Home appliance maker embraces intelligent equipment

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Gree, a major Chinese home appliance maker, is ramping up efforts in intelligent manufacturing by setting up unmanned factories and using industrial robots in a variety of production cycles, as part of its broader push to upgrade the country's manufacturing industry.

A robot made by Gree plays piano at the China International Industry Fair in Shanghai on Nov 8. [Photo/China Daily]
A robot made by Gree plays piano at the China International Industry Fair in Shanghai on Nov 8. [Photo/China Daily]

"We have eight manufacturing bases across the country, most of which are unmanned factories. China must master core technologies to grow into a manufacturing power," Dong Mingzhu, chairwoman and president of Gree, said on the sidelines of the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Dong, who is a deputy to the NPC, said Gree entered into the intelligent equipment industry in 2013. The industry covers numerical control machines, industrial robots, servo-manipulators, intelligent storage equipment and intelligent detecting systems.

"We must stick to independent research and development, building our own talent pool and R&D team, as well as mastering core technology," Dong said. "Only in this way can we lead the industry and the world.

"That's what we're doing for Made in China 2025," she said, referring to the national plan to upgrade Chinese manufacturing. "That's our responsibility right now."

The industrial robots covered by the company's intellectual property rights have been applied in welding, spraying and transportation, greatly enhancing productivity and reduces labor costs, she said.

In an earlier interview, she said her company would concentrate on robots and precision machine tools as part of efforts to upgrade and transform Chinese manufacturing, as well as providing entirely self-developed high-end equipment for Made in China 2025.

Gree has independently filed more than 20 patents across over 100 types of automation products, such as intelligent automatic guided vehicles, industrial robots and manipulators for plastic injection machines, which are used to convey plastic products.

These products have been applied in fields including home appliances, new energy, food and energy saving.

Intelligent equipment has become an important business growth point for Gree. The company reported that revenue from its intelligent equipment business reached 962 million yuan ($152 million) in the first half of last year, up 27 times compared with the same period in 2016.

China has been the world's largest industrial robot market for four consecutive years, according to Wang Xiangrui, president of the China Machinery Industry Federation. Sales of industrial robots reached 89,000 units in 2016, and the figure is expected to rise to 150,000 by 2020.

"The huge market demand, sound industrial basis and favorable policy support have brought a rare opportunity for the development of intelligent equipment and manufacturing," Wang said. "We should focus on intelligent manufacturing to promote high-quality development, which has also become the choice of China's manufacturing industry."

The transformation and upgrading of China's manufacturing sector contributed to the development of the Chinese robot market, said Song Xiaogang, executive president and secretary-general of the China Robot Industry Alliance, adding that Gree has done good work focusing on the Chinese market.

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