Manufacturing revolution

By Huang Ge in Qingdao Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/28 19:23:40

Chinese manufacturers commit to ‘Made in China 2025’ plan by transforming, upgrading industry with smart technology


The new smart production line in Doublestar's industrial 4.0 intelligent plant in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province Photo: Courtesy of Doublestar Group



In 2016, Qingdao-based tire manufacturer Doublestar Group created the first industrial 4.0 intelligent plant in the world, a breakthrough which came several years after the company began suffering from sluggish profits. The company is one of the many examples of old and traditional Chinese manufacturers that have sought to transform themselves through upgrading and adopting intelligent technologies. The local government of the West Coast New Area has also been committed to bringing in advanced technology from foreign countries like Germany, exemplifying its strong commitments to the "Made in China 2025" plan, which aims to upgrade the manufacturing industry.



At a tire factory in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province, automatic machines build tires in a rhythmic fashion on the production line.

The factory's clean floor, bright workshop and smart production line are characteristics that separate it from the traditional, dark and dirty tire plants that came before it.

Doublestar Group, a 95-year-old State-owned enterprise based in the Qingdao West Coast New Area, started the construction of its new intelligence plant in March 2014, marking the start of a new journey it calls "embracing second chances".

"The old production line required more than 1,000 employees," an employee of Doublestar, who prefers to remain anonymous, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

 "Now, productivity has largely been improved as the new smart production line only needs 256 people [for operation]," she said.

A novel start

Doublestar transformed into a tire manufacturer from a shoemaker after it acquired Qingdao Huaqing Tire Co in 2002.

But after several years of development, many problems emerged within Doublestar's old-style production mode, which required high levels of manpower yet generated low productivity, said Li Yong, vice general manager of Doublestar.

In the years before its transformation, ''Doublestar had been largely lagging behind the average level of net profit within the domestic tire sector, product quality, energy-saving ability and reputation due to its outdated workshop, equipment and techniques," Li told the Global Times on Thursday.

"We noticed that the company's ways of thinking were old fashioned and that employees were conservative, like other old State-owned enterprises. This meant that words like informatization and intelligence were strange to them," Li said.  

As it soon began to realize its growth potential, the firm subsequently initiated its transformation by firstly exploring concepts of "openness" and ''innovation''. Through this process, Doublestar began stepping up efforts in learning about advanced technology and experiences from prominent global counterpart companies, according to Li.

The company tried to nurture employees' Internet genes and to create an industrial 4.0 intelligent plant.

Transformation and upgrading is a difficult process, Li said, noting that this is particularly due to the fact that no company within the global tire industry prior to Doublestar had sought an industry 4.0 transformation pathway.

It took Doublestar, now a pioneer, 20 months to coordinate experts, acquire partner resources across the world and complete design plans, steps which were then followed by hundreds of improvement rounds. Accordingly, the actual construction process of the new plant took one year.

Under pressure, Doublestar then shifted its equipment from old to new kinetic energy, which, as a result, saw 60 percent of outdated capacity and products become replaced.

But advantages soon emerged, with the company's manual efficiency enhancing by nearly 200 percent and the product defect rate decreasing by more than 80 percent.

Smart cooperation

China highlighted the integration of information technology with industrialization during the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held in 2012.

In May 2015, the State Council, China's cabinet, introduced a 10-year national plan, known as "Made in China 2025," to transform China into the world's manufacturing giant.

Under the "Made in China 2025" plan, the local government of the new area in Qingdao is ramping up efforts to accelerate the renovation of local manufacturing industries, including automotive, electronics and mechanical equipment, in a move toward new kinetic energy from the old type, Xie Longmu, director of the Industry and Information Technology Bureau of Qingdao West Coast New Area, told the Global Times on Thursday.

The establishment of the Qingdao West Coast New Area, the ninth State-level economic development zone in China, was approved by the State Council in 2014.

In recent years, local companies have seized opportunities under the "Made in China 2025" plan in order to promote intelligence transformations. And Doublestar is a typical example, Xie said.

The "Made in China 2025" plan draws inspiration from Germany's "Industry 4.0" program, which was adopted in 2013. "Industry 4.0" focuses on intelligent manufacturing, applying tools of information technology to production lines.

China and Germany signed an agreement in 2010, a commitment to collaborate on the building of the Sino-German Ecopark in the West Coast New Area. The construction of the ecopark started in July 2013.

"Over the past three years, the ecopark has attracted several famous German enterprises, such as Siemens AG and Continental AG, and we have signed cooperation agreements with 16 German 'hidden champion' firms," Zong Bo, office director for the ecopark's management committee, told the Global Times.

The 'hidden champions' - dark horses - referred to by Zong are relatively small and unknown, but have become market leaders within their respective industries.

"We try to bring in German technology to aid the transformation and upgrading of local industries and to also push the integration of Germany's 'Industry 4.0' with 'Made in China 2025' here [in Qindgao]," Zong said.

Rising power

Innovation abilities, product competitiveness and an efficient system are key to the success of an enterprise that wishes to undergo intelligent manufacturing transformation and upgrading, Dai Huizhong, general manager of Hisense Electric Co, told the Global Times Thursday.

As a leading domestic smart TV manufacturer, Qingdao-based Hisense Electric started its transformation in 2011 through efforts like establishing a big data platform, introducing robots onto production lines and setting up a smart logistics system.

 "Hisense is also facing many challenges during its exploration," Dai said, noting that, despite rapid development in intelligent manufacturing, the industry has nonetheless failed to create comprehensive and unified sector standards.

Companies may indeed encounter technical complications when seeking cross-system and cross-platform integration, Dai said. However, ''if industrial standards were made in the early stages of smart manufacturing development, the right approach would have helped save time and lead to better results,'' he noted.

Construction of intelligent manufacturing is widely perceived as a complicated craft that involves many stages such as research, production, storage, delivery, marketing and after-sales services.

"Therefore, manufacturers are first of all expected to design a high-quality plan and then launch a long-term business deployment plan," Dai said.

For now, it seems that the future is bright for Chinese manufacturing companies.

More and more firms, just like Doublestar and Hisense, will be supported to deploy kinetic energy as China continues to demonstrate its commitment to becoming the world's manufacturing power.



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