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Dialogue with D.S. Brown President Philip A. Renda


1. Since the early 1960’s, The D.S. Brown Company has provided expansion joint systems and specialty products for bridges around the globe, could you please tell us the typical projects? What is the effect? Has statistics been done to analyze the application of your products?

a. The D.S. Brown Company was founded in 1890 and has deep roots in the transportation industry. Starting with leather and rubber good for horse and buggy, and with the invention of the automobile supplying rubber goods (bumpers, gaskets, wipers ect.) to the early automotive companies. And with the advent of offshore outsourcing we moved into bridge expansion joints and bearings in the 1960’s and have been in this industry ever since.

b. The D.S. Brown Company offers the largest range of expansion joints and bearings for bridges, highways, and airports of any other company in the world.

c. The D.S. Brown Company services just under 4000 distinct projects to over 3000 active customers a year ranging from simple span bridges to the largest structures in the world.

d. With 24 employees in our engineering department, including 5 professional engineers, we can assist owners in designing solutions specific to their project requirements.

e. With decades of product service life under our belt, we can confidently offer our customers choices between products with a range of service life, cost and performance characteristics.

f. Most of our products have been tested by third party testing and research facilities to verify performance characteristics and/or life expectancies.

g. With a complete in-house testing facility and a full time QA/QC staff DSB conducts testing and certifies results for every product it manufactures.

Could you tell us the advantages and modification of your products after so many years’ development? What is the advantage of your expansion joints?

a. Starting with simple elastomeric bearings and compressions seals (which are still used today). DSB has led the industry in product development and instrumental in improving specifications for most of our product and especially expansion joints.

b. DSB pioneered the fatigue design principles eventually adopted and now used by AASHTO today. Our joints are tested and proven to withstand unlimited number of truckload cycles.

2What makes you decide to establish a joint venture in China? And what preparation have you done before that? Please tell us your expectation of Chinese market?

a. We know that the Bridge market in China is the largest in the world and currently over 6 times the size of the US market

b. China’s rapid infrastructure growth is much like the US was 50 years ago when we first got into the industry, and we want to participate in this golden age in a material way

c. We established that a Joint Venture was the best way to capitalize on the strengths that we brought to the table (engineering, experience and quality), and match them up with the strengths that our partner brought to the table (manufacturing capabilities, product experience, and market presence) to make the highest quality product at a competitive price.

d. We expect and in fact have already experienced that the Chinese market is now turning to higher quality infrastructure solutions, not only on its largest infrastructure projects but also on very typical projects. We want to participate in both. We hope to offer our knowledge and experience to work with owners and design institutes to elevate the quality levels here just as we did in our own market. We have the advantage of having already gone through this quality cycle.
There must be difficulties during establishing the joint venture. What is the biggest difficulty? How do you solve it? What needs being done further after foundation?

a. Of course there are always difficulties in any good relationship.

b. We have spent over a year and many man hours working with our partner to achieve a quality level that is consistent with what we produce in the US. In fact we are here this week to celebrate the JV’s official quality certification. We are very proud of this achievement and expect to use our JV to service projects all over the world.

3. It is known that the joint venture of The Hengshui Zhongtiejian & D.S. Brown Technology Company Ltd. was established by your company and The Hengshui Zhongtiejian Company in 2011. Why did you choose that company? What is the value of that cooperation?

a. I think it is pretty well known within the industry and is becoming even more known as we move into the marketing phase for the JV, that is promoting the highest quality joints available in the market

b. We choose Hengshui Zhongtiejian as our partner because they possess an excellent and spacious facility; highly skilled labor, progressive leadership; as vertically integrated as we are; and was already making a version of several of the products we are interested in. We would be very hard pressed to find another company that possess all of these qualities, that we at DS Brown value so highly.

4. Could you please tell us your opinions about present situation of bridge expansion joints technology in China? What are the gaps between products in Chinese and famous international companies? What can Chinese company learn from the international company from the aspect of technology and enterprise management?

a. We understand that there are over 100 expansion joint manufactures in Hebei province alone. We also understand that these companies are not working under a governing specification and are free to supply whatever they want. Surely, as a result, the quality levels are suffering and this model is not sustainable. We also understand that there is a strong preference for international suppliers to supply joints on the largest structures in China. I expect this is the case because these owners value a higher quality level for these signature bridges then what is available locally. However, in our opinion, it is not necessary that an international company supply a quality product, but it is only necessary to show a Chinese company how to consistently make a quality product. This was our approach to the JV with Hengshui Zhongtiejian. Quality is a culture that extends from the sale through the shipment and everything in between. It requires a shift in thinking and serious commitment to quality across the organization to be a world class company.

5. Please tell us your idea about the relationship between quality and service life.

a. We understand the relationship between quality and service life very well. We lived through a time in the US market when competitors regularly sacrificed quality for cost. Fortunately, DS Brown never went down that road but we did see our share erode during this time. We actually decided to take the market the opposite way and to put some science behind quality as it relates to service life.。Through extensive testing of our old design, we learned a lot about the performance characteristics of expansion joint components including support bar section, support bar spacing, and welded connections. Over time and through this testing, we moved significantly away from our old design to the much improved design that we use today. Coincidently, at about the same time many owners began experiencing failures of the lower quality competitor joints. As a result our timing was good to promote a higher standard of joints and many owners quickly adopted our specification as their own. About 10 years later, with our help, AASHTO effectively adopted this specification for modular expansion joints.

6. Is there anything else about your company that you’d like to share with us?

a. We feel the current market for expansion joints in China is at the same crossroad that we faced years ago in the US, and China is ready to embrace a high level of quality for these critical infrastructure components. We think we can use our knowledge and experience to help to shave many years off of that learning curve here in China.

b. We are excited and grateful for the opportunity to be an integral part of this movement.

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