My Behringer-in-China Trip: Friday, 2/26/2010—Part One
March 4, 2010
Today is the payoff, the takeaway, the bottom line—today it’s all about Behringer. This will have to be in three parts!
Another superb breakfast, another bus ride, and here we are: Behringer City, location of Eurotec Electronics, the manufacturing plants of Behringer.
An impressive array of buildings that house manufacturing and R+D, flanked by offices, dormitories, warehouses.
On each floor we are welcomed by a section manager who proudly describes what’s going on, as we snake our way up and down stairs (mind where you walk...) that are decorated with cartoons reminding staff of this and that—your guesses are as good as mine...
and along walkways, from section to section, in full view of the hundreds and hundreds of worker bees that all seem so young and so uniformly serious about their repetitive tasks.
Off to the side of many large halls are rows of specialized rooms, adding to the mystique since we don’t get access to those rooms.
There are halls with an LCD screen above each worker—
and that amounts to a lot of screens—some are touch screens, and a newbie can just reach up and get an instruction displayed if there is any question about the task. It also means that if the tasks change, if the section or assembly line is reassigned, the new instructions and workflow can immediately be pumped to each worker’s station.
The walls are covered with posters proclaiming dedication to quality, and marker boards display up-to-date data about quality-control and productivity statistics.
Workers wear uniforms including head gear and masks, depending on the tasks. The visitors get the odd glance, nod, smile and even the occasional little wave from workers, but there is no time for “fraternization”—our allowed space is marked off on the walkways, and we have to move on, there is much more to see.
Move on we do, past circuit boards, more circuit boards, testing stations (like this one where a bass speaker is entering the testing room),
tube quality control stations like this one:
with the overall workflow chart nearby:
We pass huge mixing machinery where the tar-looking material for speakers is produced
to cone manufacturing, speaker mounting, cabinet building and painting, then final assembly of speaker cabinets and testing in enclosed sound spaces; we see mixers being made and tested, input by input and knob by fader; we watch guitars being made, from the raw wood planks that are being cut and filed and finessed, to the final product that a worker strings and another checks by playing a lick that encompasses all 6 strings.
The woodwork in particular creates so much dust that huge multistory vacuum extractors (don't quote me about this being the technical term...) are standing outside those buildings:
We see the electronic pianos being made, then finally tested, key by key in single-finger style, by a young lady of whom I wonder if she secretly aspires to become a pianist?
As a keyboardist it doesn’t escape my notice that, of all the many production halls we visit, the guitar factory is by far the loudest.
The overall scale and scope is impressive. The place is spotless, obviously tightly supervised, and running like a piece of well-oiled machinery.
After the long march from floor to floor and building to building we assemble in a hall that quickly becomes too small for us—some manage to grab a snack and a bottle of something, when Costa appears and, rather unexpectedly, announces “Follow me, we’re going to another room”. Laughter ensues, but he means it, we follow, and we find ourselves in a swank theater where Uli Behringer takes the stage and demonstrates his well-known savvy in addressing a crowd.
He certainly has that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes for a compelling public speaker, as he reiterates how the people are what makes the company, deflecting glory from himself—although it is his name and only his name that is all over the place. He knows how to pull it off.
Uli introduces new members of his top team, beginning with Craig Masterton (I didn’t catch the job title—you'll see him at the award show),
Romain Chalot from Switzerland (worldwide sales), and John Oakley (UK, Managing Director of Midas Consoles).
They are followed by my savior from yesterday's immigration episode,
Costa Lakoumentas, who enthusiastically outlines how Behringer is looking to become the dominant player in the Installed Sound market worldwide. As Uli Behringer tends to say—”good enough products” aren’t good enough for Behringer.
Uli returns to the stage and announces plans for a new Behringer City—things move fast in this part of the country, I wouldn't be surprised if next year's visitors will get to see what so far exists only as blueprints and on this slide I captured:
After this impressive presentation that caps the factory visit, it’s off to lunch at a nearby hotel.
At the lunch session I feel honored to be asked to join Uli and his crew at their table where, aside from practicing Swiss dialect once again with Uli and our French-Swiss equivalent with Romain Cholat from Geneva, I have an interesting conversation with Dutchman Nicholas Dekker, Chief Financial Officer of the Music Group who shares with me the circuitous career route that took him to Behringer—not unlike the equally circuitous route that took me to Recording Magazine.... Plus, I again enjoy an engaging talk with Ms Didi Chan. Lunch is over w-a-y too soon for me...