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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

29th October 2018, Zurich

Robots will build robots in Shanghai

At industry events during 2018, it has been very apparent that robots are becoming increasingly important to the composites industry, as they are in a number of other advanced manufacturing sectors.

As one of the leaders in the development of industrial automation and robotics, Zurich headquartered ABB has just announced a major new US$150 million investment to build the world’s most advanced, automated and flexible robotics factory in Shanghai, China where robots make robots.

The new Kangqiao manufacturing centre will combine the company’s connected digital technologies, collaborative robotics and innovative AI research. © ABB

The new Kangqiao manufacturing centre, close to ABB’s expansive China robotics campus, will combine the company’s connected digital technologies, collaborative robotics and innovative artificial intelligence research in a bid to create the most sophisticated and environmentally sustainable factory of the future. It is expected to begin operating by the end of 2020.


In 2017, one of every three robots sold in the world went to China, which purchased nearly 138,000 units.

ABB is the country’s biggest supplier of such technology and its robotics businesses in China employ more than 2,000 engineers, technology experts and operational leaders in 20 locations across the country. It has invested more than US$2.4 billion in China since 1992, with over 18,000 employees in total.

ABB and the Shanghai municipal government have signed a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement focused on supporting industry, energy, transport and infrastructure in the region, and to support the Made in Shanghai manufacturing initiative.

“China’s commitment to transforming its manufacturing is a torchlight for the rest of the world,” said ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer. “Its strategic embrace of the latest technologies for artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and cloud-based computing present a playbook for every country that wishes to have a globally competitive manufacturing base. Shanghai has become a vital centre for advanced technology leadership. We look forward to working with Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, other community leaders and our customers as we launch this major expansion of ABB’s presence in China, building on our journey to become China’s leading robotics manufacturer that started in Shanghai over two decades ago.”

ABB will build the world’s most advanced, automated and flexible robotics factory, where robots make robots. © ABB

Tailored solutions

The new Shanghai factory will feature a number of machine learning, digital and collaborative solutions to make it the most advanced, automated and flexible factory in the robotics industry, and an onsite R&D centre will help accelerate innovations in artificial intelligence. Using a new, global design approach, the factory will be able to dramatically increase both the breadth (type) and depth (variants of each) of robots that can be made onsite, allowing greater and faster customisation to meet the needs of customers.

ABB will also be able to combine this expanded portfolio of robotics into an almost limitless number of tailored solutions.

“The concept behind this factory is the same advice we give our customers every day – invest in automation solutions that provide flexibility and agility to grow in whichever direction the market goes,” said Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s Robotics and Motion division. “ABB is proud to help our customers with solutions that take full advantage of the latest technologies to meet the challenges of mass customization, faster cycles and constant change which have become the new norm – even in our own factories.”

Digital twin

The entire Shanghai factory will be modelled as a digital twin, which will provide intuitively tailored dashboards for management, engineers, operators and maintenance experts to make the best decisions. This includes gathering and analyzing intelligence through ABB Ability Connected Services on the health and performance of ABB robots in the factory to ensure early identification of potential anomalies. In addition to avoiding costly downtime, ABB Ability offers advanced digital solutions that can improve performance, reliability and energy usage, as well as providing access to the world’s best platforms, such as the Microsoft Azure enterprise cloud, which is the first international public cloud service operated in China.

ABB’s businesses in China employ more than 2,000 engineers, technology experts and operational leaders in 20 locations across the country. © ABB

The new factory will have a flexible floorplan based on interlinked islands of automation rather than fixed assembly lines. Logistics automation solutions will be used throughout the plant, including automatic guided vehicles that can autonomously follow robots as they move through production, supplying them with parts from localized stations. This will allow production to adapt and scale efficiently to changes in China’s robot market without additional capacity expansions.


“There’s a large shift away from looking at factory size and CAPEX investments as the way to meet future demand,” said Per Vegard Nerseth, managing director of ABB’s Robotics business. “The concept behind our new factory is to make the smartest and most flexible use of every metre of production. That comes from combining agile automation solutions with the great capabilities of our people.”

To aid the move to mass customization in manufacturing and to ensure the highest levels of productivity and flexibility, the new Shanghai factory will make extensive use of ABB’s SafeMove2 software, which allows people and robots to work safely in close proximity. In addition, ABB’s YuMi robots will allow close collaboration on many of the small parts assembly tasks needed to manufacture an ABB robot.

“2018 marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up policy,” said Dr Chunyuan Gu, chairman of ABB China. “ABB was an early arriver in China and we now have a fully localised value chain, supported by China’s remarkable economic and social development. As the market leader in China’s robotics industry, we are glad to build on this success and continue our investment momentum.”

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