ABB to build advanced robotics factory in Shanghai
ABB has announced a major US$150 million investment in Shanghai, China, to build what it says will be the world’s most advanced, automated and flexible robotics factory: a cutting-edge centre where robots make robots. The new Kangqiao manufacturing centre, near ABB’s expansive China robotics campus, will combine the company’s connected digital technologies, including ABB Ability, collaborative robotics and artificial intelligence research, to create a sophisticated and environmentally sustainable ‘factory of the future’. It is expected to begin operating by the end of 2020.
Today’s announcement marks a significant milestone for ABB as China’s largest robotics manufacturer as well as a critical global growth investment for the company in the world’s largest robotics market. In 2017, one of every three robots sold in the world went to China, which purchased nearly 138,000 units. Today, ABB employs approximately 5000 people in Shanghai, and the company’s robotics businesses in China employ more than 2000 engineers, technology experts and operational staff in 20 locations across the country. ABB 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 today also 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. The agreement was signed by Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong and ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer.
“China’s commitment to transform its manufacturing is a torchlight for the rest of the world,” said 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 — for ABB and the world. 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 substantial presence in China, building on our journey to become China’s leading robotics manufacturer that started in Shanghai over two decades ago.”
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 on-site R&D centre will help accelerate innovations in artificial intelligence. Using a new, global design approach that ABB announced earlier this year, the factory will be able to dramatically increase both the breadth (type of robots) and depth (variants of each type) of robots that can be made on-site, 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.
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.
The new factory will have a flexible floorplan based on interlinked islands of automation rather than fixed assembly lines. ABB 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 localised stations. This will allow production to adapt and scale efficiently to changes in China’s robot market without additional capacity expansions.
Per Vegard Nerseth, Managing Director of ABB’s robotics business, said, “There’s a large shift away from looking at factory size and CAPEX investments as the way to meet future demand. 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 customisation 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.
ABB was an early entrant in the China robotics market and the first global robot supplier in the country to have a complete local value chain, including R&D, manufacturing, system integration and service.
The new Shanghai factory — with a comprehensive R&D centre on-site — will become a key part of ABB’s global robotics supply system, together with the company’s recently upgraded factory in Västerås, Sweden, and its factory in Auburn Hills, Michigan, where ABB remains the only global robot supplier with a US manufacturing footprint.
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