Shenyang company offers world's first smart machine tool

Updated: 2016-04-13 09:16

By Liu Ce in Shenyang and Siva Sankar in Beijing(China Daily)

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Shenyang Machine Tool Co Ltd, China's leading manufacturer of numerical controlled machine tools and machinery equipment, has launched i5M8, the world's first integrated smart machine toolmaker.

The Monday launch at the ninth China CNC Machine Tool Fair in Shanghai is a new product of the i5 series, which has won two deals worth 1 billion yuan ($154 million) from Shenzhen-based firms.

The two firms plan to use the machine tool to produce phone shells and peripheral components for famous brands such as Xiaomi and Huawei.

Ma Shaoyan, sales manager of Shenyang Machine Tool, said more than 100 companies expressed interest in the sophisticated machine tool. "What's more, 38 of them have expressed their intent to buy the machine."

The toolmaker is expected to be used primarily in aerospace, automotive, consumer electronics and other industries that require high-precision parts like valves and pumps.

Toolmakers such as i5M8 are expected to find wide applications in the consumer electronics industry. So far, Japanese companies such as Fanuc dominated the segment of toolmakers.

The M8 series is the result of much research and development, according to Shenyang Machine Tool. It is capable of intelligent programming, graphic diagnosis and simulation, and online analysis.

It is also versatile. It can custom-produce a variety of machine tools to exacting specifications, to meet the needs of different companies.

For example, it can make gadget parts with a machining precision of 0.003 mm, equivalent to 1/25th of a human hair's width.

I5M8 can not only produce eight different models of a tool but make them in three-, four- or five-axis format, said Guan Xiyou, president of the company. "It's unique feature is multi-usage, it's like a wild card."

This could mean companies that hitherto needed eight to 10 such toolmakers, could now do with just two to three units of i5M8, saving on costs, labor and factory floor space.

The intelligent platform allows users to monitor its functioning on smartphones or other smart devices, Guan said.

Zhu Sendi, a consultant with the China Machinery Industry Federation, said: "The i5 series has introduced a new dimension in machine tool manufacturing. It has made toolmaking an internet-based technology. That's smart innovation."

Shenyang Machine Tool developed the i5 smart numerical control system in 2007 by investing 1.15 billion yuan.

The i5 broke the monopoly of companies such as Siemens and Fanuc over machine tool motion control systems, and demonstrated that numerical controlled machine tools could have a "Chinese brain".

"I5 proved to be a game-changer. Customers don't have to buy a machine tool outright. They can rent one or more of them. That way, they could stay asset-light, which is what many small companies try to be these days," Guan said.

Some 80 percent of i5 users, all Shenyang Machine Tool's clients in the Pearl River Delta area, rent the tool-maker at an average cost of about 10 yuan per hour.

Guan said: "From being a traditional manufacturer, Shenyang Machine Tool is transforming itself into an industrial service provider."

Zhu agreed. "It's a creative transition from selling tools to selling services. However, not every factory in China can organize production along those lines now. If most of the users accept this new way of production, it would be a revolution for the industry."

The company's new business model is marked by leasing of machine toolmakers and its smart factories.

In 2014, it established its own leasing firm to provide intelligent machine tools for use by medium and small companies, allowing the latter to pay for the service by either the duration of the use or output.