On June 9, 2014, in a speech to academicians of Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the President Xi Jinping stressed the robot industry. He said, “Our technology and manufacturing are facing the competition that China will become the largest robot market. We should not only improve robot technology, but also try to occupy the market as much as possible. We should consider the overall situation, play a close attention to plan and make practical progress, because lots of other new technologies are waiting us. This is the first time that China’s top leaders made a special speech on the robot field publicly, which has pointed out the development direction of China’s robot industry.
President Xi Jinping attaches great importance to the robotic development, because it is generally believed by international public opinion and people in the relevant industries that “Robot Revolution” is expected to become a starting point as well as a significant growth point for the “third industrial revolution”, which will have an impact on the global manufacturing pattern. The International Federation of Robot predicted that “Robot Revolution” will create a market of multibillion dollars. The research, development, manufacturing and application in robot industry is an important standard to measure a country’s level in scientific and technological innovation as well as in high-end manufacturing industry. Although, China’s total economic output ranks second in the world, the industrialization degree seriously lags behind its own international economic status. To take a very short period of time to fully realize industrialization which has taken hundreds of years in developed countries, China has to invest massively in high-tech industries and high-end manufacturing industries. Therefore, it can complete a “twist-channel overtaking process”. In May 2015, China’s State Council officially released a plan called “Made in China 2025”, which symbolizes China’s revolutionary investment and promotion in its manufacturing sectors. It also means that robot industry – the core of the modern manufacturing industry, will be surely made one of key development orientation of China’s manufacturing industry.
This is because that, on the one hand, the Chinese government is willing to give policy support; on the one hand, with the increase of its global demands, the national robot market has become the world’s largest potential one for robot consumers and the sales volume has set historical records for three consecutive years. The International Federation of Robot predicts that the annual growth rate of robots in China will be 26% from 2016 to 2017, twice as high as the global level. And by the end of 2018, there will be 610,000 robots being equipped in Chinese factories, accounting for a quarter of the global amount.
Facing the huge market, China’s domestic manufacturers are competing to make plans in robot industry. According to data from the Chinese robot industry alliance, China has built and was building more than 40 national industry parks. The latest data from Robotics Industry Research Center showed that the sales volume of industrial robots in China reached 77, 500 units in 2015, accounting for 35.9% in the total market and having been ranked the world’s largest industrial robot market for three consecutive years. This makes robotics industry popular and has attracted a growing number of capital influxes. Data from China’s domestic market survey showed that financing transactions related to robots in 2015 reached 83, almost twice as high as that in 2014 with 45 cases. And the investment increased to 115%.
However, China’s robot industry development encounters lots of problems with its expansion. Firstly, Chinese robot industries in the large domestic market only take a small market share. For example, in 2015, the total output value of the domestic robot market is 10.9 billion yuan, the foreign and domestic shares of which take 85% (RMB 9.25 billion) and 15% (RMB1.65 billion) respectively. It is obvious that for the domestic robot industry, it is weak in innovation and has a relatively small capacity, resulting in a poor competitiveness and becoming a bottleneck for the development. Secondly, there is a serious lack of core components and core technologies for the domestic robot industry. Internationally, China’s competitiveness is still to be improved. Among seven to eight hundred national robot companies, only about ten have core technology. But many of them stress on sales and performance, instead of basic research and development work, resulting in a remained gap between their overall development and that of Japanese, the United States and European companies. While China’s domestic robot companies are busy in competing for the pure market share and ignores the basic work, foreign robot manufacturers are making massive investments in China. ABB, KUKA, FANUC, Yaskawa and other international leading robotics enterprises are significantly accelerating to set up factories or expand their affiliated factories in China. They are entering Chinese market in succession to compete for thousands of, or even trillions of RMB in Chinese robot market. Facing the situation, few Chinese companies can really contend against them.
The Chinese government and the industry have a clearer awareness of this, because senior officials of the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that the robot industry in China is developing toward a mode of “promoting low-end products from high-end industries” and there is no need to worry about surplus investment. Indeed, China’s robot industry is ushering in a good development period when government is offering more policy supports. However, with the preliminary accomplishment of Chinese enterprises’ intelligent transformation, demand for robot will increase slowly, and industry ranks will be reshuffled. Lots of robot companies will be eliminated if they still make no breakthrough and innovation in key technologies and core parts.
Written by Yan Xue, LG CNS Blog’s Regular Contributor