Spaceframe: Celebrating 30 Years in China

Adapting and evolving to meet local and global market changes has been Australian construction firm Spaceframe’s key to 30-years of success operating on the ground in China.

— What does a banana-ripening factory in China have in common with a sub-zero car testing facility in Inner Mongolia?

Both projects have relied on the design, construction and temperature-control expertise of China- based Australian firm Spaceframe.

This year, Spaceframe celebrates two significant milestones – a 30-year anniversary operating in China and a 10-year successful joint-venture partnership. Spaceframe Buildings Managing Director Werner Raspotnik, who founded the company in Brisbane in 1972, is recognized throughout the industry for his delivery of new standards in commercial and industrial design construction in Spaceframe Winter 2 webAustralia.


These standards have accompanied the business to China where it began with the construction of a seafood refrigeration plant in Dalian in 1984, to, over the years, transforming into a full-scale design and construction solutions entity. Since then, Spaceframe has been engaged in more than 300 projects, offering a wide range of construction solutions beyond the F&B and pharmaceutical sectors, extending to the auto and mining and resources sectors and products covering a cross section of capabilities including services in project planning, pre-engineering, contracting, ventilation and refrigeration.

Spaceframe David Mart thumb“Safety and sustainability are key points for us,“ says Spaceframe’s part owner and Managing Director, David Martin (pictured left).

“Safety First” is our mantra and remains our number one priority and a key factor for why our reputation and client base has grown over the years, and why 50 percent of our business comes from repeat clients,” says Mr Martin.

Since completing that first refrigeration depot in China in 1984, Spaceframe has successfully navigated ongoing challenges presented in China such as regulatory changes following China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001, the financial consequences of SARS in 2003 and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

Spaceframe has had offices in Shanghai and Beijing since 1995, and opened its office in the western gateway city of Changsha in 2001. In 2008 Spaceframe celebrated the granting of a Class B Construction Qualification, allowing it to work with both local Chinese and foreign invested clients as a General Contractor – a milestone for any foreign contractor in China. Winning the Business Excellence Award at the Australia China Business Awards in Beijing in 2009 was further recognition of Spaceframe’s successful long-term China strategy.

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Spaceframe Richard Wendt thumbSpaceframe continues to invest strongly into new technology as well as expanding its design practice – allowing it greater control over the outcome of its projects in China. “We believe that if we control the design, we can control the project,” says Spaceframe part owner and Director of Sales, Richard Wendt (pictured left).

Part of that investment includes adopting BIM as the primary resource for creating three-dimensional databases that are used both to design and deliver construction projects. One of the numerous benefits of this 3D modeling approach is having the ability to reduce design conflicts, reduce changes during the construction process and as a result, save both construction time and increase quality. BIM is still regarded as cutting edge technology in China, and reinforces Spaceframe’s commitment to finding the most cost effective solutions to develop its business and to provide better service to their clients.

“We have a strong ethos here, and that is, ‘Do it once, and do it properly’,” says Richard Wendt.

Much of the business’s success is attributed to its hard working employees – one third of whom have worked for Spaceframe for more than five years, and one in six of whom have been with the company for more than a decade.

“Success is so much dependent on the people, the real people, who make things happen – and these are our Chinese employees,” says Mr Martin.


These long-standing staff include Christina Yang, Spaceframe’s Beijing Office Manager who has been with the company for 17 years.

Spaceframe Maggie Yang thumbMaggie Yang (pictured left) is another employee who has risen through the ranks, starting with Spaceframe in 2003 as a receptionist, and today heading up the businesses HR department.

“Spaceframe is very different from other companies – it is a big family and many staff have worked here for more than five years,” says Maggie Yang.

“When I joined the company in 2003 as a receptionist, the most important thing I learnt from my manager was not to look at a receptionist as a low and simple position, but as the window of the company, with every client and supplier having their first impression from the receptionist.”

Today, as HR manager, Ms Yang says she tells new staff that a company’s employees are its strongest attribute. “Don’t worry about making mistakes, this is all experience. Don’t limit yourself to your current position, learn more and do more. There is opportunity for those who are prepared to work hard.”

Spaceframe Max Feng thumbMax Feng (pictured left) has been with the company for 12 years, beginning his career with the company as a junior site engineer. Today he is Spaceframe’s Sales Manager and Project Director, responsible for selling, delivering and managing some of Spaceframe’s biggest projects.

“I have had the luck to witness Spaceframe China growing up in a very solid and sustainable way which brings us continuing success with respect from both our clients and business partners,” says Mr Feng.

“As personnel, I do appreciate the opportunities the company has given me, to build up my career and also to feel proud that my hard work has made an important contribution to the company.”

Mr Martin says that with a range of clients across Chinese state-owned enterprises and foreign invested enterprises and clients in different countries, it is essential to have good staff who can understand their different needs.

“We need staff who are flexible, who can listen, understand and who can then deliver the project to high standards,” says Mr Martin. Spaceframe DSC05609 2 web

Spaceframe’s China model works on partnering with local Chinese partners in a cooperative joint-venture investment relationship which in turn has helped the business bid for projects within the lucrative Chinese state owned enterprise sector. These have included projects for China’s biggest rail companies – China Southern Rail and the China Rail Construction Company.

And in a coup for the company, it was recently appointed as a major supplier for China Southern Rail’s Malaysian rolling stock project. Other clients include German refrigeration and air conditioning technology business Bitzer SE, Caterpillar, Boeing, East Balt Bakery – the main supplier of McDonald’s buns, HAVI, cold chain logistics provider for McDonalds and American Fortune 500 global manufacturing and technology giant, Emerson.

Other key projects have included the design and construction of the main structure, building envelope and cold storage works for Novo Nordisk’s 50,000m2 US$400 million insulin production plant in the Tianjin Economic Development Area – the world’s most modern insulin formulation and filling plant, and currently the design build of a 32,000 m2 manufacturing facility for German multinational road construction equipment manufacturer and innovator, Wirtgen Group.

Recent projects also include the design and construction for Cargill chicken farms in Anhui (KFC’s main chicken meat supplier) and 150,000m2 of pre-engineered structures for a dairy farm in Hebei province, to accommodate 10,000 dairy cows for New Zealand’s Fonterra.

“Operating in China you need patience but have the ability to react quickly and decisively,” says Mr Martin.

Spaceframe came to China in 1984, as an Australian company manufacturing and exporting pre-engineered buildings, but today exports from China back to Australia and to countries all over the world. The combined sales for general contracting, refrigeration and pre-engineered buildings, including exports in 2013 exceeded RMB 500 million.

“We have staying power, an impressive track record and a reputation in our industry for safety, reliability and sustainability as a business,” says David Martin. “Clients come to us because they trust our safety, our quality and our ability to deliver their projects to fully meet all their requirements – no excuses.” 

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