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Not just a mouthful phrase, but tell-tale term about lives, biz

By MA SI | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-04 09:40
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An employee works at a steel plant in Maanshan, Anhui province. LUO JISHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY

At first glance, new industrialization sounds like one of those big, empty words that only policymakers and macroeconomists love to mouth. As one who has been reporting on China's top industry regulator's policies for more than eight years, even I found it to be quite a mouthful. That apart, until recently, I barely grasped its essence. But once I did, I wished I had done so much, much earlier. Let me explain by telling you a story.

Hunan Valin Xiangtan Iron and Steel Co established its plant in my hometown Xiangtan, Hunan province, in 1958. Steel being a labor-intensive industry, the plant quickly got associated with images of workers toiling away in mills, sweat running down their brows profusely. Their environment was tough, unforgiving and not 100 percent secure. Thankfully, they improved production methods during the second industrial revolution.

But now, a completely different story is taking shape. The plant's 5-meter-wide thick plate production facility offers a peek into how the fourth industrial revolution, combined with Chinese wisdom, is transforming China's traditional heavy industry.

In the control room, four technicians operate joysticks to remote-control bridge cranes in a neighboring high-temperature plant. A big screen glows with real-time feed from the factory, which employees watch to track the processes and equipment.

This is how the industrial internet is applied in China. The convergence of industrial systems and advanced computing, analytics and sensing is creating new levels of connectivity.

Not just telecom industry insiders, but even people working in other sectors, such as front-line Xiangtan steel plant worker Liu Jiwen, understand such terminology.

Liu told me: "Previously, the control center had to be within a steel plant to allow it to control the process without any time delay. We had to work in an environment of high temperatures, noise and dust. But all of this has changed thanks to the 5G network."

Liu also said 5G's low latency and big bandwidth mean the control center can now be located in a cozy room outside of the mill and just one employee can remotely operate multiple bridge cranes simultaneously. Needless to say, efficiency has improved significantly.

The Xiangtan factory has already achieved a string of application scenarios. Centralized remote control of steel scrap cranes, unmanned cranes in certain areas, robotic arms and automated surveillance of hazardous areas ... all are par for the industrial course now.

Technological support from telecom operators has helped explore 5G's ability to create green and smart environments at hitherto hazardous workplaces. Technical experts from China Mobile's Hunan branch said 5G can enable automated, unmanned operations at manufacturing plants in a way that traditional fiber networks and Wi-Fi technologies cannot. Traditional fiber networks, after all, are far more difficult and expensive to deploy, while Wi-Fi is prone to interference and lacks both stability and capacity.

Thanks to the growing application and integration of 5G and industrial internet technologies, factories and mines in China are increasingly going digital. They are now internet-connected, smart and secure.

For instance, in coal mines, which have traditionally struggled with internet connectivity issues, new developments abound in the coal-rich Shanxi province. It has embraced digital technologies to pursue high-quality development and better ensure security for coal workers.

Over the past five years, Shanxi has also deepened its energy revolution, accelerated the release of high-quality coal production capacity, promoted the construction of 5G smart mines and carried out pilot projects for green coal mining. The proportion of advanced coal production capacity has increased to 80 percent in the province.

In the next five years, Shanxi will speed up the construction of a green energy supply system and strive to achieve the ratio of advanced coal production capacity to about 95 percent, according to the province's plan in 2023.

As first-hand observation helped me develop a better understanding of new industrialization, it also dawned on me that covering technical details of the latest technology trend alone is never enough to tell a "human interest story". A good reporter should always be ready to reveal how technology affects people on the ground.

Perhaps, that's more urgent now than ever before, given the frantic calls by experts recently to regulate and slow the global AI juggernaut, which they fear has the potential to bring about the extinction of the human race.

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