RFS' New Plant in Suzhou Starts Full Operation: Meet Industry Changes and Pave Way for 5G

Updated:2017/8/1 13:56

Radio Frequency Systems (RFS), the global wireless and broadcast infrastructure specialist, held a grand opening ceremony on July 25, announcing the full operation of its new manufacturing facility in Suzhou, China. Located in Daxin Industrial Park of the Hushuguan Development Zone, the Suzhou facility is designed to accommodate global demand for the first time. As a benchmark for Industry 4.0, the new facility is expected to meet the growing market demand and better serve customers around the world as the company looks to revolutionize its base station antennas (BSA) manufacturing.

RFS President and Chief Executive Officer, Herbert Merz, emphasized the significance of the new facility. "It's no coincidence that we've choses Suzhou as the site of the new plant as we take the initiative as an important milestone to fuel the company's further development. The full operation of RFS' Suzhou facility reaffirms China's critical role in our global strategy, providing strong support for product and technology innovations and sustainable development for telecom operators and communications equipment manufacturers around the world. We are pleased to put into action our commitment to investing heavily in China and strengthening our relationships with our Chinese partners," Merz commented to C114 in a press briefing after the opening ceremony.

Take China as the Core: RFS' New Plant in Suzhou Starts Full Operation

The new manufacturing facility is constructed on a 42,000 square-meter site and covers 36,000 square meters, with a total investment of US$50 million in the first phase. From start to completion, it just took 14 months, including two spring festivals and 50 days in rainy season. The plant started trial operation in early 2017. Since then, the facility has been ramping up to full production levels and has passed RFS' global manufacturing certifications within only 6 months. In addition, the plant was able to complete relocation and other logistics requirements ahead of schedule.

The Suzhou facility is currently operating at high capacity with 6 production lines for BSAs and 4 for filters with a back-up production line to accommodate increasing global demand for RFS antennas. Today, RFS can produce up to 100,000 higher frequency and multi-band antennas annually or 300,000 16S antennas.

"The telecom industry is undergoing enormous changes, facing an array of technological and business challenges including the upcoming 5G. To meet the challenges ahead and better serve our customers, RFS has been planning for this new plant ever since March 2015," Merz added. He also explained the reasons why Suzhou was chosen as the site for the new plant. First, it goes to the strong support from the local government and the second is that Suzhou holds abundant and experienced human resources for the industry while the third is the well-developed infrastructure in Suzhou enabling a complete industrial chain of telecom and communications businesses. Looking at the bigger picture, China is now at the forefront of the world's telecom industry, and many new technologies and new trends are first seen in the China market.

Merz also emphasized that the new factory is built to accommodate global demand for RFS' BSA and filters. The short period of time from decision to production witnesses RFS' development strategy of "Take China as the Core".

The new Suzhou facility will continue to enhance RFS' productivity. It will not just fulfill the current production capacity, as the company expects to expand and introduce new production lines.

Green and Smart: Set up the benchmark for Industry 4.0

"Globally, RFS has established multiple manufacturing bases, but the new plant here in Suzhou will serve as a benchmark for Industry 4.0," said Karl Kirschenhofer, Chief Operating Officer of RFS. "The new plant uses the cutting-edge intelligent technologies based on a lean management concept, adding advanced automated and digital functionality to offer customers superior-quality products that are innovative, reliable and effective, faster delivery at a lower cost," Kirschenhofer added.

All operations - from raw material storage, transportation and production processes to quality control, packaging, shipping and supply chain - are based on the lean management concept. Lean management helps increase quality assurance and manufacturing flexibility while reducing inventory requirements and waste in every area of operations. "We know how important our products are to our customers' success, and this is why we put so much emphasis on delivering superior-quality products that are innovative, reliable and effective. To achieve these goals, we've introduced the cutting-edge manufacturing technologies and advanced production lines needed to deliver the highest-quality products to our customers. Every weld, installation, reinforcement and inspection is completed under strict control to ensure the quality of each and every product. Throughout the implementation and installation process, we also follow the highest quality standards to ensure that our products and systems operate in a stable, safe and reliable way," Kirschenhofer further explained.

From the perspective of Jose Menendez, Global Manufacturing Director of RFS, Industry 4.0 is all about big data and the core of which is built upon statistics, induction and analytics of big data. RFS collects data by RFID. Based on the data collected and the unique algorithm, RFS is able to monitor what's going on in real time and even predict what will happen in the industry so problems can be prevented before they occur.

"We expect that automated production line of Surface Mount Technology (SMT) will complete by the end of this year and we will introduce more automated technologies and equipment in the future to achieve higher production levels," added Menendez.

Moreover, the new plant upholds the principle of ecologically sustainable development, which is the basis of RFS's corporate culture. Merz told C114 that RFS is currently evaluating the renewable energy technology to potentially replace traditional power sources. RFS has installed solar energy storage systems on the roofs of the buildings and stays committed to reducing carbon emissions and resource consumption.

Continual innovations for the advent of 5G

As a century-old manufacturer, RFS takes lead in the wireless broadcast infrastructure sector due to its persistent pursuit of innovation. Merz said that RFS will support the industrialization of 4G technologies and continue to engage in R&D and product designs based on 5G while bringing local expertise in these technologies to our Chinese partners.

RFS is well prepared as 5G is nearing and becoming an industry focus. "Active antenna and Massive MIMO are on top of people's mind when it comes to the subject of 5G. We have done a lot of research on active technologies and have extensive capabilities in the sector," Merz continued.

Deployment scenarios for 5G come into two forms as independent network and non-independent network. Independent network means to establish a new network, including new base stations, backhaul links and core network and non-independent network takes advantage of the existing 4G infrastructures to deploy 5G in high-dense business areas. In addition to providing active antennas required by independent networks, RFS is now integrating active antennas and passive antennas into limited space to support operators of non-independent networks. "There're a number of challenges when integrating active antennas with passive antennas, and major challenges include doubled weight and interference between multiple spectrums. Such products are now being tested and will be provided to markets outside China," Merz added.

Kirschenhofer said, "RFS will not cease innovating 4G. Global penetration rate of 4G has increased 5 times to 61% in the last two years, with further potential in the coming years. Technology wise, there is still plenty of room for innovation and in terms of application scenarios, 4G also has made good progress in IoT."

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