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Smith Students Get Up-Close View of Chinese Manufacturing

Sep 21, 2007
Entrepreneurial Spirit

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In the wake of several U.S. recalls involving products made in China, six Smith School students traveled China in early September 2007 to get an up-close look at manufacturing in that country. The students, including one second-year MBA and five undergraduates, toured four factories as part of the trip, which was arranged through the schools Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Three of the factories were in Hangzhou and included those for Siemens, the global electronics and engineering company; Mary Kay cosmetics; and Ting Hsin International, Chinas largest manufacturer of instant noodles, bottled water and biscuits.

 

At each factory stop, the Smith students peppered representatives of each company with questions about quality control, human resources and supply chain management, among other key business issues. At the Siemens plant, which manufactures high voltage circuit breakers for electric utilities, students wanted to know about plant safety, work hours and benefits for workers. Siemens officials explained that employees work one eight-hour shift per day and get a 45-minute lunch break as well as morning and afternoon breaks. They also said that many measures are in place to keep workers safe.

For example, we supply each of our workers with special shoes to withstand a significant amount of weight, said Zhu Qinghai, the human resource department manager for Siemens, speaking through an interpreter.

Smith undergraduate Scottie Siu (center) and MBA Laura Bennett speak with a Siemens representative. Smith undergraduate Shania Lin is in the background.

The students and others in the Dingman delegation were impressed by what they saw on the Siemens plant floor, where some 600 employees coiled heavy power cables, assembled metal parts, and performed testing on large pieces of equipment used by power companies.

I noticed that its air conditioned, its very climate controlled and everything is very neat and in its place, said Nicholas Singer, a Smith School senior. They allowed us to look around and go places where I feel if you were on a factory tour in the United States, you wouldn't be able to do that, said Singer.

Students were also impressed with the Mary Kay cosmetics plant, which opened in Hangzhou in March 2006. Once they were on the other side of the factory's bright pink faade, students saw large shiny chrome vats filled with face cream and watched employees test and package the products, 90 percent of which are sold in China. At this plant also, students were interested in learning about quality control. Mary Kay officials explained that many of the ingredients used at the Hangzhou plant come from the same suppliers used by the company's U.S. plant in Dallas. Asked how Mary Kay's China market differs from that in the U.S., factory officials said the market for colored products, such as lipstick and eye shadow, is much smaller in China and that impacts manufacturing in Hangzhou.

It was a wonderful tour, said Shania Lin, a Smith undergraduate. The people were very friendly and informative. We asked a lot of questions and got very good answers. It was very interesting, said Lin.

The tour of the Ting Hsin instant noodle factory, well-known for its Chef Kang brand of noodles, was perhaps the most visually interesting. The delegation followed a long assembly line as the noodles went from being wet and hundreds of feet long, to being separated into single package sizes and then dried and packaged with spoons and flavor packets before being placed in bulk boxes for shipping.

Seeing all these factories, seeing how they make different types of products, how they are marketing different audiences in different provinces, is just amazing, said Scottie Siu, a Smith undergraduate, after leaving the noodle factory.

The automation in this factory was tremendous, added John LaPides, an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Dingman Center. But some of the hands-on things that the workers had to do was really amazing and its fascinating to see such a high volume output of a product like this, said LaPides.

Trips like these are an important part of the Smith Schools emphasis on preparing students to succeed in a global economy. The students were selected for the trip through the Dingman Centers Pitch Dingman contest, which required students to submit proposals on how they would benefit from the opportunity.

This is a global economy in which we are operating and its important to understand what labor forces and economic forces have an impact on global trade, said Asher Epstein, managing director of the Dingman Center. Understanding factory conditions, quality control, cost of production, manufacturing capabilities, and assembly issues and challenges around the world is important for being competitive in global business, said Epstein.

The Dingman trip, which also included stops in Suzhou and Shanghai, concluded in Beijing, where the delegation attended the final round of the Smith Schools annual China Business Plan Competition. The school awarded $50,000 in prize money to the three winning teams.

▓ Jeff Heebner, Office of Marketing Communications

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.