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German suppliers profit from automation

| Author: Stéphane Itasse

The innovations and demonstrations-centre at the Global Advanced Manufacturing Institute (Gami) in Suzhou serves as a platform for projects of German and Chinese researchers.
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The innovations and demonstrations-centre at the Global Advanced Manufacturing Institute (Gami) in Suzhou serves as a platform for projects of German and Chinese researchers. (Bild: KIT)

China – Masses of cheap labour, these days, are long gone in China. Not only German companies benefit from the trend towards automation, but also research institutes are taking part in this development.

Günter Krenz, head of assembly technology at Bosch Rexroth, China, is right at the forefront of Industry 4.0. “With “Factory of the Future”, Chinese companies are pursuing exactly the same overall approach as the Germans. They want to be a benchmark with their factories in China,” he said at the fall meeting of the WBK Institute for Production Engineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Beijing's policy supports this development with the "Made in China 2025" programme. Krenz warned about underestimating China's ambitions: "This isn't just a vision, it's tough." Bosch Rexroth's sales figures also underscore the trend: According to the head of assembly technology, products such as the Active Mover are also in great demand in the People's Republic, exactly where he expects further growth. China is a market that is more willing to try something out - we, on the other hand, are conservative," Krenz said.

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Bosch Rexroth presents Industry 4.0 possibilities in China

Krenz used the example of Bosch Rexroth's own factory to show what can be achieved in China with Industry 4.0. Thanks to the networking of machine tools and the evaluation of the data, it was possible in 2016 to increase plant availability (OEE) by 5% and achieve savings of 1.6 million Chinese yuan (around 200,000 euros). “However, this can only be done if the overall approach is understood,” Krenz continued.

Not only companies, but also research institutes are taking part in the trend towards automation in China - KIT even twice. The first is the Global Advanced Manufacturing Institute (Gami) in Suzhou, which is also the KIT's official representative in China. The second institution is the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center (AMTC) at Tongji University in Shanghai. “At Gami, we are trying to transfer research results to the industry. This is done through consultation and training,” said Tobias Arndt, General Manager of Gami, at the conference. Since 2015, the institute has also housed a demonstration and innovation centre for this purpose. In the continuing education courses held there, employees and managers of companies learn how to cope better with the challenges of Industry 4.0 and “Made in China 2025”. Krenz sees such projects as a great opportunity. "This will enable us to introduce Chinese companies to subjects such as lean production," he said.

An intelligent assembly line for hydraulic valves has been set up in the centre, which is equipped with technology from Bosch and Bosch Rexroth, among others. The system provides various industrial 4.0 applications: it can produce around 90 different valve versions without changing tools thanks to a wireless, intelligent system.

Platform for projects for German and Chinese researchers

According to KIT, the demonstration and innovation centre not only offers companies the opportunity to test settings at the plant and apply the knowledge acquired in training in practice, it also serves as a platform for joint projects for German and Chinese researchers.

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The AMTC is not only focused on practical training, but on research as well. The institution, which was founded in 2013, is supported by the Chinese-German College of Higher Education, the WBK Institute and the College of Mechanical Engineering at Tongji University. The AMTC conducts contract research and development for manufacturing companies in China as well as basic research in the field of automated manufacturing. Christopher Ehrmann, who is in charge of industrial projects and laboratories at the institute, sees the AMTC as well established in China. He reported at the conference: "In 2017, we succeeded in getting through a major state project as a beacon project." This year, the German-Chinese factory automation platform I4TP will be launched there. But Ehrmann also sees training tasks for his institute. "Practical training is important to us. University education in China is very theoretical," he explained.

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