March 06, 2014      
As Chinese plants lay off workers in the wake of rising labor costs,
producers of industrial robots have found their domain expanding.
?21st Century Business Review (Guangzhou)

Dilemma amid robot boom

90 percent of robots and their core parts are imported outside of China, a situation that China would like to see reversed. The Guangzhou government plans to build two or three robot industrial development zones, with the aim of producing 100,000 robot units a year by 2020.

Seeking to adjust to labor shortages, Guangzhou’s manufacturing industry turns to robots for help.

Enter the metal-collar workers

Yi Ming, deputy director of the Guangzhou commission of economy and trade, said China’s robot and intelligent technologies industry has now entered a period of explosive growth.

“The demand for robots has been increasing at an annual rate of more than 30 percent in Guangzhou,” Yi said.

In the early going of this ?period of explosive growth? in China?s robotics revolution, Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton, and 750 miles south of Shanghai), is quickly becoming the country?s second rising giant.

See related: Shanghai Express: China?s Robot Metropolis 2014-2020

Map of southern china

CHINA DAILY:? Yi Ming says the use of robots may become of greater significance in future, as more than 80 percent of manufacturing operations in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, will be using industrial robots and related “intelligent” technologies by 2020, according to official projections.

The city’s government has decided to expand investment in such technologies in the next few years, based on a report prepared by the Guangzhou commission of trade and economy.

The standing committee of the Guangzhou municipal government authorized the proposals given in the report on Monday, giving the go-ahead for further investment in the sector.

The production of such technologies, including intelligent systems and robots suited to manufacturing, is expected to grow to meet demand, reaching a projected value of more than $16.4B.

Pearl River-area labor shortages

“The demand for robots has been increasing at an annual rate of more than 30 percent in Guangzhou,” Yi said.

Industrial robots have been widely used in companies for assembly, welding, transportation and related processes in the Pearl River delta region, which borders the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions (120 miles west; Shenzhen, 65 miles west), Yi said.

However, he said, more than 90 percent of the robots and core parts have to be imported from outside the mainland, a situation that he would like to see reversed.

Key government-owned companies to lead

To meet the growing domestic demand, the city’s government plans to build two or three robot industrial development zones, with the aim of producing 100,000 robot units a year by 2020.

Meanwhile, it plans to set up one or two key companies with their own brands and proprietary intellectual property rights for the technologies. Officials estimate these companies will have an annual output value of more than $1.6B.

Yi said these key government-owned companies will be supported by an additional five or six companies that will be established in the following years to provide supplementary services for the robot industry.

“And the city government has encouraged local companies to expand their investment in robot research and development, to seek cooperation with foreign partners and to import advanced technologies and equipment to develop the robot industry,” said Yi. “They are offering support in terms of capital, preferential policies, taxation, land use rights and expertise.”

Tempering speculation

Yang Yongqiang, a professor at South China University of Technology, said the use of robots in manufacturing is an established trend.

“Using robots can help manufacturing companies upgrade their production processes, reduce manufacturing costs and ensure the quality of their products,” Yang said.

“But I don’t think 80 percent of the companies in the manufacturing industry in Guangzhou will be able to use robots by 2020,” he said. “The projection lacks any kind of scientific analysis or arguments.”

However, he says the use of robots may become of greater significance in future, as Guangzhou’s manufacturing industry seeks to adjust to labor shortages.