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November 9, 2015

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Fair trumpets China’s smart technologies

THE 17th China International Industry Fair that ended on Saturday in Shanghai was a platform to demonstrate China’s expertise and vision in “smart” technologies.

It’s all part of the “Made in China 2025” blueprint, which seeks to catapult the nation into the forefront of global industry, powered by advanced manufacturing techniques. It was also a peek at how households and work places will be transformed by technology.

Exhibits included robots, environmental protection equipment, information technology, new energy cars and aviation products.

This year, the accent was on innovative, intelligent technology and green manufacturing, after the State Council, China’s Cabinet, issued the nation’s first 10-year plan last April, declaring manufacturing as a fundamental base for economic growth.

The “Made in China 2025” blueprint seeks to address slackness in the Chinese economy and transform manufacturing from labor-intensive to technology-oriented.

In September, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a list of 46 company exhibitions at the industry fair that would highlight the country’s ingenuity and achievements in smart manufacturing.

The select projects spanned several industries, including aviation, beverage making, household electronics, mining, and steel and energy production.

At last year’s fair discussions about manufacturing were dominated by Germany’s Industry 4.0 concept, a highly developed plan for the smart technologies of the future. This time it was China’s turn to come under the spotlight with its own blueprint for the future of manufacturing.

“Industry 4.0 is based on a highly-automated production line that can tailor manufacturing to suit individual customer demand,” Kong Bing, CEO of KUKA Robotics China, told Shanghai Daily at the fair. “‘Made in China 2025’ is a grander concept than its German counterpart. By raising overall productivity, China will strengthen efforts to address past industrial shortcomings.”

China has placed a priority on technology advances in IT, robotics, aviation, oceanic engineering, rail transport, new energy cars, electricity equipment, agricultural equipment, advanced industrial materials and healthcare sectors.

Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of Swiss robotics and automation group ABB, said China needs to benchmark its next industrial level in terms of global productivity standards. A strong investment in automation will help China leverage its industrial level with the outside world, he said.

Goal to lift productivity

“To prosper in an economy you need to bring operating assets together,” Spiesshofer told Shanghai Daily shortly before the fair. “My advice to China would be to bring the people, the machines and the services together. That way, you get the best productivity.”

Wang Haibin, executive vice president of Siemens China, said in an interview with Shanghai Daily that the industrial level of Germany is obviously higher than that in China.

“We cannot expect 2.0-level enterprises to transform into 4.0-level competitors over a short time,” he said. “Siemens looks to provide differentiated solutions for local companies. The goal universally is to lift productivity.”

The recent visit to China by German Chancellor Angela Merkel was also a push toward greater cooperation between both countries, Wang said.

At the industry fair, Shanghai’s own displays related to advanced industrial materials, the Internet of Things and energy-saving devices. The city’s ambitious goal is to become a global center of science and innovation.

Mayor Yang Xiong said manufacturing provides the fundamental momentum to drive innovation in Shanghai.

How to drive innovation was also a main topic at the mayor’s 27th annual meeting of the International Business Leaders Advisory Council. Held on November 1, it is an annual forum where heads of multinational companies exchange views with local authorities on the city’s economic development.

The annual industry fair was an important platform for the introduction of new products and technologies.

This year, the spotlight was on robotics.

ABB unveiled its largest-ever robot — the IRB 8700 — to address needs of the automobile industry. The 3.5-meter robot can handle a maximum payload of 800 kilograms at work. With only one motor and fewer components, the robot has a low maintenance cost.

“Automation and human labor will go hand-in-hand,” said Spiesshofer. “With smart automation, we are elevating the nature of work for people. It provides better quality products and stronger productivity.”

He added, “If you look at China’s productivity, it is not only about installing leading-edge products; it’s also about keeping them running at a leading-edge operational quality.”

KUKA is a major rival of ABB in robotics. The German robot maker released its KR CYTEC nano series to focus on lower payloads of 6-10 kilograms — suitable in small, confined spaces.

China is the world’s largest and fastest-growing robotics market. Kong said KUKA expects to raise sales of industrial robots in China by 30 percent this year. In 2014, the company sold over 50,000 of them.

“If you look at countries with high use of robots, such as Korea and Japan, there is no mass unemployment for workers,” Kong noted.

“People are freed from mundane labor to do creative jobs. China will not need to rely on cheaper labor any more.”

The fair, held for the first time at Shanghai’s new National Exhibition and Convention Center, attracted nearly 2,300 industrial firms from 28 countries. Domestic exhibitors came from across China. Organizers estimated visitor numbers at more than 136,000, up 12 percent from last year.


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