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Changsha bets big on intelligent sector

By Zhou Lanxu in Beijing and Feng Zhiwei in Changsha | China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-21 09:11
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The development of intelligent vehicles mirrors how Changsha is leveraging its advantages to pursue the highly-expected quality development. [Photo provided to China Daily]

City sees industrial transformation as key to driving high-quality development

When a bus in Changsha, capital of Central China's Hunan province, approached its station, it stopped smoothly as other buses did, but the driver's feet did not hit the brake, nor did his hands touch the wheel.

The bus is one of the four self-driving buses tested on a 7.8 kilometer-long route along public city roads in Changsha since the end of last year, as one of the 228 test scenarios of the National Intelligent Connected Vehicle (Changsha) Testing Zone.

Located in Changsha's Xiangjiang New Area, the test zone is by far China's only national-level intelligent vehicle testing zone recognized by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the top industry regulator.

The testing zone has conducted nearly 1,000 automatic driving tests since it started operation in June 2018, and is preparing to launch two new road test routes along public city roads and public expressways, both set to stretch about 100 kilometers.

"We regard intelligent vehicles as a key development direction of Changsha, partly because the city has many advantages in promoting this emerging industry," said Ling Qinjie, deputy head of the Xiangjiang New Area's management committee, the government body regulating the area.

"We have a strong talent base from local universities, including the National University of Defense Technology, China's pioneer in automatic driving research," Ling said, adding that Changsha has a solid foundation of vehicle production and other manufacturing sectors.

The development of intelligent vehicles mirrors how Changsha is leveraging its advantages to pursue the highly-expected quality development.

"Changsha has the comparative advantage in manufacturing, so we see upgrading the manufacturing sector as the key to driving high-quality growth of the city," said Hu Henghua, Party secretary of Changsha.

Changsha has long been praised as "China's capital of engineering machinery", with some of the nation's leading equipment manufacturers headquartered here, such as Sany Heavy Industry Co Ltd and Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science& Technology Co Ltd.

Intelligent manufacturing - featuring the combination of manufacturing and new-generation information technologies - is poised to reshape the manufacturing sector, while Changsha should seize the opportunity window to extend its advantages into the future, Hu said.

In 2015, the city authorities initiated a three-year action plan to make key areas of manufacturing more intelligent. Since then, the city has been nurturing emerging intelligent industries, prioritizing intelligent equipment, intelligent vehicles, intelligent terminals, and independent information security technologies.

The government has also taken a slew of measures to encourage traditional manufacturers to revamp themselves with new technologies, Hu said. For instance, the government and industry leaders co-founded institutes providing smaller manufacturers with services that facilitate industrial upgrade, such as consultancy and technology development. Policy support has also been stepped up, such as granting bonuses to manufacturers purchasing intelligent equipment.

With the government's guidance, many enterprises reluctant to change in the beginning have reaped the benefits of industrial upgrades and are now self-motivated to do so, Hu said. For the next step, the government will strengthen the role of industrial chains and other market mechanisms in pushing ahead intelligent manufacturing, he said.

One example of traditional manufacturers in Changsha heading for intelligent manufacturing is how Hunan Mendale Hometextile Co Ltd gained recognition for piloting the first national model of intelligent manufacturing in the home textile industry.

On a production line in Mendale's factory in Changsha, a ball of cotton is changed into a fluffy duvet every three minutes, with only one worker supervising the process.

The line is powered by 15 machines from China, Spain, Germany, Sweden and Italy, which are all worldwide top-notch equipment for their own production procedures.

"It took us more than one year to select, test and adjust the machines to finally integrate them into a complete production line, which has a production efficiency three times higher than the industry's average level in China," said Qi Hongjie, chief administrative officer of Mendale.

Such achievement has made Mendale a national pilot model of intelligent manufacturing recognized by the ministry in 2017, Qi said. Also, the production line has helped to cut production costs by between 15 percent and 20 percent, and freed workers for tasks creating higher value, such as embroidery and technical work.

By the end of 2018, a total of 27 enterprises in Changsha had received recognition as national pilot models of intelligent manufacturing, the most among all provincial capitals, according to the Government Work Report of Changsha. Meanwhile, the report said every 10,000 residents in Changsha had 29.6 valid invention patents on average by the end of last year, the highest among provincial capitals in Central China.

The economy of Changsha grew by 8.5 percent in 2018, versus the nation's 6.6 percent, official data showed.

As the leader of engineering machinery in China, Changsha's development of intelligent manufacturing could provide guidance for enterprises from other cities to learn from or follow, said Qin Hailin, director of the Industrial Economy Institute at the China Center for Information Industry Development.

The development direction of China's intelligent manufacturing should be leveraging new technologies to enhance production efficiency and to free labor from repetitive work for more valuable ones, such as the provision of services, Qin said.

China made steady progress toward intelligent manufacturing this year. During the January-to April period, output in the high-tech manufacturing sector rose 8.7 percent year-on-year, 2.5 percentage points faster than the whole industrial sector, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.




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