CHINA’S ROBOTIC REVOLUTION
Intelligent machinery look set to play a pivotal role in the country’s steady transition to more efficient and flexible manufacturing processes
The annual China International Industry Fair ( CIIF) in Shanghai is fast becoming a platform for both domestic and international brands to showcase their latest technological innovations.
This year’s fair, which ran from Nov 3 to 7, had 230,000 square meters of exhibition space and attracted 136,000 visitors — up 12.4 percent from a year ago — and as many as 2,270 exhibitors from 28 nations and regions.
The theme for this latest edition of CIIF focused on three aspects — innovation, intelligence and green tech — that aptly reflect China’s drive toward entrepreneurship and innovation. On show at the fair was a wide range of state-ofthe-art technologies such as robots, smart city blueprints, next- generation information technologies, new energy vehicles and 3D printing equipment.
Intelligent manufacturing was the hot topic this time around, with the CIIF showcasing a total of 46 intelligent manufacturing projects from Chinese science institutions, enterprises and colleges. Some of the projects include the Long March 6 from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, an intelligent robot with bionic eyes from Chinese Academy of Sciences, and an unmanned survey ship developed by Shanghai University.
“During my 17 years of organizing the exhibition, I dare say that domestic participants this year have made great progress in terms of technology and product standards,” said Dai Liu, secretary of the party committee of Shanghai East Best & Lan Sheng International (Group) Co Ltd.
Over at the booth of SAIC Motor Corp Ltd, the largest listed auto company in China’s A-share market, the company unveiled its first self-driving car. Meanwhile, Shanghai MJ Intelligent System Co Ltd launched its intelligent Co Ltd (SEARI), a division of Shanghai Electric, said that there is a big need for flexible automation in China, and that collaborative robots will be vital in helping Chinese manufacturers compete more effectively on a global scale.
To achieve this, SEARI has entered a partnership with Boston-based company Rethink Robotics — the latter will deploy its smart, Sawyer and Baxter robots to the Chinese manufacturing community to improve production processes by implementing flexible and affordable automation.
“Chinese manufacturers are facing similar challenges as their counterparts around the world, such as rising wages and labor shortage,” said Scott Eckert, president and CEO of Rethink Robotics.
“In order to stay competitive in a global manufacturing economy, these companies are looking at collaborative robots to help them become more efficient and responsive to customer demands.”
Ji’er Machine Tool Group, one of China’s largest metal forming machinery and equipment companies with a history of nearly eight decades, has since the 2000s been transforming its facilities into “digital” ones by adopting digitized, three-dimension design softwares and electronic systems.
The benefits that these new technologies afford have been telling — the company can now manufacture 15 major automobile parts per minute, up from the previous record of 12, representing a 25 percent increase in capacity that has helped its auto-maker clients gain a competitive edge.
Other technologies such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES) have enabled companies like Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science & Technology Co Ltd to boost their productivity levels by three times — after adopting smart management systems, five team leaders can manage a department of up to 500 employees.
Experts believe that there is still much potential for Chinese companies to upgrade their facilities to smart, digitized ones, and this will in turn create opportunities for developers of both hardware and software.
“The automotive sector is currently a major consumer of industrial robots in China — it accounts for about 51.1 percent of the nation’s total robot application. But we have also seen great market potential for more robots to be used in service industries such as food processing and catering,” said Dai.
China had already surpassed Japan as the world’s largest industrial robot market in 2013, and a total of 45,000 units of industrial robots were sold across the country in 2014.
Zhou Bo, deputy mayor of Shanghai, said that the city has now become a national center of robot research, development and production, contributing to about 70 percent of the nation’s output. He added that China’s industrial robot market is expected to maintain a growth rate of 20 to 25 percent in coming years.
According to a global study by the International Federation of Robotics which was released earlier this year, China will be home to the most number of industrial robots in the world by 2017, with operating unit numbers estimated to be more than 400,000.
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A robot developed by GSK CNC Equipment Co Ltd demonstrates its ability to carry out tasks with precision and fluidity by painting illustrations of dragons at the China International Industry Fair in Shanghai.
A wide range of high-tech equipment was on show at the event that attracted more than 2,000 exhibitors from across the world.