Smart Manufacturing Forum Delivers New Insights on the Future of China’s Manufacturing Sector
The rise of smart manufacturing, Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 has and will continue to revolutionise China’s manufacturing sector.
Recently the Facteon team visited China’s largest automation show, China International Industry Fair (CIIF), to take the pulse of automation and factory technologies in China. We also met with various Facteon partners and saw their latest innovations in action.
Here are our top five takeaways from the show.
The undisputed leader in the cobot space, Universal Robots, launched UR16e. It’s a collaborative robot with 16kg payload. This cobot can handle far heavier objects than its predecessors. Such an advancement has the potential to change the perception of cobots in the manufacturing industry.
When first introduced, cobots allowed manufacturers that saw traditional robotics as difficult to implement and costly to utilise the technology.
Cobots are now suited to applications requiring strength, such as palletising or stacking. Universal Robots latest innovation expands the options for those looking to implement cobot solutions.
We should not overlook the significance of launching this product in China. For decades, China’s manufacturing industry was seen as low-tech. China now has an increasing focus on technology-driven fields, such as automotive, pharmaceuticals and aerospace. There have also been massive strides in developing the manufacturing ecosystem required for these technologies to thrive.
Perhaps the launch of this cobot in China signals the degree to which the market is maturing in terms of automation. It also reflects the relative cost of labour input in the production process.
All major companies (and their vendors) are expending significant energy and funds to understand and deploy Industry 4.0 and Industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions. The degree to which solutions are deployed successfully is mixed. Very few companies, from major vendors through to smaller startups, could point to many examples of concrete implementations.
Data security and the deployment of AI solutions to make sense of the volumes of data being generated by connected equipment and ubiquitous sensors were thick on the ground. However, most companies we spoke to were trying to pilot implementations of the technology.
The challenge for technology vendors lies in delivering Industry 4.0 technologies outside of a pilot programme at a cost and scale that spurs widespread adoption globally.
Through a combination of software intelligence and advancing hardware, AGVs are becoming widely used in manufacturing facilities. To combat increasing labour costs, manufacturers are deploying fleets of AGVs to perform a range of transportation tasks within the factory.
As with cobots, the possibilities of AGVs are vast. This technology has the potential to free human operators from repetitive and potentially dangerous tasks. It also signals a move closer to the ‘lights out’ facility.
The extent to which domestic automation vendors are rapidly advancing is impressive. From industrial robots through to AGVs and software, China-based companies are utilising increasingly sophisticated technologies and bringing these to market.
While some of the technology is getting close to the standard of the larger, more established names, the appetite for risk (or lack thereof) sees these companies confined to their home market, for now.
It remains to be seen if the companies developing these technologies can gain traction offshore. In the meantime, the focus appears to be on scaling operations in domestic markets to establish a sound foundation for future growth.
Facteon is closely watching the development of these products to evaluate the fit with Facteon’s wider ecosystem. We are also evaluating the potential benefits brought to customers.
The best of China’s manufacturers have proven to be lighthouses. This term has been coined by the World Economic Forum to describe manufacturers successfully finding opportunities through the implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies.
While some manufacturers take small steps forward, lighthouses make giant leaps that invalidate industry benchmarks.
Compared to manufacturers making incremental changes, lighthouses are set to benefit from larger economic gains by aggressively implementing suitable Industry 4.0 technologies at speed.
It’s possible to succeed with Industry 4.0 technologies without operating at the speed and scale of a lighthouse manufacturer.
While the gains may not be comparable to those of lighthouses, incremental changes that align with business goals have the power to improve operational performance over time.
If you’re a manufacturer that lacks the resources to implement Industry 4.0 and IIoT technologies across your facility, don’t be discouraged. A basic understanding of Industry 4.0 and its technologies is all you need to get started.