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FEATURE: Orange's Chinese operation

FEATURE: Orange's Chinese operation

Talking points in the world of MI tend to come and go fairly quickly, but one topic of discussion that never goes away is Far Eastern manufacturing.

More companies are starting to see the benefits of shifting production to this part of the world, whereas others choose to steer clear, fearing that build quality or brand identity will suffer.Many Chinese-made products have had a reputation for inferiority for years and the same can be said in MI, but Orange is one company that is keen to prove to the trade that after opening its Chinese factory last year, its customers needn’t be concerned about a decline in quality. So much so that MD Damon Waller invited MI Pro to have an exclusive look around the place.
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The first thing to mention is the design of the building itself. Built in 2004 on a 23-acre site in Jiashan, the modern facility – a former lighting building for a German speaker company – is perhaps not what you’d imagine a centre for amp manufacturing to be.From the outside, the premises bears more of a resemblance to the headquarters for a trendy software firm than an industrial hub, with contemporary architectural features coming at you from multiple angles.The quantity of amplifiers coming out of this facility every month proves that it’s certainly delivering in terms of productivity, too. “We have about 7,000 pieces a month coming from here and it mirrors what we do back in the UK, but UK production is still very important to us – it’s split around 50/50 now,” Waller reveals.  “It took us a couple of years to find the factory and it’s unbelievable the amount of hurdles and red tape we’ve had to get through.”My entirely inaccurate assumptions about Chinese factory conditions also became apparent when taking my first look around the production floor. What I found was a team of men and women working in an environment that is surely comparable to similar operations back in the Western world. One-hour lunch breaks and 40-hour-maximum working weeks were not what I was expecting.It’s clear that Orange takes the morale of its Chinese workforce very seriously, but that doesn’t mean that the high level of efficiency associated with Far Eastern manufacturing has suffered as a result.“Many of our staff have been here five or six years and they seem happy. We make sure to switch their jobs around regularly and when they go home for Chinese New Year they don’t actually have to come back, but a large percentage of them do and that’s great because we have a lot of key people that we don’t want to lose,” comments Waller.There will also be people out there who assume that Chinese workers have a lesser understanding of how amplifiers (especially of the high-end variety) work due to the low popularity of electric guitar music in the country. There was no evidence of this to be found, however, and although it is true that rock n roll has never taken off in China, the locals’ willingness to learn means it’s not an issue.Like any other production line, most of the employees are required to perform a simple task like soldering a capacitor to the circuit board and repeat, but when it comes to testing the valves accurately and making sure the classic Orange tube sound is present in each unit to come off the line, that’s a real talent. Searching for people with these talents is obviously much harder in this part of the world, but seeing some of the workers in action was evidence that Orange had succeeded with its search.  Waller explains: “The music industry in China is very small – especially guitar music – and it can be very difficult to find good guitarists here and people who understand the products, but the people working here really understand valve amplification now and as long as you’re in control, the quality is as good as you want it to be.”As Waller says, if you ensure that quality is maintained, workers are treated fairly and brand identity is not affected, opening an operation such as this just seems to make sense.    

Tags: manufacturing , china , orange

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