to produce our products, but if we only produce our products with them, our return on investment is not quick. As such, we are talking to people involved in a big airplane-making project in the city who are interested in paying us for allowing them to use our advanced Shanghai factories’ machines.”
Focusing on SBM’s plant aftersales offer, Fang, who has a master’s degree in marketing and a degree in economics and management, both from Tsinghua University in Beijing, says the company’s direct sales model allows it to get to know customers better. “It’s important that we know our customers, their working environment and their production needs to ensure that we can offer the best solutions,” he stresses. “Direct sales also help us identify how we can improve. I also want our aftermarket teams to use more new technology, such as 5G, in their interaction with customers.
“Every day we get feedback from our customers all over the world on how to improve our equipment, a lot of it referring to automation and machine control and intelligence. This drives our R&D work. For example, we have designed a wheeled compact cone crusher for contract customers in markets such as Africa.”
In 2017, SBM became the official Chinese distributor for major North American quarrying plant maker McCloskey International (McCloskey), now part of Finnish sector heavyweight Metso.
“It’s been a very good co-operation. McCloskey mobile crushing and screening plant are quality and very good value. We have now sold around 40 McCloskey plant in China, and plan to sell 100 by the end of 2020,” says Fang. “We have met with senior Metso figures and they have assured us that the co-operation between SBM and McCloskey will remain the same.”
Describing his leadership style, 33-year-old Fang, who hails from Anhui province, eastern China, says: “I think instilling a positive culture is very important. We have a lot of young staff and I and the rest of the SBM management team encourage a constant learning culture. We like to refer to this as created and shared value.”
And what of the SBM executive vice president’s remaining personal career goals? “Working in a rapidly changing global aggregates industry is very exciting. I want to help SBM be one of the best plant manufacturers in the world, and for the company to be firmly associated with being good for the environment and helping our customers create a greener world.”