North­ern Rare Earth eyes med­i­cal de­vice prospects

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By YANG ZIMAN in Bei­jing and YUAN HUI in Ho­hhot

China North­ern Rare Earth (Group) High-Tech Co Ltd, one of the six large rare earth com­pa­nies in China, is aim­ing to up­grade its pro­cess­ing tech­nolo­gies for med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions.

“As China en­cour­ages do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion of high­end med­i­cal de­vices, which use rare earth ma­te­ri­als, we see a great po­ten­tial mar­ket in the ap­pli­ca­tion of rare earth in med­i­cal de­vice pro­duc­tion,” said Zhang Zhong, chair­man and gen­eral man­ager of North­ern Rare Earth.

The com­pany, based in Bao­tou, In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion, is the only one among the top six rare earth com­pa­nies in China that has made med­i­cal de­vices a key part of its port­fo­lio.

In August, North­ern Rare Earth an­nounced planned in­vest­ment of 200 mil­lion yuan ($28.8 mil­lion) in a rare earth med­i­cal in­dus­try base, which aims at the high-end ap­pli­ca­tion of rare earth and “trans­form­ing the com­pany from a raw ma­te­rial sup­plier into a func­tional ma­te­rial so­lu­tion provider and ter­mi­nal med­i­cal de­vice pro­ducer”.

The main prod­uct of the med­i­cal de­vice branch is nu­clear mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing or MRI equip­ment. Per­ma­nent mag­netic rare earth ma­te­rial ac­counts for 60 per­cent of the ma­chine.

The rare earth med­i­cal in­dus­try base will be built by a com­pany called Xibao Bowei with reg­is­tered cap­i­tal of 500 mil­lion yuan whose main share­holder (40 per­cent) is North­ern Rare Earth. The base cov­ers an area of 124 square kilo­me­ters.

The planned an­nual pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity is 300 units. mil­lion yuan It is one of the largest MRI de­vice pro­duc­tion cen­ters in the world.

Pro­duc­tion of MRI de­vices started in 2012. So far, around 200 units have been sold, mostly to medium and small­sized hos­pi­tals.

In the fu­ture, the base will pro­duce four to five types of large-sized nu­clear mag­netic med­i­cal de­vices.

The rare earth in­dus­try is go­ing through a tough time, with prices of rare earth fluc­tu­at­ing at low level.

In the first half of the year, North­ern Rare Earth reg­is­tered rev­enue of 2 bil­lion yuan, down 32.5 per­cent yearon-year.

The com­pany said in the earn­ings re­port that the cool­ing down in the in­dus­try would per­sist for a while.

“It’s not sus­tain­able to ex­port rare earth as a raw ma­te­rial. We need to move up the value chain to pro­duce more tech­nol­ogy-in­ten­sive func­tional prod­ucts,” said Zhang.

The ex­ten­sive ex­ploita­tion of rare earth in the past decade has cut re­serves to only 27 mil­lion met­ric tons, down 37 per­cent from 10 years ago.

Ear­lier this year, China for­mu­lated a plan (2016-20) for the trans­for­ma­tion of the rare earth in­dus­try, which states that by 2020, key high-end rare earth func­tional ma­te­ri­als will be able to meet more than 80 per­cent of the de­mand in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, high-end equip­ment, new en­ergy au­to­mo­bile and na­tional de­fense in­dus­try.

“China’s rare earth tech­nolo­gies in the lab are on a par with the in­ter­na­tional level ex­cept in ex­tremely high-level ar­eas such as op­ti­cal fibers and mo­tors. How­ever, its ap­pli­ca­tion lags far be­hind,” said Zhang.

He said that in the near fu­ture, MRI de­vices will be con­nected to cloud com­put­ing so that the test re­sults can be trans­ferred in­stan­ta­neously to doc­tors’ com­put­ers in high­end hos­pi­tals to en­sure a bet­ter di­ag­no­sis.

The com­pany is also man­u­fac­tur­ing a por­ta­ble ver­sion of the MRI de­vices that can be car­ried in cars to pro­vide ser­vice in re­mote re­gions.

the in­vest­ment North­ern Rare Earth planned in a rare earth med­i­cal in­dus­try base

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Rare earth ma­te­rial ac­counts for 60 per­cent of MRI equip­ment.

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