Catch-up plans underway as the robot era arrives
Updated: 2014-12-01

From loading goods in a warehouse to automatic assembly and painting on a production line, robots have got it covered. This is not a fictional scene but reality at a digital factory in Siasun Robot & Automation Co Ltd.

The company in Shenyang, the capital of Northeast China's Liaoning province, evolved from a research institute and has developed hundreds of patents since it was founded in 2000.

With more than 80 percent of its product lineup based on proprietary innovation, the firm has grown into China's largest listed company in the robotics industry by production scale, according to Xinhua News Agency.

More than 400 companies are involved in making industrial robots in China. Some have "achieved preliminary breakthroughs" in key components with specification and quality in line with internationally advanced levels, said Cai Hegao, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Cai made the remarks at a forum during the China High-Tech Fair, which opened in Shenzhen on Sunday.

Qu Daokui, director-general of the China Robot Industry Alliance, said the manufacturing industry was moving towards automation, integration, smartness and environmental friendliness.

Robots are widely used in sectors including medical services, autos, textiles, machines, ship-building and aviation and space.

McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm headquartered in the United States, predicted that the use of robots in sectors such as manufacturing, services and medical treatment will create $1.7 trillion to $4.5 trillion in industrial value in 2025.

A report released by the International Federation of Robotics showed that China has a rapidly growing demand for industrial robots, with an annual growth of more than 25 percent.

Sales of industrial robots are expected to hit 100,000 units in the country by 2017, which will see the inventory surpass 400,000 units.

China surpassed Japan to become the world's largest industrial robot market, with nearly 37,000 units sold in the market last year, which accounted for one-fifth of global sales.

"The era of industrial robots has come to China," academician Cai told the Shenzhen forum.

"The current upgrade in the manufacturing industrial structure, as well as a shortage of and continuingly rising costs in labor, will boost the growth of the industrial robotic industry," he said.

At the same time, the domestic industry faces a series of challenges, such as weaker proprietary branding awareness, R&D lagging-behind in key components and excess production capacity at the lower end of the value chain.

A lower rate of R&D industrialization is another contributing factor hindering the sector's growth, as just 3 percent of research results go from labs to production lines.

Furthermore, reliance on the import of fundamental parts results in high costs of domestic robots, which leads to a lack in competitiveness, Cai said.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology plans to roll out a robotic technology roadmap and formulate a development plan for the industry, part of the nation's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), its Deputy Minister Su Bo told Xinhua News Agency in early November.

The roadmap and plan will guide the sector's growth and advance the industrial standardization system construction, Su said.

The goal is "to establish a developed industrial robotic sector by 2020, with marked improvement in technological innovation and international competitiveness," he noted.

Advanced manufacturing, represented by robotics, is the core of the machinery and equipment industry and a key yardstick for a country's industrial competitiveness, Su said.

China's robotics started late in technology and industry, compared with advanced countries, Su said.

He called for more efforts to advance the sector to make major breakthroughs in key fields and catch up with the new round of technological and industrial revolution.

(Source: China Daily)

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