In­no­va­tion helps robotics to catch up

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Business - XIN­HUA

BEI­JING — Softly whirring robotic arms five me­ters tall lift up a car weigh­ing nearly two met­ric tons and move it around in the air, as a crowd of vis­i­tors be­low hold up their phones to record and take pic­tures.

That mem­ory will likely re­main fresh for a while in the minds of vis­i­tors in the 2018 World Ro­bot Con­fer­ence held in Bei­jing in Au­gust — such was the power of ro­bots on dis­play. Some 160 ro­bot mak­ers from China and abroad show­cased their prod­ucts at the event.

Robotic arms in var­i­ous sizes pick up things as large as cars and as small as pills, hold pens to draw or write, per­form surg­eries, and even make and serve cock­tails.

China is the world’s largest in­dus­trial ro­bot mar­ket, ac­count­ing for one-third of the world’s de­mand, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Robotics. In­dus­trial ro­bot sales in the coun­try have surged in re­cent years and hit a record high of 141,000 pieces in 2017.

How­ever, for­eign ro­bot mak­ers con­trib­uted to nearly three-quar­ters of the sales.

“Some for­eign ro­bot gi­ants have an in­dus­trial his­tory of more than 100 years,” said Ha En­jing, head of brand pro­mo­tion and pub­lic pela­tions at Si­a­sun Ro­bot and Au­to­ma­tion Co Ltd. “China only started mak­ing its first in­dus­trial ro­bot four decades ago.”

For­eign com­pa­nies have been de­vel­op­ing ro­bots for a long time, help­ing them build a solid rep­u­ta­tion and loyal con­sumer base, ac­cord­ing to Ha.

“Many peo­ple con­tinue to buy ro­bots from these com­pa­nies, not rec­og­niz­ing new play­ers in the mar­ket.”

De­spite this, China’s ro­bot mak­ers grew fast in re­cent years. As of March 2017, more than 800 com­pa­nies in China were di­rectly in­volved in ro­bot man­u­fac­tur­ing, and by the end of 2017, there were over 6,500 com­pa­nies re­lated to robotics, ac­cord­ing to the IFR.

Si­a­sun was founded in 2000 and was listed in Shen­zhen in 2009. In 2017, it be­came a lead­ing Chi­nese ro­bot firm with a rev­enue of 2.5 bil­lion yuan ($360 mil­lion). In­dus­trial ro­bot sales reached 766 mil­lion yuan, the largest source of rev­enue by cat­e­gory.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing key ro­bot com­po­nents such as con­trollers, servo mo­tors, and speed re­duc­ers are tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nated by in­dus­try gi­ants such as Zurich-based ABB and Ja­panese firm Yaskawa.

“In re­cent years, we have also de­vel­oped home-made ro­bot con­trollers,” said Ha. “In ad­di­tion, we are work­ing hard on de­vel­op­ing ro­bot soft­ware that can pro­vide higher pre­ci­sion and re­li­a­bil­ity for ro­bots.”

Si­a­sun Ro­bot’s R&D staff have in­creased from 2015 to 2017, and ac­counted for nearly two-thirds of hu­man re­sources in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s an­nual re­port.

“In­no­va­tion takes a long time,” said Yu Zhen­zhong, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of HIT Ro­bot Group, which took part in the Bei­jing ex­hi­bi­tion.

The group was founded in 2014, but re­search on robotics dates back more than a decade at the Harbin In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, a top Chi­nese tech­no­log­i­cal univer­sity.

At its booth, more than a dozen speed re­duc­ers made of shiny metal were ex­hib­ited. Speed re­duc­ers are “joints” of the robotic arms used to re­duce the speed of the elec­tric mo­tor safely.

“They look like nor­mal gears, but the dif­fi­culty lies in cre­at­ing them with high pre­ci­sion,” Yu said.

He said the speed re­duc­ers they made com­bined the strengths of three ma­jor types of re­duc­ers and have been patented in China. The com­pany has also filed ap­pli­ca­tions for in­ter­na­tional patents.

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