Pioneering digital technology company ABB has unveiled plans to build the world’s most advanced, automated and flexible robotics factory in Shanghai, China.
The US$150 million facility will be a cutting-edge centre where robots make robots.
The highly sophisticated and environmentally sustainable factory of the future is expected to begin operating by the end of 2020.
Located at Kangqiao manufacturing centre, near ABB’s expansive China robotics campus, the factory will combine the company’s connected digital technologies, including ABB Ability™ solutions, state-of-the-art collaborative robotics and innovative artificial intelligence research.
The announcement marks a significant milestone for ABB as China’s Number 1 robotics manufacturer as well as a critical global growth investment for the company in the world’s largest robotics market.
Last year, one of every three robots sold in the world went to China, which purchased nearly 138,000 units.
ABB now employs about 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 has invested more than US$2.4 billion in China since 1992, with over 18,000 employees in total.
Comprehensive agreement signed
Last week, ABB and the Shanghai municipal government 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.
“China’s commitment to transform its manufacturing is a torchlight for the rest of the world,” said Spiesshofer. “Its 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.”
Spiesshofer said ABB is looking forward to working with Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, other community leaders and its customers as it expands its substantial presence in China.
The new Shanghai factory will feature a number of machine learning, digital and collaborative solutions to make it the most advanced, automated and flexible factory in the robotics industry. An onsite R&D centre will help accelerate innovations in artificial intelligence.
Using a new, global design approach that ABB announced earlier this year, the factory will be able to dramatically increase both the breadth (type of robots) and depth (variants of each type) of robots that can be made onsite, allowing greater and faster customisation to meet the needs of customers.
The entire Shanghai factory will be modelled 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 world’s best platforms, such as the Microsoft Azure enterprise cloud, which is the first international public cloud service operated in China.
The new factory will have an innovative, 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.
Per Vegard Nerseth, Managing Director of ABB’s Robotics business, said: “There’s a large shift away from looking at factory size and CAPEX investments as the way to meet future demand. The concept behind our new factory is to make the smartest and most flexible use of every meter of production. That comes from combining agile automation solutions with the great capabilities of our people.”
People and robots working safely in close proximity
To aid the move to mass customisation in manufacturing and to ensure the highest levels of productivity and flexibility, the new Shanghai factory will make extensive use of ABB’s SafeMove2 software, which allows people and robots to work safely in close proximity.
Also, ABB’s YuMi robots will allow close collaboration on many of the small parts assembly tasks needed to manufacture an ABB robot.
ABB was 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.
Through close customer collaboration, ABB has helped introduce many “firsts” to local manufacturing including:
China’s first automotive press
Welding and painting lines
The first assembly line for mobile phones
The first automated press line for white goods
Major milestone for ABB
Dr Chunyuan Gu, Chairman of ABB China and President, AMEA region said: “2018 marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up policy.
“We now have a fully localised value chain, supported by China’s remarkable economic and social development. As the market leader in China’s robotics industry, we are glad to build on this success and continue our investment momentum.”
The new Shanghai factory – with a comprehensive R&D centre onsite – will become a key part of ABB’s global robotics supply system.
The new facility will complement the company’s recently upgraded factory in Västerås, Sweden and its factory in Auburn Hills, Michigan, where ABB remains the only global robot supplier with a US manufacturing footprint.
ABB operates in more than 100 countries and boasts some 147,000 employees. www.abb.com