Machinery sector ups high-end transformation
Segment eyes smart manufacturing, targets H1 sales revenue of $1.9 trillion
China's machinery industry, which is already taking a leading position globally, is marching into a high-end era.
The China Machinery Industry Federation said that in the first half, sales revenue for the section reached 12.95 trillion yuan ($1.87 trillion), up 5.44 percent year-on-year. Sales revenue and total profits of strategic emerging subcategories took 79.3 percent and 76.64 percent of the entire machinery industry, respectively, growing 3.38 percent and 2.67 percent.
During this year's World Robot Conference held in Beijing in August, China's machinery manufacturers demonstrated their latest, cutting-edge achievements.
At Sany Group's booth, a robot that can write calligraphy followed the operator's gestures to a tee. The robot's bulky "body" was in stark contrast to its refined handwriting abilities, which were all made possible thanks to the company's self-developed spatial 3D sensing and 5G zero-latency transmission technology.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the booth, Sany's assembly robot showed onlookers how a robot's "hands and eyes" act simultaneously. Through an advanced autonomous vision system, it can accurately judge the position information of items and quickly grasp, position, install and fasten parts efficiently without taking coffee breaks.
Also, during the 2022 WRC, the machinery company launched its Bright-eye teaching-free robot welding technique. Through ultrahigh-precision 3D vision and laser perception systems, together with Sany's unique expert welding process database and offline programming technology, it solves problems such as low automation rates, low welding rates and poor production line flexibility.
Amid its latest efforts in smart manufacturing, Sany has spent more than 10 billion yuan on the "lighthouse factory" transformation. The lighthouse factory list was jointly issued by the World Economic Forum and global market research firm McKinsey & Co. It was intended to select factories leading the way in the adoption and integration of frontier technologies around the world.
In the tower crane lighthouse factory in Ningxiang, Hunan province, 70 percent of production procedures are completed by robots. Through the internet of things and big data-enabled platforms, Sany has realized online monitoring of production status and product quality. Every 11 minutes, a high-end standard knot is produced. The production efficiency is 400 percent higher than that of traditional factories.
Yu Hongfu, board director of Sany Group, and also chairman of Sany Heavy Industry Co Ltd, said, "We will continue to make efforts in advanced technical research, increase software investment and constantly increase the strength and performance of equipment through technical innovation and industrial upgrades."
Likewise, Chinese construction machinery manufacturer XCMG Construction Machinery Co Ltd has realized a series of breakthroughs in mastering core techniques of high-end machinery products this year. Its cutting-edge products include the world's largest mining truck that rolled off the production line in March, the world's largest tower crane that debuted in June, and the world's largest telescopic boom wind power crane that was exported to Europe in July.
Sticking to independent innovation, XCMG set aside at least 5 percent of its annual revenue for research and development. In 2021, the group spent 4.45 billion yuan on R&D, soaring 18.67 percent year-on-year, according to Liu Jiansen, vice-president of XCMG Construction Machinery and general manager of XCMG Import and Export Co.
After years of efforts made by Chinese enterprises by the likes of XCMG, the global engineering machinery market formerly dominated by enterprises from the European Union, the United States and Japan is opening the door for Chinese players. The key to such a situation is competitiveness, Liu said.
Currently, XCMG owns 2,200 invention patents and more than 500 key core technologies, with more than 30 percent achieving advanced international levels.
A report from Dongguan Securities showed that currently, China's machinery industry is shifting toward intellectualization, digitalization and automation. Machinery enterprises, including Sany, XCMG, Liugong Machinery Co Ltd and Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co Ltd, are taking certain market shares worldwide.
In the excavator sector, US-based Caterpillar was the world leader. In 2020, Sany Heavy Industry overtook Caterpillar and became the top excavator seller in the world, while Liugong Machinery ranked ninth in terms of sales. In the crane sector, in 2020, with German enterprise Liebherr topping the list of crane sellers worldwide, Zoomlion and XCMG ranked third and fourth, respectively.
"Sany, XCMG, Liugong and Zoomlion have already formed a certain reputation in the world, and in the domestic market, they are known as the 'big four'. With technological advances, their global industry position is expected to further improve," said the report.
Chen Jia, an independent researcher in international strategy, said: "In the past few years, the level of China's manufacturing industrial chain experienced a leap forward in development. This was the result of the systematic improvement of China's comprehensive national strength and the qualitative leap in innovation capability."
Meanwhile, experts said the government's favorable policies also promoted the development of China's high-end intelligent manufacturing.
The Hunan Provincial Science and Technology Department said that during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-20), the province's total R&D investment doubled. In terms of intelligent manufacturing, Hunan now has established 60 provincial-level demonstration enterprises, 100 demonstration workshops, 16 pilot projects and 27 application projects. A batch of intelligent manufacturing prototype projects has been created, continuously improving the supply capacity and promoting the comprehensive upgrading of the manufacturing sector in the region.
"Currently, sales revenue of the sector in Hunan exceeded one-quarter of the national level, and the total added value of high-tech industries in the province has reached 1 trillion yuan," said Li Zhijian, Party secretary of Hunan Provincial Science and Technology Department.
In 2021, the Hunan provincial government issued a draft on the guideline of technological innovation in manufacturing during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), mainly focusing on making key technological breakthroughs, refining the technological innovation system, enhancing enterprises' capacity for independent innovation and consolidating technological foundation.
According to the draft, by 2025, it will establish 50 provincially renowned intelligent manufacturing benchmark enterprises, 200 benchmark workshops and 20 pilot zones.
Xuzhou in Jiangsu province, known for its engineering machinery, is also promoting the industry to a world-class level. The engineering machinery cluster in Xuzhou was among the first batch of national advanced manufacturing clusters. For years, the government has been striving to build the cluster into one with a complete industrial chain.
In 2021, the output value of the machinery industry for enterprises whose annual business income hits 20 million yuan each in Xuzhou took up 30 percent of the city's total industrial output value in the same category. In the first half, the former reached 77.5 billion yuan.
Qi Haishen, president of The Solar Tech Co Ltd, said: "China's manufacturing industry is marching into a high-quality development stage. Chinese enterprises are demonstrating not only high-quality products, but also high-quality management skills, realizing the transformation from 'made in China' to 'intelligent manufacturing in China'."
He added that: "There is no technical shortcut in the machinery industry. Only through constant efforts can enterprises lead the future trend of manufacturing."
Chinese engineering machinery enterprises are seen seizing domestic development opportunities, enhancing technological innovation capabilities and manufacturing more high-end machinery products with independent core technologies.
"We are stepping up efforts to explore international high-end machinery markets by raising internationalization levels and increasing market share," said Wang Min, chairman of XCMG Construction Machinery.
Zhu Xuehan contributed to this story.