Manufacturing News

Ningbo taps 'smart' manufacturing

Ningbo, a port city in East China's Zhejiang province, has been harnessing opportunities from advanced technologies and globalization to transform and upgrade its traditional sectors, bolstering the city's high-quality development.

The city on China's eastern coast, which is one of the economic hubs in the Yangtze River Delta, recently rolled out a plan to double its current foreign trade volume by 2025, allowing both its imports and exports to each hit 1 trillion yuan ($142.1 billion).

Ningbo has a solid foundation in traditional manufacturing industries such as textiles, chemical engineering, auto parts, rubber and plastic goods. Those industries have been a major engine for its economic growth for years. The city is one of the province's economic powerhouses.

In the first nine months of 2019, the value-added of enterprises above their designated size, which means an enterprise with annual revenue of more than $2.85 million, from Ningbo's nine traditional manufacturing industries witnessed a year-on-year growth of 8.5 percent. The research and development expenditure of those enterprises increased by 14.7 percent.

Since Zhejiang mapped out a plan to accelerate the transformation and upgrading of its traditional manufacturing sector in 2017, Ningbo has been seeking ways to achieve intelligent transformation, innovative development and the further opening-up of traditional industries.

Targeting industries with a competitive edge nationwide, the city put the intelligent transformation of traditional manufacturing as its first priority with the aim of improving manufacturers' core competitiveness and their ability for sustainable development.

Youngor Group Co Ltd, China's leading clothing manufacturer based in Ningbo, launched an intelligent factory in July last year. Making a cashmere sweater used to take a whole week, but at its 10,000-square-meter new factory, the process has been shortened to eight hours through a highly-automated system.

"We are attracting more customers, both in the online and offline sectors, through using big data, which is a key factor in guiding our manufacturing," said Youngor board secretary Liu Xinyu.

Through its intelligent ordering and purchasing platform the company launched prior to the "Singles Day" shopping festival this year, buyers can order clothes online and get them delivered if they failed to find the right size in the store.

"To transform the traditional production system with standardized, automated and digitalized technologies is a new mode of intelligent manufacturing," said Li Rucheng, the clothing group's chairman.

Ningbo Fotile Kitchenware Co Ltd, a manufacturer of high-end home appliances and integrated kitchen ware, has widely adopted automated machines in its production lines for higher efficiency. Thanks to a smart system Fotile developed, workers are able to access the real-time data of production at any time.

Official statistics showed in the past two years, over 7,000 Ningbo enterprises have introduced smart manufacturing and enhanced R&D in their production lines, accounting for 94.4 percent of the total.

In Ningbo, the building of innovation strengths has reached a strategic height in the city's development strategy.

At this time, Ningbo has established 60 research institutes for advanced industries and technologies such as artificial intelligence and smart manufacturing. Innovation centers have been stationed in the city focusing on cutting-edge products such as graphene and magnetic materials.

An official from the Ningbo Municipal Science and Technology Bureau said the local government has been ramping up efforts to deepen cooperation with the academic world to attract professionals and projects for the purpose of increasing the city's innovation capacity.

In collaboration with a research institute of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, Ningbo Cixing Group Co Ltd, a global supplier of intelligent knitting machinery, created China's first 3D sewing robotic arm that can quickly scan pieces of cloth with a laser scanner, sew them together based on programmed patterns, and cut the threads.

The production efficiency is expected to rise around 50 percent thanks to the new invention, said Wu Huansen, a project manager at the company. Li Lijun, deputy general manager of Cixing, said seeking innovation is an effective way for traditional manufacturing to get rid of development difficulties.

Cixing, recognized by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology for intelligent manufacturing, possesses over 1,300 patents and mastered a large group of core technologies in the field of textiles.

"Industrial transformation and upgrading will play a vital role in boosting Ningbo's exporting sector," said Pan Xiaofeng, an official with the Ningbo Municipal Bureau of Commerce.

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