New rules boost robot production

By Ma Si, Zhu Lixin | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-15 04:04

Government regulations expected to elevate competitive strength of key Chinese industry

China will publish standards to regulate its burgeoning robot industry while pushing for wider robotic applications in key industries, according to officials and experts.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology will work out standards for the industry that will cover such aspects as product quality, research and development capabilities, staff qualifications, sales practices and social responsibility, said Sun Feng, deputy director of the ministry's Equipment Industry Department, at the 2016 China Robot Industry Conference on Wednesday.

The move is intended to raise the core competitive strength of China's industrial robot manufacturing, he said.

Sun said that the ministry will also launch pilot projects for service robots and accelerate the setting of additional standards for the healthy and sustainable growth of the Chinese robot industry.

Xu Quanping, an expert from the State Standardization Administration, said about 30 national standards will be worked out by 2018, and twice that number will be available by 2020.

On Wednesday, the nongovernmental China Robot Industry Alliance released three general technical standards on welding robots, robots made to fill containers, and cables used on robots.

Alliance executives said 14 additional standards will also be released soon. The group has some 300 members.

More than 64,000 industrial robots, including both Chinese and foreign brands, were produced in China in the first 11 months of 2016, compared with 32,996 for the entire year in 2015. The full year's production for 2016 is expected to surpass 70,000 units, experts said.

However, Sun said China's robot industry has been hamstrung by dependence on high-end imports, innovation that has yet to catch up, unorganized and inadequate technical development, and lack of production certifications.

Guo Xuan, deputy director of Beijing-based Yizhuang Smart Robotics Industry Research Institute, said automation thrives amid rising labor costs that are largely due to an aging society.

"But domestic robotics firms need to be wary of blind expansion. We have already noticed overcapacity in low-end robots," he said.

According to Guo, proper regulation and industrywide standards are the keys to ensuring the healthy development of robotics. "They will help excellent firms stand out from the competition and focus more on R&D in core technologies," Guo added.

Qu Daokui, president of the robot industry alliance and CEO of Shenyang-based Siasun Robot and Automation Co, said that despite the rapid growth of the sector, sales are still dominated by foreign brands.

According to the alliance, 68,000 industrial robots were sold in China in 2015, while Chinese brands saw total sales of only 22,257 units during that year.

In just the first six months of 2016, Chinese brands recorded sales of 19,257 industrial robots, the alliance said on Wednesday.

Just over 60 percent of homemade industrial robots are used for transferring, loading and unloading materials. Sales of such robots in 2016 surged by 94.3 percent over the same period last year.

Some 43 percent of industrial robots made by Chinese companies were sold in East China, one of the country's most developed areas, according to the alliance.

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