Mon | Mar 25, 2019

Small metal fabricator has big ambitions but limited options

Published:Friday | July 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Dawn Industry Limited CEO Michael Zheng shows off some of the company's products at factory at 1 James Avenue, Kingston on Thursday, July 12, 2018.

At twenty-four, Michael Zheng has taken over as head of metal fabricator Dawn Industry Limited from father Keping Zheng, with big dreams of operating a 50,000-square-foot factory as a special economic zone facility.

However, as things stand, father and son are some distance away from that goal. But Michael believes that, as a pioneer industry with significant potential, the company could reach exporting capacity in five years.

Dawn is an eight-year-old operation, which previously existed as sole trader Dawn Electrical Fabrication. The business was incorporated in December 2016 and became Dawn Industry Limited. The company manufactures breaker boxes, power distribution panels, trunkings, and housings for meters and other electrical equipment.

Keping remains with the company as production manager, with his young son as manager.

The family has invested more than $10 million in the business since its inception. And Dawn also brought in $2 million in new machines - a metal bender and a metal cutter which are automated - since last year. The operation also moved to new space on James Avenue in the Maxfield Park area of Kingston in 2017.

However, at 4,000 square feet and only five staff, the manufacturing space is too small to meet the Zhengs' ambition for Dawn to become a major exporter within the Caribbean, and competing with the main market for electrical components manufacture, which Michael states is Trinidad.

Dawn Industry is yet to finalise its business plan and the costing of the expansion project, he acknowledged.

The Zhengs represent two generations with expertise in metal fabrication. Dawn produces electrical enclosures and panels, which are supplied to the local construction industry.

"We mostly do work for distributors and electrical contractors. If we were to get contracts for government projects, that would help. We want to expand to export, competing with Trinidad which is the biggest supplier in the Caribbean now. Jamaicans import mainly from Trinidad and China," he said.

Dawn's production is only about 100 units in under a fortnight. It needs automated machines, more space and technical staff, to become a real contender. The company, Michael added, is also at the mercy of local metal suppliers who frequently raise prices.

"We want to expand into producing batches of 1,000 instead of 100. Our capacity depends on the product - it's a small breaker box we can do 100 in one and a half weeks," said the young businessman.

"If we were to shut town tomorrow, Jamaica would stop making these things. But we are on such a small scale that no one would notice," he said.

Still, the company is projecting a good year of business, given the current market conditions.

"This is a good year because of the demand from construction. Last year, we did $15 million in sales. This year we are going to pass that," Michael said.