Nuts and Bolts
China’s Screw Capital Braces for an Upgrading
“People in Jintang were born businesspeople. Someone who was a farmer yesterday, can turn into a big boss overnight,” said Wang Bo, Vice Chair of Dinghai E-commerce Promotion Association, opening the conversation in his office which features a perfect view of one of the five sea-spanning bridges in Zhoushan.
Settling down in Zhoushan after many years of striving for a fortune and a future in Shanghai, Wang Bo calls his second hometown ‘a wonderful place to live’. “I did not realize how much the screw makers in Zhoushan had been contributing to the world screw market until I came to Jintang,” Wang Bo told us.
The man’s unawareness can be forgiven. The fact that a small island on China’s southern coast is the world’s largest screw exporter is known by very few outsiders and is unknown even amongst screw buyers in India, Germany and America. “When we brought people representing the Indian Society of Plastics Industry to Jintang, they were shocked by what they saw in what’s called China’s ‘screw capital’,” Wang Bo recalled, showing us a picture. “They know they are buying from China, but that’s all they know about the start of the industrial chain.”
A long-term leading industry in Jintang, screw manufacturing generated a total value of production topping five billion yuan in 2016. The history of the industry dates back to the 1980s. When He Shijun, from a local agricultural machinery plant, saw the transaction of a screw sold to a foreign client at a whopping price of 10,000 USD at an industrial expo held in Qingdao, his eyes popped out. “I could make one at the cost of 2,000 yuan,” he blurted out to an engineer from Shanghai who sat
“At least 10 years into the future, it is impossible to see screws step down from the world’s industrial arena.”
beside him. The man returned to the factory in Jintang, determined to try his luck in the lucrative market. It did not take him too long to figure out the technological process. He made his first pot of gold in his life, and became the founding father of the screw manufacturing tradition of Jintang.
The low-tech, labor-intensive industry brought many Jintang people onto the road of wealth, but it was faced with a large pothole towards the start of the 21st century. A technological bottleneck, reliance on old-fashioned human resources and poor financial management started to wreak havoc, causing a vicious circle in the industrial chain. When the rest of the world was embracing the magic of Internet, many screw factory owners in Jintang would still muddle along in the mire of a dogeat-dog price war. Many screw businesses were troubled, ill-governed, and facing enormous economic and environmental challenges. Some were ‘screwing it up’.
The entrepreneurial passion of Wang Bo chimed in at such a critical period. Launched in 2015 as the country’s first online-platform designed exclusively for the screw industry, the innovative tool has shown its growing potential to serve as a matchmaker between proprietors and government and between manufacturers and buyers. Also operating as an information ‘dispenser’, the platform has proven its efficiency in human resource allocation and broadcasting the latest trends and new policies issued by the state government.
It took less than two years for Wang’s team to usher the screw industry of Jintang into the framework of China’s most ambitious developmental strategies – the great cause of ‘made in China 2025’ and the ‘Belt and Road’ renaissance.
Within two years, the platform has drawn a membership of more than 200 screw manufacturers and dealers, who are experiencing their breakthrough with the aid of technological upgrandindg and resource sharing. “Automation does not mean machines can replace human brains. The goal of automation is to turn the industry from labor-intensive to technology-driven, and the importance of high-caliber technical and management personnel can never be overestimated,” Wang Bo clarified.
Such foresight is also a consensus reached not only by everyone in Wang Bo’s team but also by the local government. At the Xihou Industrial Park in Dinghai, a ‘screw industrial town’ is taking shape, currently hosting seven major screw manufacturers and two large-scale infrastructure projects involving a total capital input of 800 million yuan. Upon the completion of construction in 2019, the ‘screw empire’ will become a new cornucopia in Jintang and open a brand-new chapter in the industrial landscape of Zhoushan.
“At least 10 years into the future, it is impossible to see screws step down from the world’s industrial arena,” Wang Bo pointed out, adding that “no matter how hot the 3D printing technology is, it is far from being able to replace screws”. He went on to point out the immeasurable opportunities to be brought to all screw makers by China’s ‘Belt and Road’ endeavors.
“The infrastructural construction that is now in full swing in many developing countries, together with the new wave of advanced manufacturing and ‘reindustrialization’ in many developed countries, promises a reliable source of profits for all screw manufacturers in Jintang.”
The man’s confidence in the future of the screw industry, as well as in the future of the online platform, also comes from the emerging popularity of ‘green plastic’ technology in some developed countries. “In America, plastic flooring is gaining market share for its ‘green’ features. Where corporations before touted the best and most expensive gadgets, many are now extolling the power-saving features of hightech plastic products.”