Part One of SEM 60-Year History
An area of barren land populated only with eight straw houses, five open sheds and 22 workers. It is often difficult to reconcile the humble beginnings of SEM 60 years ago with the SEM brand of today. But the founders of SEM understood that success came only with hard work and dedication to excellence. SEM grew from a manual workshop to an international brand with a sales network covering more than 80 countries and regions.
TV2 series electric cucurbit in 1970s
Agricultural machines and joint cutter for cement produced in 1970s
From Electric Cucurbit to The First Wheel Loader
Prior to 1973, SEM products such as threshers, peeling machines, grinding machines and tractors were designed for agricultural use. In the early 1970s, the launch of the electric cucurbit and joint cutter for cement sent SEM down a new road of development. During those years, the leadership of the factory traveled to Beijing to deliver joint cutters for the construction of the Capital Airport. At that work site, the team, by accident, saw a wheel loader, a rare sight in the early stages of the Chinese engineering machinery industry. On the train back to Shandong, the team enthusiastically discussed the possibility of expanding the factory’s production scale to produce wheel loaders and secure an exciting development direction for the future.
As soon as leadership team returned, they conducted market research and concluded the trend of infrastructure construction across China meant an urgent demand for wheel loaders. During the planned economy era, only a handful of state-owned enterprises were authorized to produce construction machinery. SEM was not on the list. Getting design drawings was one of the biggest challenges for the founders.
After several twists and turns, the leadership eventually purchased wheel loader drawings from the market with 100 Yuan and started production trials. Most of the parts, including the gearbox and the hydraulic cylinder, were produced and assembled independently. Without production experience, they were forced to study the drawings millimeter by millimeter. They discovered the steel supply was insufficient, so they went to the machinery bureau and small factories to coordinate resources. With a limited workforce, the leadership focused on efficient production and management. With those efforts, the first JZ425 wheel loader was successfully trial-produced in May 1977.
Design sketch of JZ425
An Instant Hit Across the Industry
In 1978, one order after another opened a new world of opportunity for SEM. The fledgling JZ425 was selected by the National Ministry of Metallurgy. The first batch of 9 wheel loaders was sent to support key national metallurgical departments. In 1979, based on market feedback, the factory upgraded the JZ425 wheel loader and won good market response.
During this period, SEM forged a important relationship with Tianjin Engineering Machinery Academe, a renowned authority on construction machinery. From 1980-1983, the two jointly developed the first scrap loader grasper. In 1984, they jointly developed the first ZL25A wheel loader. Its single plate lift arm, single-rocker arm, horizontal-lifting cylinder and automatic leveling bucket design was domestically invented.
JZ425 sent to national key metallurgical departments in 1978
1983 was a year of great significance at SEM. The SEM wheel loader participated in the national 500-hour reliability contest in Liuzhou, Guangxi Province. At the time, there were “four big families” in domestic construction machinery. SEM was not considered part of that group. However, in the four-month test, the SEM wheel loader performed with excellent endurance and quality, ranking number one in attendance, reliability, noise and sealing. After the results were announced, representatives from the state-owned factories were surprised and praised the “unknown” SEM. With an extraordinary performance in the competition, SEM instantly won recognition of the industry.
Participating in the Industry Contest in Liuzhou, Guangxi in 1983
SEM University Cultivates Talents
The forward-thinking founders of SEM understood that a company’s most valuable asset is talent. In the 1980s, university graduates were allocated by the state, usually sent to state-owned enterprises and institutions. As a township company, it was difficult for SEM to obtain technical talent. The sustainable development of enterprises demands sufficient research and management personnel. Factory leaders determined SEM needed its own university in order to cultivate the needed talent.
SEM set up a television university training course, enrolling the first group of 90 students who failed that year’s college entrance examination and inviting leading scholars to conduct the tutoring. The students diligently studied. After graduation, they became the backbones of each department by devoting themselves to the practical work and playing a pivotal role in SEM research and development.
From 1958 to 1985, nearly 30 years of arduous work, innovation and courage had formed the foundation for SEM’s rapid development and created a home for SEM employees. The leaders’ pioneering spirit and vision, pursuit of excellence and attention to cultivating talent had pushed the once unknown factory in Shandong to the fast track of international development.
Students of the TV university in 1984