ABB has started construction of its new US$150 million robotics manufacturing and research facility in China, the world’s largest robotics market.
The new 67,000 sqm factory at Kangqiao, near Shanghai is expected to open next year.
It will be the most advanced, automated and flexible factory in the robotics industry worldwide – a centre where robots make robots.
The facility features the latest manufacturing processes, including machine learning, digital and collaborative solutions.
It will also host an onsite research and development centre, which will help accelerate innovations in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The centre will serve as an open innovation hub where ABB closely collaborates with its customers to co-develop automation solutions that are tailored to their individual needs.
China is the world’s largest robotics market. One of three robots sold globally in 2017 went to China.
Global robot sales will grow from US$80 billion to $130 billion by 2025, ABB predicts.
Support from local government
ABB services a broad industry customer base in Asia. This includes car manufacturers, particularly electric vehicles (EV), electronics, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, logistics automation and general industries.
“The establishment of the new factory is another milestone in ABB’s development in China and will further strengthen our leadership in the world’s largest robotics market,” said Peter Voser, Chairman and CEO of ABB.
“Since the project announcement last October, we have been provided with tremendous support from the local government. It has been listed among the Top 10 projects of the ‘Manufacturing in Shanghai’ initiative in 2019 – a great honour for ABB.”
Local Chinese dignitaries, ABB senior executives and customers took part in a special groundbreaking event on the site last week.
Digital Factory of the Future
Production in the highly automated factory will be based on cells of automation rather than on a fixed assembly line.
This will allow robots to move from station to station for greater customisation and more flexibility than in traditional, linear production systems.
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) will deliver parts to the production robots.
And the latest collaborative technologies will ensure humans and robots work safely side by side.
The cobots will deliver greater flexibility and agility to production processes and combining the advantages of robots with the unique capabilities of people.
The factory will be a complete digital manufacturing ecosystem.
It will employ a “digital twin” giving everyone from managers and engineers to operators and maintenance teams data insights and machine learning capabilities to improve performance and maximise productivity, says ABB.
ABB will use a machine learning-based system to inspect robots as they are being assembled, to ensure the highest quality standards.
Strong demand for automation solutions in the region
“As the market leader in industrial robotics in China, we are proud to support the Chinese industry in strengthening its manufacturing sector,” said Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business.
“Despite short-term market challenges, China’s development as a global manufacturing hub, the ongoing trend towards mass customisation and a rising shortage in skilled labour will continue to create strong and lasting demand for automation solutions in the region.”
Mr Atiya says in coming years the “breadth and depth” of the company’s portfolio is expected to nearly double.
“This means we need a factory that can produce a greater variety of robots and efficiently scale volumes to adapt to changing market conditions and technological trends,” he said.
Second largest market
ABB Robotics has three factories worldwide, including the new factory in Shanghai, which replaces an existing facility to support its customers in Asia.
A factory in Västerås, Sweden, services Europe and the Auburn Hills factory in Michigan, US, supports the Americas.
ABB has a full range of business activities in China – its second largest market – including R&D, manufacturing, sales and services.
About 20,000 employees are located in 131 cities at 44 local companies.
In China, the company’s robotics business employs more than 2,000 engineers, technology experts and operational leaders in 20 locations across the country.
ABB has invested more than US$2.4 billion in China since 1992.