ABB, the Switzerland-based technology company, announced a $150 million (Rs 1,100 crore) investment in Shanghai, China recently to build what it claims to be the world’s most advanced, automated and flexible robotics factory. It is expected to begin operation by the end of 2020.
The new Kangqiao manufacturing centre in China, near ABB’s China robotics campus, will combine the company’s connected digital technologies, including 'ABB Ability' solutions, collaborative robotics and artificial intelligence research to create what is said to be the most sophisticated and environmentally sustainable “factory of the future.”
Robot builds robot
This is considered as a critical global growth investment for ABB in the world’s largest robotics market. The new Shanghai factory will feature a number of machine learning, digital and collaborative solutions. It will have an onsite R&D centre which will help accelerate innovations in artificial intelligence. The company’s new global design approach is developed to increase both the breadth (type of robots) and depth (variants of each type) of robots that can be made onsite.
The entire Shanghai factory will be modeled as a digital twin, which will provide intuitively tailored dashboards for management, engineers, operators and maintenance experts to make the best decisions. This includes gathering and analysing intelligence through ABB Ability Connected Services on the health and performance of ABB robots in the factory to ensure early identification of potential anomalies. In addition to avoiding costly downtime, ABB Ability offers advanced digital solutions that can improve performance, reliability and energy usage, as well as providing access to the one of the best platforms, such as the Microsoft Azure enterprise cloud, which is said to be the first international public cloud service operated in China.
The company says that the new factory will have a flexible floorplan based on interlinked islands of automation rather than fixed assembly lines. ABB logistics automation solutions will be used throughout the plant, including automatic guided vehicles that can autonomously follow robots as they move through production, supplying them with parts from localized stations. This will allow production to adapt and scale efficiently to changes in China’s robot market without additional capacity expansions.
The company has clarified that it will incorporate ABB’s SafeMove2 software to enable a safe coordination between humans and robots to work in close proximity. Additionally, ABB YuMi robots will allow close collaboration on many of the small parts assembly tasks needed to manufacture an ABB robot.
Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s Robotics and Motion division said, “The concept behind this factory is the same advice we give our customers every day: invest in automation solutions that provide flexibility and agility to grow in whichever direction the market goes.”
According to ABB, in 2017, one of every three robots sold in the world went to China, which purchased nearly 138,000 units. Today, ABB reportedly employs approximately 5,000 people in Shanghai, and the company’s robotics businesses in China employ more than 2,000 engineers, technology experts and operational leaders in 20 locations across the country. ABB confirms to have invested more than $2.4 billion (Rs 17,598 crore) in China since 1992, with over 18,000 employees in total.
ABB and the Shanghai municipal government also signed a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement focused on supporting industry, energy, transport and infrastructure in the region, and to support the 'Made in Shanghai' manufacturing initiative. The agreement was signed by Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong and ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer.
Speaking on the new factory in China, Spiesshofer said, “China’s strategic embrace of the latest technologies for artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and cloud-based computing present a playbook for every country that wishes to have a globally competitive manufacturing base. Shanghai has become a vital centre for advanced technology leadership – for ABB and the world. We look forward to working with Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, other community leaders and our customers as we launch this major expansion of ABB’s substantial presence in China, building on our journey to become China’s leading Robotics manufacturer that started in Shanghai over two decades ago.”
ABB is said to be an early entrant in the China robotics market and the first global robot supplier in the country to have a complete local value chain, including R&D, manufacturing, system integration and service. It is also claimed to have introduced many ‘firsts’ to local manufacturing including China’s first automotive press, welding and painting lines; the first assembly line for mobile phones; and the first automated press line for white goods.
The Swedish technology company is said to be the only global robot supplier with a US manufacturing footprint, specifically at Auburn Hills, Michigan. They also have a manufacturing unit in Vasteras, Sweden.