Heshan Blanke Ltd. – Successful Proximity To The Asian Market

n light of today’s global goods flows, market proximity is one of the most important
prerequisites for business success — a fact clearly demonstrated by retail chains operating
worldwide.  Nonetheless, a textile finisher that adopts such a strategy must possess a special
blend of entrepreneurial courage and the right employees. These characteristics, and a classic
example of how this approach can succeed, are illustrated by Heshan Blanke Textile Ltd., Heshan
City, Guangdong Province, China.

The CEO of Heshan Blanke Textile Ltd. is Andreas Blanke, owner of Germany-based Fritz Blanke
GmbH & Co. KG. The parent company was founded in Bielefeld, a traditional textile industry
location, in 1948 by Fritz Blanke. The company was versatile, dyeing military greatcoats and
upgrading sisal yarns for carpets and artificial silk knits for stockings. Knits were finished as
required by the business situation. In 1949, the first wood winch vats went into operation at
Blanke, and one of the first tiered tenters in West Germany was built in-house and used as a drying

Main entrance of Heshan Blanke Textile Ltd.

Rapid Development

At the beginning of 1953, Blanke moved into the premises of a former dyeing shop in Bad
Salzuflen, Germany. Five years later, these facilities were too small. Fritz Blanke decided to
purchase a plot of land to use for a new facility, which opened in 1957. By 1959, two new tenters
were in operation as knitted shirt materials had become fashionable and were in demand. This demand
required high-temperature beam-dyeing systems, and soon five tenters were running. In 1962,
following the death of Fritz Blanke, Friedrich Blanke assumed management of the company and was
joined in the firm by Ernst-August Blanke. 

Today, a workforce of 200 people annually produces 1,600 tons, or 12 million meters, of
material in an area of 30,000 square meters. The Blanke company upgrades, laminates, coats and
prints virtually every type of fabric including wovens, knits and nonwovens used in the automotive,
medical, underwear and corset, decorative and home, and technical textiles segments. Natural- and
man-made-fiber woven and knitted fabrics, along with special weaves using technical yarns made of
Kevlar® or Nomex® fibers are processed.

Production meets the requirements of the Oeko-Tex 100 standard. Blanke guarantees top
quality and environmentally compatible production, which has been tested with regard to pollutant
substances and meets the demands of the market. The company possesses DIN EN ISO 9001:2000
accreditation for the textile finishing, printing and laminating areas.

As far as environmental protection is concerned, a three-pronged strategy of prevention,
preparation and disposal is pursued throughout every area of the company. Modern wastewater
treatment technology ensures that water employed in the production processes is cleaned using a
chemical-physical end process.

Johann Wilhelm Birkenhauer, the project manager at Heshan Blanke Textile Ltd.

The Route To China

For Europeans, the ambition of establishing a company production facility in China
represents a very special challenge. Johann Wilhelm Birkenhauer acts as an on-site, authorized
project manager at Heshan Blanke Textile Ltd. A textile engineering graduate, he has been in the
industry for the past 35 years and shares a long-term friendship with Andreas Blanke. This
friendship formed the basis for their cooperation, which began with a part-time management
appointment. Birkenhauer then headed the project in China, right up to the beginning of production.

“Blanke has been working for the German company Julius Boos Jr. GmbH & Co. KG in Goch
and Wuppertal as a commission finisher for the past 20 years,” Birkenhauer said. “In particular,
the high-quality products were then made up in Asia. The changed markets and the desire for
customer proximity led to the idea of establishing a company production facility in China.”

Birkenhauer designates the cultural differences between China and Germany as constituting
the greatest obstacle on the road to production in China. Moreover, the influence of the
authorities is even greater in China than it is in Germany, and this is a colossal challenge. 

Once the decision had been taken to start manufacturing in China, the technology direction
had to be established, and it was decided to opt for the highest possible degree of automation and
first-class standards. In line with the Blanke philosophy, the greatest possible congruity had to
be found among suppliers, products, machinery and technology. For Birkenhauer, the competence of
the workforce was also of major significance.

Two linked ECO 88-1T-T50 dyeing machines from Fong’s National Engineering Co. Ltd. in
operation at Heshan Blanke Textile Ltd.

High Degree Of Automation

 “The first container with machinery arrived on Sept. 26, 2005, when the production
halls were still partly under construction,” said Birkenhauer. “However, by February 2006, we were
already making the first test-dyeing runs.”

Blanke selected machinery from Fong’s National Engineering Co. Ltd., Hong Kong, and an
integrated management system from Then Maschinen GmbH, Germany, for the new facility in China. “
Initial contacts regarding this purchase took place as early as February 2005, and following an
extended evaluation phase, we decided to buy the Fong’s National equipment and the Then management
systems,” Birkenhauer said. “Subsequently, two Fong’s National machines, consisting of an ECO
88-1T-T50 with one tube and an ECO 88-1T-T50 with four tubes, were brought to our plant in Germany
and integrated into standard production. The aim was to find out if we could manufacture the
products that we wanted with these machines. The answer was affirmative and together with Fong’s,
we brought the equipment up to production maturity. As I mentioned previously, the objective was to
achieve a high degree of automation. Therefore, in addition to the Fong’s machinery, we bought an
automatic dispensing system from its German sister company, Then Maschinen GmbH. As a consequence,
we can attain an excellent level of automation right up to the fully finished product.” 

The machine pool has a classic layout. Three ECO 88-1T-T50s operate in production, with two
in tandem, along with four Allfit dyeing machines for medium-sized batches and two CBS beam-dyeing
machines. The integrated Then Dyehouse System (TDS) management system undertakes the administration
and organization of the dyehouse. The system integrates company and third-party products as well as
PC control systems and hosts to form an integrated dyehouse system. Among the tasks handled are
order supply, disposition, recipe systems and calculation programs for the optimization of dyeing
processes. The entire software is fully object-oriented and programmed with the very latest
development tools. 

The linkage of the individual components in the dyehouse guarantees an optimum data flow and
a clearly structured and flexible production sequence. Below a uniform operator interface, the TDS
communicates the process programs to the controls of the dyeing machines in accordance with the
selected sequence. Accordingly, production recipes are sent to the weighing station, the ADS
solvent station, or the CHD chemical dosing unit. Set and actual values, all types of statistics
and faults are reported by the dyeing machines to the control system and then stored.

It was the declared aim of the management also to operate in China using the best possible,
environmentally compatible technology. “We went to China to work in a serious manner and also to
set a positive example with regard to the environment, which is a special concern of Andreas
Blanke,” Birkenhauer said. “As a result, we have invested a considerable amount in this area in
Heshan City. Wastewater is cleaned using advanced technology, and when it leaves the cleaning
system, the water is considerably purer than during feeding. Indeed, the pretreatment of the water
also requires considerable expense and effort.”

The integrated TDS management system from Then Maschinen GmbH undertakes the administration
and organization of Heshan Blanke’s dyehouse.

Market Position

Blanke is regarded as a leading finisher in the highly elastic knits and warp-knitted goods
area. In order to market the company’s production in Asia, a joint venture between Blanke and the
knits manufacturer Boos — BBF Boos Blanke Fabric Ltd. — was established. Birkenhauer said that as a
result of the teamwork with the raw materials producer, everything from yarn to final finishing is
on a one-stop-shopping basis, and this creates Blanke’s market position.

Within this context, product development is a focus of Heshan with advances constantly being
made in the warp-knitting shop. Certain products are finished using nanotechnology such as silver
ion treatments. 

“First and foremost, assured product quality and absolute reliability as a supplier,” said
Birkenhauer when asked about current market demands. “Of equal importance are the use of
physiologically harmless dyes and additives, as the products are often worn in direct contact with
the skin.

The plant has been in operation since February 2006, and saleable products were manufactured
from the outset. ”The human/machine/ technology interface is of special importance and in our case
functions perfectly,” Birkenhauer said. “One needs the right people for this purpose, and we have
them. Our experience up to now has been positive, and our expectations have been largely
fulfilled.  Then and Fong’s have a clearly defined service orientation, which is exactly in
line with our needs. Should we occasionally have a problem, competent service engineers are always
on the spot immediately.”

The advanced wastewater plant technology employed by Heshan Blanke exceeds the highest
European standards.

Positive Outlook

Birkenhauer envisions challenges in the coming years. “All the partners in the production
chain must work together,” he said. “We have reached a phase in which large markets are shrinking
and small markets are growing. It is here that we have to make our presence felt. I would also like
to see even closer cooperation between machinery producers and users in the development area, as
this would help to achieve greater mastery of the problems of the future.”

Birkenhauer regards the current market situation as positive. The customers can see that the
price/performance ratio is in order. “Today, quality has gained a different meaning that also
applies in China,” Birkenhauer said. “The markets are slowly departing from the throwaway society,
and one is ready to pay for a certain value added. This is seen as being a multiple in times of
resource shortages. Naturally, the extreme price pressure causes us headaches, but with the right,
top-quality products at the correct price, we are in line with customer needs. Moreover, the next
season always comes around, and then we must and will hold our own.”

March/April 2008