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Going global: Joe Zhou's Global Metals Co. Ltd. bridges multiple markets to feed China's red-hot furnaces.

For evidence that the world has become a smaller place, one need only re-trace the path taken by Joe Zhou over the past decade.

That path, which has led to Zhou being director of Global Metals Co. Ltd., Nanhai, China, not only includes stops throughout the world, but has also been traveled by Zhou at lightening speed.

In less than 10 years, Global Metals has grown to become an ISO 14001-certified company that is one of the largest suppliers of nonferrous scrap materials to Chinas booming metals production sector. Under Zhou's leadership, the company has become a large-volume handler of scrap metal purchased by company buyers who operate from Asia, Australia, North America and Europe.

DOWN UNDER AND BACK UP. Unlike in North America, where third- and even fourth-generation scrap company owners abound, Joe Zhou founded his company much more recently--in the 1990s.

And unlike the stories of scrap company owners who started with minimal education and nothing more than a push cart or small truck, Zhou first earned a university degree in accounting before starting Global Metals Co. Ltd.

But other parts of Joe Zhou's journey more closely mirror the familiar stories of how scrap company owners got their starts and worked hard to push their companies to grow.

Zhou left China in the 1980s to obtain an accounting degree from a university in Australia. While in Australia, Zhou learned about the scrap industry and its growing importance as a supplier of raw materials to Chinas growing economy.

He started to purchase scrap metal in Australia in 1998 at a time that almost perfectly matched the soaring rates of metals production in the booming Chinese economy.

Subsequently, Zhou's consuming customers in Asia, often located by his father Yi Zhou back in China, were pleased to buy the scrap he was sending from Australia, but were also hungry for more aluminum, copper and other types of nonferrous scrap.

Zhou thus put his expertise and capital to work on two fronts: hiring additional buyers to look for scrap metal throughout the world and purchasing land and constructing buildings in China to create sorting and processing centers to prepare scrap for his mill and smelter customers.

MASS MARKETS. Global Metals Co. Ltd. today continues to operate from its scrap yard and trading office in Wingfield, South Australia.

In addition to the Australia location, Global also has traders working from branch offices in Boston, Hong Kong and Dijon, France.

But the heart of Global's operations has moved to China, where the company now has three facilities, located in each of Chinas three largest metals production regions.

The company's newest facility is in Tianjin in northern China, while its Ningbo facility specializes in handling motors, red metals shredder pickings and yellow brass scrap to serve that area's massive red metals industry.

The largest Global Metals Co. Ltd. location and its headquarters office is in the southern China city of Nanhai. At the 20-acre facility, nonferrous metal purchased from throughout the world is shipped for further sorting, cleaning and processing.

The Nanhai plant is located in Guangdong Province, the heart of China's booming Pearl River Delta region. The Global Metals facility is situated amidst a combination of industrial buildings (ranging from breweries to appliance factories) and farmland that includes a number of duck farms.

Although the complex has only been in existence for a few years, it now employs more than 1,400 people engaged in off-loading, deploying, sorting and shipping out a wide variety of nonferrous commodities and grades.

Commodities and grades handled include red metals (radiators, yellow brass and the birch and cliff grades), aluminum (extrusions, cast, foils and the taint and tabor grades), plus wire and cable, the shredded zorba grade and items such as motors, alternators and water meters.

At the Nanhai facility, shipments arrive by truck from the nearby port and are tipped onto the plant's concrete surface to be directed to the appropriate part of the plant for further sorting or to be stored with like materials for later shipping.

Zhou has obtained ISO 14001 certification for Global's facilities, which has led not only to environmentally friendly aspects such as concrete surfaces throughout, but also recognition from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency as a model company, according to Zhou.

"They set up certain standards and practices, and in the past couple of years the EPA has assessed certain yards," says Zhou, "and we have graded out the highest in those two years.

By the standards of the more developed nations of the world, the operations at Global Metals may still appear to be under-equipped for the amount of material present. "In some cases we're still trying to find the standards in China," Zhou comments.

Although a handful of front-end loaders are used, dozens and dozens of small metal wheelbarrows are used to move modest amounts of scrap from one area of the facility to another.

Wire and cable is sorted and unraveled by hand. Much of it is stripped by single-operator machines, although some forms of wire are fed to automated chopping and separation systems. Downstroke balers are used for baling applications.

The 1,400 employees move, sort and prepare relatively small amounts of material per person each day compared to the tons handled by operators of large processing and material handling machines in the United States.

But what the company lacks in large-scale processing capacity it makes up for in the size of its workforce, as some 13,000 to 14,000 tons per month of nonferrous scrap moves through the Nanhai facility. Zhou notes that, after processing and sorting, material is typically present for no more than three or four days before it is shipped to a consumer.

A NOD OF APPROVAL. Although scrap recycling is ultimately a way to preserve natural resources and achieve sustainable manufacturing production, spelling that out to neighbors and policy makers has seldom been easy in any part of the world.

China has been no exception, and portraying a positive image has been made more difficult by the presence of unsafe and environmentally unsound practices.

While Global Metals has paved its facilities and receives high ratings from Chinas EPA, it will need to be pointed to often as a model company in order to counter images of material dumped into creeks and electrical transformers being broken open by hand.

Unsafe and unsound practices have caused skepticism in people and leaders in China. But the importance of scrap materials as a feedstock that can help Chinas economy continue to grow has also been grasped by officials.

With Chinas metals industry setting worldwide historic records in production, Global Metals Co. Ltd. is well positioned to stay in place for a long time as a reliable supplier of raw materials.

GLOBAL METALS CO. LTD. AT A GLANCE

PRINCIPAL: Joe Zhou, director

LOCATIONS: Office and largest recycling facility in Nanhai, China; additional recycling facilities in Tianjin and Ningbo, China; combination trading office and recycling facility in Wingfield, Australia; trading offices in Boston and Dijon, France; financial office in Hong Kong

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: More than 1,800 at all locations combined, with about 1,400 of those in Nanhai

PROCESSING EQUIPMENT: Wire stripping and chopping equipment; vertical balers; a half-dozen front-end loaders and forklift trucks; a fleet of over-thee-road collection and delivery trucks

SERVICES PROVIDED: Acquisition, sorting, processing and shipment of nonferrous metals, as well as some ferrous scrap and plastic

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.
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Comment:Going global: Joe Zhou's Global Metals Co.
Author:Taylor, Brian
Publication:Recycling Today
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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