ABB partners with Changan Ford to boost Chinese carmaker’s flexibility

2014-05-20 – Long a car-industry mantra, “flexible production” becomes a reality at Chinese automobile plant – with help from ABB Robotics

It takes just 18 seconds for the Ford Motor Co. and its partner, Changan, to switch between vehicle models on a production line where ABB robots ensure one of China’s biggest carmakers can react quickly to shifting consumer sentiment, rising demand and a changing economy.
To put those 18 seconds in perspective, the joint venture’s plant in Chongqing, in southwestern China, can go from making Ford Mondeos (in the U.S., think Fusions) to any one of as many as five different models faster than sprinter Usain Boltrunsthe 200 meters.ABB’s robots also ease introduction of completely new models to the line, too, an advance from traditional production lines that required more extensive work before a new model could be added – hardly ideal if consumers’ tastes change quickly.

“Flexible production,” a car-industry mantra since the 1990s, is becoming a necessity in China and the rest of the world as auto manufacturers accommodate customer expectations that can turn faster than prices at the gas pump while ensuring factories are prepared for sweeping demand swings like the one that accompanied the Great Recession.
“The economic downturn has been tough on automakers and highlighted the need to be more adaptive to the demands of the market,” said Yuan HenXin, Manufacturing Engineering Manager for Changan Ford. “This is especially true when it comes to being able to respond quicker to changes in customer preference, as well as remain competitive in a fierce industry.”

How fast?
Changan Ford, with its facilities 900 miles upstream from Shanghai on the Yangtze River in one of China’s auto manufacturing hubs, is actually an expansion of a long partnership between Ford and ABB Robotics. It’s already boosted flexibility of the carmaker’s operations.

In 2012, for instance, ABB Robotics installed a Tube Press and Weld System to make axles and gears for the F-150 Pickup truck, among other vehicles, at the Ford Sterling Axle Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. Now, a complete changeover between axle types can be completed in less than 43 seconds _ not as fast as Bolt’s 200, maybe, but faster than Michael Johnson’s 400-meter world record.

Working now with Changan Ford in China, ABB’s FlexLean Automotive Bodyshop Solution is deployed at the stage of production known as “Body in White”. That’s industry shorthand for when the car’s body is just beginning to take shape, including assembling raw stamped metal body panels into a welded frame.

First, the car’s underbody arrives for ABB robots to begin the gluing process, making it possible for up to six different models to be produced on the same production line. This flexible robotic production line has the unique ability to adapt, on the fly, for cars of different widths and lengths without a moment of stopped production, because of ABB’s robotic technology.

Flexible ABB robots do the heavy lifting

Next, the roof goes on, also with ABB robots doing the heavy lifting before turning to high-speed brazing, accurate laser welding and polishing that gives Changan Ford’s cars’ exterior the kind of finish consumers are seeking.

In minutes, each new frame has acquired the stiffness necessary for safety.

And in just seconds, the line is ready for the next car – even if it’s a different model.

“This philosophy uses robotics technology to replace traditional custom-made machinery with standardized solutions,” said Alan Stapelberg, Global Product Manager of ABB Robotics Body-In-White Portfolio. “These products are modular in design and flexible, allowing multiple car models to be produced on the same line and new models to be added easily.”

The world’s No. 1 car market – and rising

Changan Ford says replacing custom machinery – typically designed specifically to produce just one vehicle model – with ABB’s standardized, flexible solution allows them to reuse the hardware investment across new models, saving them money and making a lot of financial sense.

Additionally, life is made easier for maintenance workers who now have comprehensive maintenance documentation and spare parts close at hand.

And with the production line’s machinery all running on the identical language as ABB’s robots, operators need less training and can get to work more quickly as new models are added, Changan Ford said.

Increasingly affluent consumers have already made China the world’s No. 1 market for cars, at 20 million-plus units sold in 2013 and rising.

With Chinese wages set to rise more than 10 percent this year, its residents will have even more buying power to demand safer, higher-quality, Internet-connected cars.

“With this increasing prosperity, the market will continue to grow, meaning high-volume production which can only be accomplished with full automation,” Changan Ford’s Yuan said, adding global cooperation is key to modern vehicle manufacturing. “ABB Robotics is a good partner for us in this regard.”




China set to become world’s largest robot market

BEIJING, May  (Xinhuanet) — If you still think having robots doing manual labor is a dream, you are out of date. In fact, robots are playing an increasingly important role in the manufacturing sector, especially after the severe labor shortage in eastern China. As the world’s manufacturing powerhouse, China is set to become the world’s largest robot market in 2014.
During the May Day holiday, the largest air conditioner manufacturing company in Zhejiang province is working overtime. But there isn’t a single factory worker in sight.

“With an annual production of 5 million compressors, our company would have needed 1,000 workers. But now, we only need 580 workers,” said Zhou Jiansheng at Jiaxipera.

Industrial robots make up for the rest. This particular assembly line would require 6 to 7 people, but with robots, only one or two are sufficient. Since the beginning of this year, with the worsening labor shortage in east China, an increasing number of manufacturing businesses are adopting industrial robots. Foxcom, in particular, has announced plans to use one million robots. Some small companies as well are also looking at using them.

Qian Yongdi is the president of a sanitary appliance company in Zhejiang province. He says, even with a monthly salary of 8,000 yuan, he found it hard to retain a skilled worker on the job. But with industrial robots, he is no longer worried.

“The robots work non-stop around the clock. Workers get tired after eight hours of work,” he said.

Qian tells us that with a price tag of 500,000 yuan, one robot can replace three workers. It would only take 18 months to recover the cost. Experts say using robots represents the future of China’s industrial upgrading.

“The government needs to provide favorable conditions to promote the use of robots, so we can seize the golden opportunity for industrial upgrading and lay a solid foundation for smart families and smart cities,” said Qu Daokui, president of China Robot Industrial Alliance.

According to the International Robot Association, by the end of 2012, China had overtaken South Korea to become the second largest robot market, after Japan. It’s estimated that by 2014, the demand for robots in China will reach 32,000 units – the largest in the world.


Saudi Arabia signs deal for China’s Wing Loong-Pterodactyl Unmanned Aircraft Systems

The Wing Loong drone on display at an aviation expo in Zhuhai in southern China’s Guangdong province on Nov. 14, 2013. (Photo/CNS)

Saudi Arabia has signed an agreement to purchase China’s Wing Loong medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, otherwise known as the Pterodactyl I, reports Huanqiu, the website of China’s nationalistic tabloid Global Times.

Citing Russian military news, the Global Times said Saudi crown prince Salman sealed the deal with People’s Liberation Army general Wang Guanzhong during a visit to China in mid-April, making Saudi Arabia the first Arab country to acquire the drone.

It is not clear how many units were ordered, though the Chinese drones are said to be designed along the lines of the MQ-1 Predator of the United States, with surveillance capabilities and the ability to carry two matched air-to-surface missiles.

The Wing Loong was developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group. According to the statement released by the company last year, the drone has already been sold to four foreign countries, including an unnamed county in Central Asia, with a series of negotiations still ongoing with other potential clients.

Wing Loong

Wing Loong medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle

 Source: Wikipedia

The Chengdu Pterodactyl I (Chinese翼龙-1pinyinYìlóng-) also known as Wing Loong is a Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group in the People’s Republic of China. Intended for use as a surveillance and aerial reconnaissance platform, the Pterodactyl I is capable of being fitted with air-to-surface weapons for use in an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) role

Developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute (CADI), a division of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC),the Pterodactyl I bears a distinct similarity in appearance to the Predator/Reaper family of drones developed by the United States. The drone is capable of being fitted with a variety of sensors, including a forward looking infrared turret and synthetic aperture radar. In addition, the aircraft is capable of carrying weapons.The Pterodactyl I’s total payload capacity for sensors and weapons is 200 kilograms (440 lb).

According to Chengdu, the Pterodactyl I has been undergoing flight testing and has proven successful, with the flight test program including weapons tests of both bombs and air-to-surface missiles.

A model of the Pterodactyl I was displayed at the 2010 China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition at Zhuhai, the first public acknowledgment of the program;however, it was claimed by AVIC that the aircraft had been displayed at the 2008 airshow.The aircraft has been approved for export by Chinese authorities; the Pterodactyl I was evaluated by Pakistan, but was not selected for procurement.

One example of the type was known to have been lost in an accident during 2011,



Try robot housemaids, tech firms urge Saudis

Several Japanese and Chinese technology companies have proposed exporting robots that can do house chores to cater for the growing number of Saudi families that cannot find housemaids in the local market.

Saudi families are struggling to recruit housemaids after many Asian and African countries stopped sending their citizens to work in the Kingdom in the wake of several crimes that took place last year.

Technology companies are under increased pressure to manufacture robots, which will be more cost-effective than paying monthly salaries in the long run.

Robots have already circulated in several Asian and western countries and have been proven to be able to clean kitchens and floors and carry out other tasks.

Technology companies have sold more than 10 million domestic robots globally this year. 

Several companies have visited Gulf countries to showcase the ability of these robots and other “smart” products that offer solutions to domestic chores.

“This is a good idea, but Saudi society will not easily accept the idea of replacing manpower with robots, especially since they still need someone to cook and make tea,” said Adel Al-Essa, director of operations at a technology company and an economic expert. “Nevertheless, the never-ending problems sponsors face in recruiting housemaids, including legal and crime-related issues, may just force society to accept having robots at home.”

“Saudi women may, however, face difficulty working the gadgets, which operate in the English language,” he said.

“The potential success of robots will certainly cause huge losses to housemaid recruitment firms,” he told Arab News.

Yehia Al-Maqboul, president of the Recruitment Committee at the Jeddah Chamber for Commerce and Industry (JCCI), denied that this new technology will impact recruitment firms.

“Saudi society will need a long time to accept robots to replace housemaids,” he said. “There are several chores that housemaids do that robots simply cannot.”

Meanwhile, the Labor Ministry recently disclosed plans to recruit housemaids from Kyrgyzstan to meet the severe shortage. 

“We are in talks with officials from former Soviet republics about the recruitment of domestic helpers,” said Ahmed Al-Fehaid, deputy minister for international affairs. 

“Maid-exporting countries are limited in number,” he said. “Some Arab countries export manpower when their economy becomes weak, only to stop when the economy picks up again.”

“Still, Saudis prefer domestic workers from Arab countries if they are ready to fulfill the ministry’s conditions,” said Al-Fehaid.

Source: ArabNews

Chinese Sky-09 drone

More photos have emerged of the Chinese Sky-09P drone that appears similar to at least one of the drones that was discovered crashed in South Korea. The new photos provide a clearer view of the underside of the drone and the slingshot launching system.

The photos are published on the website of China Trancomm Technologies (北京中交通信科技有限公司), a Beijing-based company that appears to sell the Sky-09P and two other variants, the Sky-09 and Sky-09H, and other drones.

As can be seen in the photo below, the drone has a series of what appear to be rubber pads on its base and it rests on a launching frame at points close to the beginning of the wing.

Launch of the Sky-09P drone on a slingshot system (Photo: China TranComm Technologies)

In this picture of the bottom of the drone found in South Korea, similar pads can be seen and there are two additional pads on each side of the body, close to where the drone would appear to sit on the launching frame.

The underside of a drone found in South Korea (Photo: South Korean Ministry of Defense)

On the China TranComm image, there are a couple of dark areas towards the end of each wing and the silhouette of what appears to be a control cable. On the South Korean image, something similar to the control cable can be seen. While the area isn’t painted in black, the outline of a rectangular area of the wing can also be seen.

Some of those similarities are outlined here:

The China TranComm Technologies site also shows various camera mounting systems that are available for the drones. They include one for a small video camera, a digital SLR and four digital SLRs that appear to be arranged to allow for 3D photography.

The drone found in South Korea was fitted with a digital SLR camera, although the image released by the South Korean Ministry of Defense doesn’t include enough detail to determine how similar it is.

A drone found crashed in South Korea (Photo: Korean Ministry of Defense)

The images add further support to the theory that the drone found in South Korea is either a Sky-09P or a North Korean variant based on the same design.

Here’s an image of several models of the Sky-09P in packing cases and the control system. There’s also a sample image taken from the drone, although the quality of the image will depend on the camera in use and not the drone.

The company sells a related drone, the Sky-09H, that can fly at up to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) versus the Sky-09P, which is specified up to 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). A picture of the Sky-09H isn’t as detailed, but it appears to be largely similar.

Launch of the Sky-09H drone on a slingshot system (Photo: China TranComm Technologies)

Here’s the drone brochure from China TranComm Technologies:



North Korean UAV is Chinese-made SKY-09P

The mini drones operated by North Korea over South Korea are the SKY 09 made in China by the Taiyuan Navigation Technology company. The models operated by North Korea was equipped with a muffler, to reduce the drone’s acoustic signature. Photo: Taiyuan

One of the North Korean UAV that crashed in South Korea has been identified as coming from China.

The SKY-09P is manufactured by Taiyuan Navigation Friend Aviation Technology Co. Ltd.

This company was formed in July 2003 and is based in Taiyuan city, Shanxi province.

According to the company’s datasheet, the UAV has a speed of 80-100km/h and a range of less than 40km. It can carry a payload of 3kg and is recovered by parachute.

Source: Alert 5

China. Robot industry gets down to nuts and bolts

Domestically produced robots are shown at an international expo in Guangzhou, capital city of Guangdong province. China aims to have a relatively well-developed industrial robot industry by 2020,with three to five internationally competitive companies and eight to 10 supporting industrial clusters. LU HANXIN/XINHUA

Guangzhou-based GSK CNC Equipment Co, one of the leading domestic computer numerical control providers, estimates its industrial robot sales will double to over 800 sets this year and 3,000 sets next year.

The company expects that domestic demand for the robots will surge by as much as 20 percent annually in the coming years, said Jiang Miren, deputy director of the general manager’s office.

The domestic market has been under-performing in the past few years, with industrial robots used in only a few sectors, such as automobile and high-end electronic industries, he said.

But manufacturers are increasingly shifting to robots as they seek to improve efficiency and a new generation of laborers demand higher incomes and better working environments.

As the population ages, “the problem of the demographic dividend has yet to fully present itself,” Jiang said.

Zhang Lingyan, with research firm CCID Consulting, forecast in a report in February that “the use of industrial robots in China will grow by 16 percent year-on-year to 32,000 sets this year, with a broader spectrum of industries following the trend.”

The industrial robot sector will embrace opportunities in the coming three years from government support, the need for industrial transformation and the weakening demographic dividend, Zhang said.

The government aims to have a relatively well-developed industrial robot industry by 2020, with three to five internationally competitive companies and eight to 10 supporting industrial clusters, according to a guideline on promoting the sector issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology last December.

Earlier this month, the government of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, joined a number of cities in approving an ambitious plan for developing the industry. It aims to have annual output of over 100 billion yuan ($16.13 billion) from the intelligent equipment industry and annual capacity of 100,000 sets of industrial robots and intelligent equipment by 2020.

More than 80 percent of manufacturers in Guangzhou will be using industrial robots and intelligent equipment by 2020, with the demand for robots increasing by more than 30 percent annually in the manufacturing-heavy Pearl River Delta area in Guangdong, according to the Guangzhou Commission of Economy and Trade.

Currently, more than 90 percent of robots and their core parts must be imported.

As a manufacturing center, Guangzhou is embracing the increasing demand for robots with rising labor costs and a shortage of workers, according to He Zaihua, a researcher with market research firm CI Consulting.

The industrial robot industry of Guangzhou consists mainly of robot body manufacturing, relying on imports for controlling systems, motors and decelerators, He said, adding that the city work to develop the latter three areas to raise the overall quality of the industry.

The city government plans to build two or three robot industrial parks and have one or two key companies with their own brands and proprietary intellectual property rights generating annual output of 10 billion yuan each.

It pledged to work to promote the application of industrial robots in various sectors and to enhance policy support in terms of capital, land use and human resources.

Jiang of GSK CNC Equipment Co believes the sector could benefit from the government’s plan for a larger market, availability of more land and some financial support.

Besides better policies for drawing technology and talent and fund-raising, across-the-board platform serving companies in the industry, like the alliance for industrial robot manufacturing and application set up in Guangzhou in September last year, is also necessary, he said.

Robots made by domestic firms will gain a competitive edge in pricing, which will be half or even one-third of their foreign counterparts, He said.

He sees bright prospects for localizing industrial robots, which will be driven by technological and product upgrading.

Challenges to domestic companies will include the reliability, practicality and market recognition of their products, said Jiang, adding that they must differentiate their market positioning.

Jiang’s company has been allocating 8 to 10 percent of its revenue to research and development, with about 300 staffers engaged in robot development.

As enthusiasm continues to build, Jiang suggested that a cool head must be maintained over the industry to prevent speculative investment and future oversupply, with which he agreed.

The guideline from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology pledges to guide local authorities in rationally identifying the mode and scale of the robot industry’s development and to promote differentiating development among localities.