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

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - WU YIYAO

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.

Con­tact the writ­ers at wang_ ying@chi­nadaily.com.cn and wuyiyao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

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.

PHO­TOS BY GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

A wide range of high-tech equip­ment was on show at the event that at­tracted more than 2,000 ex­hibitors from across the world.

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