“New dimension of flexibility and organizational skills”

Bernd Reitmeier talks about China’s industry during and after Covid 19

Bernd Reitmeier, founder and managing director of the start-up factory in Kunshan, speaks about China’s industry during and after Covid 19. With his concept of intelligent resource sharing, he has won almost 40 small and medium-sized German companies to start local production in the industrial park, around 60 kilometers from Shanghai. Reitmeier, who worked for the AHK in Shanghai for many years, is one of the most experienced German project managers active in the People’s Republic of China. His advice is not only in demand for the partners of the start-up factory, but also for companies in Germany.

Bernd, we read: after Covid 19 China’s industry is starting the production again. A motivating success story or fact?

Yes, China wants and will, I’m sure of that. However, there are still tremendous efforts ahead. It is still important for companies to overcome everyday difficulties – difficulties that we could not imagine until recently. The fight against the virus means a whole new world of personal, entrepreneurial and administrative self-organization in China.

How and what is already going on in the start-up factory in Kunshan?

As of March 12th, all of our 38 companies are currently active again. In the meantime, 270 of the approximately 300 employees have arrived at their workplaces or reported to their companies. Many have made huge journeys and detours all over China so that they could come back to Kunshan after the extended New Year’s days. So we only have all of our colleagues on board, who were trapped in Hubei Province. And here, we were expecting anything but normal. Schools remain closed, parents have to take care of children. Grandparents, who also play an important role in the care of small children in China, have either not arrived or are not available due to the quarantine. Home office is the order of the day – but not all companies have online tools to enable them to do work efficiently online and remotely. Simple employees in accounting cannot be compared to the top employees of large law firms or IT groups. They don’t always have notebooks and fast enough internet at home.

And the ongoing administrative measures to contain the virus are still valid and must be taken into account.

In fact, this was and is a dimension hardly imaginable in Germany these days. With which the party and state, the cities and down to the neighbourhood committees in the blocks of flats, have set themselves the task of containment. I give just a few examples. Exit cards that are issued and stamped twice a week in the apartment blocks per family, vehicles that are allowed per apartment block or are disinfected for important journeys, the supply of food, the continuous checking of presence and sick leave at the place of residence or work, threat of draconian long-term prison sentences for false information about the whereabouts – hardly imaginable in Europe, as you can see this week. In China, thousands of volunteers have been recruited and motivated to do this in every city.

How do companies deal with these restrictions for employees? What supervision are the company tours subject to?

New challenges have to be overcome every day. What to do with employees whose condominium is in a compound that they are no longer allowed to enter after returning from the New Year holidays? Or the requirement that a hotel room be booked for two weeks for every employee who must first be in quarantine. Not so easy in a “small town” like Kunshan with its two million inhabitants and a limited hotel quota. For each company there is a contact person in the party or administration who personally gives the most important instructions – which can sometimes change every day. And who also cares, for example if something has to be regulated at another bank’s authority or if the urgently required lending takes too long.

New challenges have to be overcome every day.

What are the most important regulations currently in place to ensure the financial survival of companies and the resumption of production?

This certainly means that the social security contributions can be reimbursed by the company for five or six months. Support with the financial regulations with the banks and the necessary statements on creditworthiness are also important. In addition, reductions in salaries are theoretically feasible for absence through quarantine. After reducing overtime and offsetting vacation days would be theoretical.

AR-Glasses in use – Technology replaces Travelling

As the situation of covid-19 improves within China, many companies began to resume work. Also, Startup Factory client M-Tech Machinery (Kunshan) Co. Ltd. restarted assembly of their “combiloop” high pressure and filter unit for purification of cooling lubricant mid of February.

However, they are – like many others – facing problems to get the know-how to the assembly line. Due to the restrictions in travel activity, the project manager from Germany cannot visit the Kunshan site and professional technicians have been still in quarantine.

In order to solve this problem and speed up production start, Startup Factory uses its intelligent manufacturing platform (Smart Factory Kunshan) to equip M-Tech Kunshan with remote Augmented Reality glasses.

The AR glasses launched by Smart Factory Kunshan partner LLVISION perfectly solve the need of non-contact work under the current epidemic situation. The front-line technical staff in Kunshan can make diagnosis by wearing AR glasses, remote connecting to experienced engineers and the project leader back in German headquarters of Mueller Hydraulik. Through their common view on the assembly in real time, technical questions can be solved easily without having the foreign experts on-site.

This case of using AR shows the potential of Industrial IoT solutions in practice and will be employed in many more cases externally for remote service jobs at customer sites, internally for remote contributions of foreign engineers to solve the current problems and to avoid unnecessary direct contact. This is a contribution to make epidemic prevention and control safer and more reliable.

Under the epidemic situation, intelligent use cases help production! Startup Factory and Smart Factory Kunshan hope to provide more and more good use cases for SMEs in the future!

Hans Gäng
13.03.2020
von Hans Gäng