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Plastics Today, September 2015

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AsiA-PAcific OutlOOk 24 GlObAl PlAstics RePORt 2015 PlAsticstOdAy.cOm just $4.8 million to purchase 100 robots (including other associated costs) that will continue operating for 10 years. Perhaps the most ambitious automa- tion project in China was announced by electronics manufacturer Foxconn in 2011. Back then, founder Terry Guo predicted that by 2014 Foxconn would have installed one million robots at its plants in China. The company fell well short of that goal. As of 2014, just over 10,000 robots had been installed on Fox- conn assembly lines, and the company's plants were 40% to 70% automated. A report by the Industrial Relations Net- work, part of the ILO, quoted a Foxconn engineer as saying "most Apple products are still assembled by people because mechanical devices can scratch the prod- ucts' alloy cases, but fingers do not." Another contract manufacturer was more successful in its automation efforts. Ever Win International, which is located at the manufacturing hub of Dongguan, installed 1,000 robots this year, joining 100 units that were already operating on its assembly lines, according to Chinese government mouthpiece, Global Times. Chen Qixing, Chairman of the com- pany, was quoted as saying, "A robotic production line does not mean there is no human labor at all, but it will reduce the number of workers by about 90%," he added. Companies such as Ever Win Inter- national, Gree and Midea are receiving support from the Guangdong provincial government in their efforts to automate. The local authority's action plan will see around $152 billion invested in automa- tion to promote application of robots in 1,950 companies in industries such as automotive, home appliances and elec- tronics. The province also plans to build two advanced industrial bases for robot production by the end of 2017. Preferential policies and subsidies that are part of the scheme will continue until the end of 2016, but even before they were offered, companies saw the need to automate. According to the municipal government in the city of Shenzhen, pro- ductivity in 2014 rose 17%, while 6.8% of the labor force was shed. Foreign robots Multinational suppliers dominate the industrial robot sector in China despite the efforts of local players such as Gree and Rapoo. In fact four companies— ABB, Kuka, Yaskawa Electric and Fanuc—command a 58% share of the China market, according to Chinese consultancy Mir Industry. Kuka and the two Japanese robot manufacturers already operate produc- tion plants in China. "China is by far the biggest robot market in the world in terms of annual sales; it is also the fast- est growing market worldwide," notes a spokesperson from Kuka. "According to the International Federation of Robotics, the robot market is currently growing at an average annual rate between 10 and 15%. This is why it is important to manufacture locally in Asia and why we built our new production facility in Shanghai last year," the company adds. At present, the Shanghai facility manu- factures the KR Quantec and the KR C4 universal controller. "However, we also study local market and customer require- ments in order to be able to respond, if necessary," adds the spokesperson. One newcomer to the robotics sec- tor attracting attention is machine tool maker GSK CNC Equipment, China's largest manufacturer and designer of computerized numerical control (CNC) systems. The company also manufac- tures servomotors and drives, as well as all-electric injection molding machines. With its in-house capabilities in the motion control field, GSK says it is well placed to penetrate the industrial robot market, because it will not have to rely on costly overseas components. Several hundred units were reportedly shipped last year, with a target of more than double that in 2015. Longer term, GSK has aspirations of becoming a giant in the robotics field, with production in 2020 targeting 30,000 units. The com- pany's target price, meanwhile, is 30% lower than imported robots, although it concedes that its technology may be less mature. Chinese workers co-existing with robots will become an increasingly common sight in southern China. China: the world's largest market for industrial robots The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) reported that China last year surpassed Japan to become the world's largest market for industrial robots. Some 182,300 industrial robots were operating in China at the end of 2014, with around 49,500 installed in 2014 alone. The IFR estimates that China's industrial robot population will rise to 427,900 in 2017, compared with 291,900 in North America and 287,000 in Japan. Even then, China will only account for 22% of the world's stock of robots, indicating that there is more longer term growth potential in China as its workforce shrinks and labor costs rise further.

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