What Does Industry 4.0 Look Like in China?
Ian Wright posted on August 29, 2017 |
The Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area epitomizes Made in China 2025.
(Image courtesy of MD Ahasanul Habib.)
(Image courtesy of MD Ahasanul Habib.)

Although the term ‘Industrie 4.0’ originated with the German government, the idea of a fourth industrial revolution has resonated with manufacturers around the globe. There’s a tendency to associate cutting-edge manufacturing technology with the West, but countries around the globe have been doing their utmost to gain a competitive edge.

From ambitious upstarts like Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to industrial powerhouses like China and India, everyone wants a piece of the manufacturing pie.

So, what does Industry 4.0 look like outside of Europe and North America?

The Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area

China’s Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) is a prime example of the country’s Made in China 2025 strategy. Formed in 1984, the free market zone in Binhai is strategically located near both the Tianjin Binhai International Airport and the Tianjin Port.

(Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company.)
(Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company.)

According to the Administrative Committee for TEDA, the area has a GDP of $45 billion USD and a growth rate of over 10 percent. Moreover, its proximity to the Tianjin Port means that it stands to benefit considerably from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (formerly called One Belt, One Road), which will invest $900 billion to foster connectivity between China, the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the oceangoing Maritime Silk Road.

“One Belt, One Road will connect the ancient Silk Road trade route with southeast Asia and we are in the middle,” said Xu Datong, chairman of the Administrative Committee for TEDA. “We need to make sure we are ready.”


TEDA Intelligent Industrial Zone

In June, TEDA unveiled the Intelligent Industrial Zone, a 20-sq. km area intended to host companies developing new technologies, including artificial intelligence, intelligent finance and healthcare and smart logistics.

“We are embracing smart manufacturing with open arms. It will allow us to respond to the needs of increasingly demanding consumers both here and around the world and it represents the backbone of the next stage of China’s development,” said Mr. Xu.

Overall, there are roughly 60 TEDA-based companies that specialize in intelligent manufacturing, including industrial robot maker Baolai Industrial Robotic and Yiersu Easy-Robot, which provides automation integration services for industrial systems.

Inside the Master Kong noodle factory. (Image courtesy of Tingyi Holding.)
Inside the Master Kong noodle factory. (Image courtesy of Tingyi Holding.)
As an example of how old-school manufacturers can benefit from Industry 4.0, TEDA is home to the largest instant noodle factory in the world, owned by Master Kong. The entire factory is highly automated, from flour mixing to packaging and everything in between. According to the company, the factory has doubled production and tripled its per capita productivity as a result.

Collaboration in Industry 4.0

TEDA is already home to China’s National Supercomputing Center, which is developing its Tianhe-3 supercomputer, capable of a billion billion calculations per second. It will provide services to companies in oil exploration, high-end equipment manufacturing, medicine and animation.

The area is also the location for the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ automation institute, set up in 2015 as an incubator focused on smart recognition technology. The incubator has spawned several successful companies, including Deepfar, which has developed an autonomous submarine capable of diving up to 100m and which using image-recognition algorithms to track sonar beacons.

“This is exactly the kind of company we hoped to see emerge from the ecosystem we have created here,” said Mr. Xu.

(Image courtesy of TEDA.)
(Image courtesy of TEDA.)

Even U.S.-based companies are setting up shop in TEDA. In 2015, the Qualisys Benchmark Innovation Center was launched in a collaboration between American consultancy Munro and Associates and Shenzhen-based Qualisys. The center provides product analysis and re-engineering support to TEDA companies manufacturing parts for cars, aerial vehicles and high-speed trains.

It’s this inter-organizational cooperation that makes TEDA a prime example of the synergy underlying the Industry 4.0 philosophy. Local equipment manufacturers are provided with training, funding and access to shared labs, pilot production sites and 3D printing and 5-axis machining facilities.

“Intelligent manufacturing is our future,” said Mr. Xu. “I’m confident that TEDA can contribute to a smarter China and a smarter world.”

For more information, visit the TEDA website.

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