August 7, 2014
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Labor-intensive industries are replacing people with robots to raise efficiency.
If some of the workshops had been upgraded with totally automated assembly lines or robots, the blast that killed 75 people at Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products in East China's Jiangsu province would never had happened, according to Zhou Jianghua, sales manager at Kawasaki Robotics (Tianjin) Co Ltd Shanghai branch.
Kawasaki is a leading industrial robots provider from Japan with customers mainly from the auto industry, such as Toyota.
According to Zhou, a lot of labor-intensive companies such as sanitary products providers and rubber manufacturers in the more developed Yangtze River Delta region and Pearl River Delta region have replaced human labor with robots.
"Not only does the dust from polishing the metal cause great harm to people's health, it also incurs a high-potential safety hazard. Quite a lot of jobs, especially in the auto industry, are now completed by robots, which can ensure high accuracy and low potential in human casualty during the working process," Zhou said.
Demand for robots has shot up in China in the past few years. China overtook Japan to become the world's largest and fastest growing robot market in 2013, with more than 35,000 units of industrial robots sold in China last year, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
One of the reasons for the increased demand is that a number of companies home and abroad have started introducing robots on assembly lines.
Domestic shoe manufacturer Juyi Group Co Ltd based in Wenzhou of Zhejiang province is the first company in the city to introduce fully automated assembly lines in 2010. A 50,000 yuan ($8,112) automated stitching machine imported from Japan, which is 20 times the price of a traditional machine, can be 10 times more efficient than an experienced worker.
According to Pan Jianzhong, chairman of Juyi, the use of automated lines or robots not only improves the product quality, but also solves the problem of labor shortage that many manufacturing companies in the Chinese coastal cities have encountered.
"A company should not only keep an eye on investment at present. It should think about bringing changes to the company with the investment in equipment. Only in this way can a manufacturing company have long-term development based on the current economic situation," he said.
Between 2004 and 2010, the compound annual growth rate of the number of installed robots reached 27.5% in China, according to the China Robots Industry Alliance. It is expected that the compound annual growth rate for the demand for robots will exceed 25% by 2015. The market size of the Chinese robotics industry will reach 50 billion yuan by the end of 2025.
The central government has also been very supportive. In late December, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released guidelines for promoting the use of industrial robots.
President Xi Jinping reiterated at a meeting in early July that the technical level and manufacturing capability of Chinese robots should be improved as soon as possible to take the lion's share of the market.
As the industrial manufacturing process has become more flexible, the cooperation between humans and machines is becoming more important.
Stefan Sack, CEO of COMAU China, a leading Italian multinational company known for its industrial robots, said at roundtable meeting of the 2014 China International Robot Show that human-machine collaboration will become a decisive factor for the mass production of robots.
"The breakthrough of the human-machine collaboration is just beginning. People without experience in using robots can program and integrate a robot in the process because it is capable of understanding human-like instructions and has modular plug-and-produce components," said Arturo Baroncelli, president of IFR.
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