Midea rides wave of robotics in Wuhan fac­tory

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS - By YANG ZIMAN and HU YUANYUAN in Wuhan Con­tact the writ­ers at yangz­i­man@chi­nadaily.com.cn and huyuanyuan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Midea Group, a ma­jor home ap­pli­ance man­u­fac­turer in China based in Guangzhou, has seen its hu­man la­bor forced greatly re­duced at its Wuhan fac­tory since the in­tro­duc­tion of an in­tel­li­gent pro­duc­tion line.

“We have made in­tel­li­gent pro­duc­tion a strate­gic goal of the group,” said Yang Hao, gen­eral manager of the com­pany’s Wuhan fac­tory.

In 2015, Midea re­vamped its con­ven­tional pro­duc­tion line into an in­tel­li­gent one by in­stalling more than 200 robotic de­vices. Now it has be­come one of the most ad­vanced ma­chine assem­bly lines in the world.

The av­er­age num­ber of em­ploy­ees work­ing along­side the pro­duc­tion line has dropped from 160 to 51. Mean­while, the qual­i­fi­ca­tion rate of prod­ucts free of de­fects has in­creased from 97 per­cent to 99 per­cent.

“The big­gest ad­van­tage of in­tel­li­gent man­u­fac­tur­ing is its ac­cu­racy,” Yang said. “Hu­mans make mis­takes be­cause they can get tired. But a ma­chine does not doze off.”

The num­ber of work­ers at the Wuhan fac­tory, which is the big­gest man­u­fac­tur­ing base of Midea in China, has gone down from 11,000 in 2011 — with monthly pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity of 500,000 units — to 4,300 with monthly pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity of 630,000 units in 2015. In other words, its pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity has in­creased by 26 per­cent while the num­ber of work­ers has gone down by 39 per­cent dur­ing that pe­riod.

At the same time, the com­pany said that the cost of in­tel­li­gent pro­duc­tion line is 22 per­cent lower than the con­ven­tional pro­duc­tion line.

The com­pany plans to in­vest 4 to 5 bil­lion yuan ($582 mil­lion to $728 mil­lion) in the next four to five years to turn all of its fac­to­ries into in­tel­li­gent ones, Yang said.

“We need to take a very pru­dent ap­proach. First build a demon­stra­tive pro­duc­tion line, then a work­shop and even­tu­ally a fac­tory,” he added.

Air con­di­tion­ers man­u­fac­tured on in­tel­li­gent pro­duc­tion lines are ex­pected to make up 30 per­cent of the com­pany’s to­tal out­put in 2016. That share is planned to in­crease to 50 per­cent in 2017 and to more than 70 per­cent in en­su­ing years.

Mean­while, Midea is mak­ing ef­forts to in­crease the per- cen­t­age of lo­cal equip­ment used in its in­tel­li­gent pro­duc­tion lines.

“Im­ported equip­ment has high sta­bil­ity and ac­cu­racy but is five to 10 times more ex­pen­sive than lo­cally man­u­fac­tured equip­ment,” Yang said.

“We need to work with our lo­cal sup­pli­ers to help them de­velop equip­ment that can com­pete with those from other coun­tries.”

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