China Market Insider Top manufacturing trends in China

From Henrik Bork

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“Smartly made in China” is making progress. Some regions have already become real hotspots. The long-term goal: to replace foreign high technology with domestic equipment.

China Market Insider is a new series by MM Maschinenmarkt
China Market Insider is a new series by MM Maschinenmarkt
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Smart manufacturing in China is developing rapidly and will help China’s manufacturing industry grow strongly again in the coming year. This is the conclusion of an overview of the latest trends in smart manufacturing in China, recently published by the trade medium Gongye Guancha.

In an international comparison, smart manufacturing in China still has some catching up to do, the market report says. At the same time, however, some leading centres of smart manufacturing are already emerging in China, which no longer need to fear comparison with developed industrial nations in certain specialist areas. These include above all the districts of Pudong in Shanghai, Wujiang in Suzhou and Longgang in Shenzhen, reports MM (China) with reference to the report.

There are regional specialisations. Shanghai is China’s leader in key components, robotics and aerospace equipment manufacturing. In Suzhou in Jiangsu province, so many companies have set up shop in the field of smart manufacturing that the city has added 1.14 trillion yuan (about 144 billion euros) to its total value added. Yuan (about 144 billion euros), the city already ranks 19th in the world in smart manufacturing, reports MM China, our Chinese sister brand of ETMM.

The eight-million-strong city of Nanjing on the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, on the other hand, specialises in the intelligent production of components for rail transport and the automotive industry. In Shenzhen and nearby Guangzhou, the focus is on the development of industrial robots and the intelligent production of electronics, especially wearable devices. Changzhou, in turn, has become a centre for cutting-edge industrial design.

Since the Chinese central government in Beijing first communicated the goal of developing China from the workbench of the world into a powerhouse in smart manufacturing in 2015 with its “Made in China” strategic plan, China has made great strides in this direction, according to the cited report and other analyses.

Across the country, 537 industrial parks have been established in the People’s Republic that specialise in smart manufacturing and promote the establishment of corresponding companies. In addition, there are 111 industrial parks with a focus on “big data”.

Certain disciplines in the smart manufacturing segment are developing particularly quickly in China. These include additive manufacturing (as we previously reported), which has shown an average growth rate of 49.1 % between 2013 and 2018, MM China reports. A large proportion of key components currently still have to be imported from abroad, MM puts these figures into perspective.

The rapid growth, even if it is still partly due to the small starting point of the calculations, is nevertheless impressive and signals an important trend: China is determined to develop itself in the latest smart manufacturing methods to the extent that technology imports in the field are reduced in the long term. All Chinese analyses and media reports on this topic talk about “substituting” foreign high technology in smart manufacturing with domestic Chinese equipment.

Since the beginning of the technology war between Washington and Beijing, at the centre of which is the Chinese tech company Huawei, the localisation of high technology in China has become a new national obsession. There is no longer a government report, no report in the media, that does not examine the topic of high-tech from a patriotic perspective of “catching up” and self-sufficiency. This also applies to smart manufacturing.

“China already has a foundation and the basic requirements for the development of smart manufacturing,” the trade medium Gongkong Wang summarises the status quo in a typical report. A large number of basic technologies, for example in the areas of robotics, sensor technology and complex manufacturing systems, for which one had previously been completely dependent on imports, have now been mastered in China itself, the analysis says. Great progress has also been made in digitalisation with domestic Chinese hardware and corresponding software solutions.

In the next five-year plan for 2021 to 2025, which has just been completed and is being released to the public bit by bit, China is once again placing great emphasis on accelerating the development of smart manufacturing, reports the business portal Zhongguo Jingjiwang. The nationwide upgrading and modernisation of China's manufacturing industry will continue systematically, it said. Investment in equipment for the manufacturing industry is therefore likely to grow again by more than 10 % in the coming year, the business medium predicts.

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Henrik Bork is Managing Director at Asia Waypoint, a Beijing-based consulting agency specialising in China. He was China correspondent for major German daily newspapers for many years. "China Market Insider" is a joint project of Vogel Communications Group, Würzburg, and Jigong Vogel Media Advertising in Beijing.