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4 min

From China to the whole world

Laiwu plant in Jinan is the fifth and largest production site of the KION Group in China. Since the end of 2021, the new facility has been manufacturing industrial forklifts under the Linde MH, Baoli and STILL brands, the subsidiaries of KION. The facility covers an area of approximately 2.4 million square feet, equivalent to 31 football fields, and should create more than 1,000 new jobs in Laiwu in the medium term. Wren Zhu, the General Manager of KION Laiwu Plant, shared with us the construction process of the facility, its significance in the product strategy of the KION Group, and insights on how he accompanied this new organization.


"This is a new landmark in Laiwu!" If you take a taxi to KION's plant, the driver will point out a tall cylindrical tower about a few hundred meters from the facility. The 24-meter-high glass exhibition building showcases red, blue, and orange forklifts - the products of KION's subsidiaries Linde MH, Baoli and STILL.

These forklifts presented in the tower were all manufactured at KION's Laiwu plant, which is a multi-brand facility situated adjacent right next to the forklift tower. Construction of the plant in Laiwu began in August 2020 in the middle of a green field. Wren Zhu, who was responsible for KION’s Baoli Plant in Jingjiang at the time, was involved in the construction of the new plant as a member of the project team. Just 16 months later, on December 16, 2021, the first forklift truck rolled off the production line at the plant. On that very day, Wren Zhu was officially appointed as the General Manager of the Laiwu plant and took over the management of the plant.

From barren land to a modern forklift plant

"Originally, this was a rural area and there were no modern industrial or factory buildings and no connection to the urban infrastructure", Wren Zhu recalls while he stands in front of the factory gate and shows us the surroundings. Today, however, he can see spacious roads, the impressive forklift tower, beautiful greenery, and modern office buildings and workshops.” The Laiwu plant was built amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought many uncertainties and unexpected situations. Some of the hurdles included delays in material deliveries and construction stagnation due to pandemic prevention and control measures”, Wren Zhu noted.

Despite these challenges, the project team was always responsive, overcoming obstacles and completing the project even ahead of schedule. It was a remarkable achievement for us.

Wren Zhu

Wren Zhu walked through the office building and entered the production area through an entrance leading directly to the workshop. Along the way, many KION employees greet him. He responds with a smile and occasionally stops to exchange a few words with the employees. Arriving at the workshop, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) which are busy transporting forklift components, immediately catch the eye. At the welding station, sparks flew as autonomous robotic arms skillfully maneuvered the welding guns, fusing together forklift components. "As a new facility, the Laiwu plant sets a high bar for automation and intelligence. The adoption of cutting-edge technologies and equipment unleashes significant potential for enhanced manufacturing efficiency and scalability," said Wren Zhu. The entire shop was designed following lean manufacturing principles, with the aim to maximize production efficiency and streamline the manufacturing process.

Active on the global market

Why was the plant built in Laiwu? Wren Zhu gave several reasons. Above all, Shandong Province has a well-established manufacturing supply chain, particularly in the equipment and construction machinery sectors. It is also home to Weichai Power, a strategic partner of KION. The location also offers a good geographical location in terms of transportation and logistics infrastructure, and customer distribution.

With Xiamen, Zhangzhou and Jingjiang, KION already has three plants to produce industrial trucks. With the construction and commissioning of the Laiwu plant, the KION Group covers the south, north and east of the country and thus the economically developed regions with a high customer density.

More importantly, however, the Laiwu plant marks a milestone in KION's growth strategy in China. It has a clear goal: to enhance production efficiency and competitiveness by using the KION Global Counterbalance trucks as the driving force on the one hand and the advantages of automated and intelligent production on the other. The KGCB products manufactured at the Laiwu plant are designed for worldwide sales and represent high-performance, competitive products for the global market for the KION Group.

To this end, KION has established a leading R&D center at the Laiwu Plant. Nearly 200 employees research and develop industrial trucks here. With this center, KION is expanding its product portfolio to tap into growth opportunities in the global market and continue to benefit from the accelerating trend toward the electrification of industrial vehicles in China.

Bonding employees together to drive sustainable success

Since its inception two years ago, the Laiwu plant has already developed and expanded. Newly established core functions ensure efficient operations, leading to a steady increase in production output. In 2022, the plant successfully manufactured over 5,000 units. It is expected to nearly triple in 2023. As production capacity expanded, the number of employees is also increasing and has grown from a few dozen since the start of construction to currently around 780 people.

Building up the still young plant is a primary focus of Wren Zhu´s work: "I value teamwork and strive to cultivate an open, inclusive and diverse corporate culture at the Laiwu plant", he explains. However, he understands that true community is not something that grows overnight but is a long-term and dynamic process. That is why the management team leads by example. Wren Zhu regularly visits the production line and exchange with his colleagues to create a positive atmosphere - including at company events, staff meetings and personal lunches.

"I am firmly convinced that we will continue to enhance our business development and that in just a few years, we will have grown into a respected employer with a strong sense of social responsibility and standards here in Laiwu".