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China evolving to intelligent manufacturing

Author  :  Lu Hang     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-08-06

A technician writes the program for a robot bound for export in Hefei, capital of Anhui Province.(CHINA DAILY)

XI’AN—China’s manufacturing urgently needs innovation and upgrading, and the shift from traditional manufacturing to intelligent manufacturing is the internal force that drives economic growth, said Ren Baoping, dean of the School of Economics and Management at Northwest University at the launch event of the Report on China’s Economic Growth Quality in late July.

The arrival of a new industrial revolution—represented by technologies like the internet, the Internet of Things and robotics—has led to the formation of new industries, formats and models, providing an opportunity for China to move toward intelligent manufacturing.

Over the past two decades, the global economy has continued to grow while inflation has remained low, and Chinese manufacturing has played a major role in this. However, for a long time, China has remained at the middle to low end of the international division of labor and global value chain, mainly engaged in the processing of non-core components with low added value and labor-intensive assembly. Faced with the weakening of its traditional advantages and the increasingly fierce international competition, China urgently needs to accelerate its transition to intelligent manufacturing.

Cheng Boqun, senior engineer of the Institute of Computing Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said that intelligent manufacturing involves integrating and aggregating the resources of industrial big data across different industries and stages of production. It means augmenting manufacturing through the use of emerging IT technologies and approaches, such as big data, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and personalized customization. Intelligent manufacturing is characterized by advanced manufacturing systems and models of information deep automated sensing, intelligent optimization and decision-making, as well as precise control and autonomous execution.

At present, the demand of developed countries in Europe and the United States has weakened, and high-end competition has intensified. New trade protectionism has risen, while anti-dumping, countervailing and technical barriers to trade have returned to the historical arena.

“Challenges always coexist with opportunities. China’s intelligent manufacturing means another change, improvement and innovation in concept, system and technology,” said Wang Guozhong, vice president of the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences. Compared with developed countries, China’s manufacturing base is relatively weak, but it has advantages in internet applications and innovation. Accelerating the application of internet technology in China will effectively transform and upgrade traditional manufacturing industries, Wang concluded.

The core competitiveness of the manufacturing industry is ultimately the product itself. The internet is not a panacea. While it can amplify excellent manufacturing capabilities, it can also eliminate quickly the manufacturing companies that are less competitive. In order to shape the new advantages of its manufacturing, China needs to improve its innovation capacity while fully embracing the internet.

Innovation does not come out of thin air, said Guo Wanlin, a CAS Member and a professor from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It depends on years of accumulation, Guo said, adding that China’s manufacturing also needs to improve its innovation capacity by integrating global resources.

A series of milestones, like China’s first high-throughput communication satellite Shijian-13, Phase IV of Shanghai Yangshan Deep Water Port, bullet train Fuxing, Beidou Navigation and the C919 large passenger plane are a testament to the nation’s growing capacity to innovate. China is a leader in UHV DC transmission technology, which is crucial to speeding up the country’s energy transformation and upgrading and to promoting the “Belt and Road” construction. Through independent innovation, breakthroughs in core technology have been achieved in a number of important areas, including oil and gas development, the modern coal chemical industry, deep sea exploration, transportation infrastructure, network security and information technology.

China’s scientific and technological undertakings have made great strides while its innovative capabilities have improved markedly in recent years. Still the country’s ability to innovate—especially its capacity to develop core technologies—is far from the advanced level globally, said Fang Jin, a research fellow at the Development Research Center of the State Council. Academia and industry must proceed from the nation’s developmental needs while enhancing technological innovation capabilities, strengthening basic research and striving to achieve major original breakthroughs, Fang said.

Compared with industrial powerhouses, main strengths of China’s manufacturing industry include products like construction machinery, home appliances and consumer electronics as well as the large-scale production of complex equipment in such sectors as communications, high-speed rail and nuclear power, said Yao Bo, a professor at Xi’an University of Finance and Economics. In the core component areas that require cutting-edge technological support, it is still at a relative disadvantage, Yao said.

Liu Zhirang, head of the Sixth Research Institute of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said that true intelligent manufacturing is not advanced automation. With data at the core, it applies data to every stage of the manufacturing process and generates value, facilitating personalization, customization, refined production and service. 

Editor: Li Yujie

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