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Boosting connected intelligence for China’s manufacturing industry

Control Engineering International: Intelligent manufacturing is part of a wider strategy to promote manufacturing in China that has 226 state-sponsored projects and investments of more than $2.9 billion to improve automation and the interconnection and integration of equipment, according to Control Engineering China.

Aileen Jin
03/12/2017

Aileen Jin is editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China. Courtesy: Control Engineering ChinaIntelligent manufacturing, as one of the five major programs in the "Made in China 2025" strategy, already has become a highlight from China's manufacturing industry, which is facing sluggish economic growth in addition to pressures related to transformation and upgrades. It is reported that, since June 2015, when the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Finance of the People's Republic of China jointly initiated the special project for intelligent manufacturing, there have been up to 226 state-sponsored key projects, with a total investment of more than $2.91 billion (RMB over 2 billion).

As a center for global manufacturing, China is incubating the largest intelligent manufacturing demand market in the world, which is bringing opportunities for traditional automation manufacturers. With a history of 113 years, Rockwell Automation interprets innovations in intelligent manufacturing from a "Connected Enterprise" perspective.

One action cannot accomplish an Internet enterprise, suggested Bob Buttermore, managing director of Rockwell Automation Greater China, who noted that intelligent manufacturing goals should be realized in a progressive and customized manner. 

Intelligent manufacturing

Developing an Internet enterprise requires innovation and intelligent manufacturing. Different enterprises may have different starting points along that path. Buttermore said, "Matters may not necessarily be settled at one go, even if it's a newly invested and constructed factory."

Efforts may be required to comprehensively consider the demands, costs, and budgets of the customers, establish staged-based goals, and achieve such goals step by step.

Plants with existing equipment have more factors to consider when upgrading intelligent manufacturing. For some manufacturing enterprises with a relatively high level of automation, the interconnection and integration of equipment is among the main issues to be solved.

"Equipment from different manufacturers would probably be unable to be interconnected and integrated due to different networking protocols used," Buttermore said, adding that "Rockwell Automation applies the most advanced technologies and realizes interconnection of equipment under different protocols or from different manufacturers via software." In this way, customers' prior investments can be preserved and better utilized, he said. 

Legacy systems, plant upgrades

In case of plants with a great number of old and outdated equipment, considerations would be more extensive. Generally, such old and outdated plants may face two circumstances simultaneously: a low level of automation and a large amount of equipment that cannot be connected to the network. The equipment different manufacturers have may be in use for more than 20 years.

To upgrade to intelligent manufacturing from such old and outdated plants, Buttermore suggested:

  1. Assist users with a comprehensive analysis, finding the greatest challenges and greatest demands, and what issues are in greatest need of solving through integration.
  2. Form specific plans as part of a long-term, progressive course.

To help, Rockwell Automation has established an Industrial Internet of Things "Connected Enterprise Maturity Model" to assist users in doing an assessment, securely upgrading networks, defining and organizing working data capital, deriving operational benefits through analytics, and with developing optimization and collaboration.

Industry-specific approaches

Concentrated industrial research can help create customized intelligent manufacturing solutions. Due to differences in individual enterprises and industries, it is hard for enterprises to find a "universal" connected enterprise solution. With continuous integration of information technologies and operation technologies, automation suppliers are required to develop an in-depth understanding of users' industries to shape intelligent manufacturing solutions appropriate to actual circumstances.

Global tire market competition has become increasingly intensive in recent years. The Chinese market especially is facing serious pressures of overcapacity and anti-dumping sanctions. Compared with advanced tire manufacturers elsewhere in the world, the information technologies and automation levels of enterprises in China are relatively low. According to related data, there are more than 500 tire manufacturing enterprises in China, representing 35% of the global tire output. However, total China manufacturing revenue is only 15% of the global market.

More tire enterprises in China are hoping to increase the tire productivity and produce better tires with less cost by means of intelligent manufacturing so as to gain competitive advantages in global markets. Meanwhile, tire enterprises also are hoping to evade massive policy and regulation risks involved in global markets.

"As we can see, many tire customers are establishing overseas plants, creating new opportunities for us," Buttermore said. "Rockwell Automation's globalized service teams and advanced information software products can help users to organize production in line with local safety and other regulatory requirements." Manufacturing Execution System (MES) solutions offered by Rockwell Automation can assist tire enterprises in enhancing controls, improving visualization levels and tracing abilities on products and orders, and further enhancing competitiveness.

Rockwell Automation has a long history with the tire industry, including, Buttermore said, by proximity. Rockwell Automation's controller plant is near the largest U.S. tire production base. Allen-Bradley controllers from Rockwell Automation "have been widely applied by tire manufacturers from the very beginning," Buttermore said.

More automation collaboration

With the progress of the "Connected Enterprise" Strategy, Rockwell Automation now is working on more in-depth cooperation on intelligent manufacturing with leading global customers in industries such as automobile, tire, food and beverage, and consumer packaged goods. Buttermore said, "In the future, efforts will be made to intensify input and promotion of the Connected Enterprise in fields of consumer goods and bio-pharmaceuticals. We hope to provide better intelligent manufacturing solutions for users in emerging and fast-growing industries."

Aileen Jin is editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske(at)cfemedia.com.

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