Robot revolution sweeps China's factory floors

September 23, 2015 byKelvin Chan
Robot revolution sweeps China's factory floors
In this Aug. 21, 2015 photo, a Chinese worker is seated next to orange robot arms at Rapoo Technology factory in southern Chinese industrial boomtown of Shenzhen. Factories in China are rapidly replacing those workers with automation, a pivot that's encouraged by rising wages and new official directives aimed at helping the country move away from low-cost manufacturing as the supply of young, pliant workers shrinks. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

In China's factories, the robots are rising.

For decades, manufacturers employed waves of young migrant workers from China's countryside to work at countless factories in coastal provinces, churning out cheap toys, clothing and electronics that helped power the country's economic ascent.

Now, factories are rapidly replacing those workers with automation, a pivot that's encouraged by rising wages and new official directives aimed at helping the country move away from low-cost manufacturing as the supply of young, pliant workers shrinks.

It's part of a broader overhaul of the economy as China seeks to vault into the ranks of wealthy nations. But it comes as the country's growth slows amid tepid global demand that's adding pressure on tens of thousands of manufacturers.

With costs rising and profits shrinking, Chinese manufacturers "will all need to face the fact that only by successfully transitioning from the current labor-oriented mode to more automated manufacturing will they be able to survive in the next few years," said Jan Zhang, an automation expert at IHS Technology in Shanghai.

Shenzhen Rapoo Technology Co. is among the companies at ground zero of this transformation. At its factory in the southern Chinese industrial boomtown of Shenzhen, orange robot arms work alongside human operators assembling computer mice and keyboards.

"What we are doing here is a revolution" in Chinese manufacturing, said Pboll Deng, Rapoo's deputy general manager.

The company began its push into automation five years ago. Rapoo installed 80 robots made by Sweden's ABB Ltd. to assemble mice, keyboards and their sub-components. The robots allowed the company to save $1.6 million each year and trim its workforce to less than 1,000 from a peak of more than 3,000 in 2010.

Such upgrading underscores the grand plans China's communist leaders have for industrial robotics. President Xi Jinping called in a speech last year for a "robot revolution" in a nod to automation's vital role in raising productivity.

Authorities have announced measures such as subsidies and tax incentives over the past three years to encourage industrial automation as well as development of a homegrown robotics industry.

Some provinces have set up their own "Man for Machine" programs aimed at replacing workers with robots.

Guangdong, a manufacturing heartland in southern China, said in March it would invest 943 billion yuan ($148 billion) to encourage nearly 2,000 large manufacturers to buy robots, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Guangzhou, the provincial capital, aims to have 80 percent of manufacturing automated by 2020.

Robot revolution sweeps China's factory floors
In this Aug. 21, 2015 photo, a Chinese man works next to an orange robot arm at Rapoo Technology factory in southern Chinese industrial boomtown of Shenzhen. Factories in China are rapidly replacing those workers with automation, a pivot that's encouraged by rising wages and new official directives aimed at helping the country move away from low-cost manufacturing as the supply of young, pliant workers shrinks. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

A relentless surge in wages is adding impetus to the automation revolution. China relied on a seemingly endless supply of cheap labor for decades to power its economic expansion. That equation is changing as the country's working age population stops growing and more Chinese graduate from university, resulting in a dwindling supply of unskilled workers, annual double-digit percentage increases in the minimum wage and rising labor unrest.

Deng said Rapoo's wage bill rising 15-20 percent a year was one big factor driving its use of robots.

"Frontline workers, their turnover rate is really high. More and people are unwilling to do repetitive jobs. So these two issues put the manufacturing industry in China under huge pressure," he said.

China's auto industry was the trailblazer for automation, but other industries are rapidly adopting the technology as robots become smaller, cheaper and easier to use. It now only takes on average 1.3 years for an industrial robot in China to pay back its investment, down from 11.8 years in 2008, according to Goldman Sachs.

Companies such as electronics maker TCL Corp. are using robots to produce higher-value goods. At one factory in Shenzhen, TCL uses 978 machines to produce flat screen TV panels. At another TCL plant in Hefei, near Shanghai, steel refrigerator frames are bent into shape before being plucked by a blue Yasakawa robot arm that stacks them in neat rows for further assembly.

Fridges and big washing machines have heavy internal components, so "if you use automated robots to make them, they also let you cut your labor intensity by a lot," said TCL Chairman Tomson Li.

Robot revolution sweeps China's factory floors
In this Aug. 21, 2015 photo, a Chinese man works amid orange robot arms at Rapoo Technology factory in southern Chinese industrial boomtown of Shenzhen. Factories in China are rapidly replacing those workers with automation, a pivot that's encouraged by rising wages and new official directives aimed at helping the country move away from low-cost manufacturing as the supply of young, pliant workers shrinks. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

China held the title of world's biggest market for for the second straight year in 2014, with sales rising by more than half to 56,000, out of a total of 224,000 sold globally, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

There's plenty more room for explosive sales growth. China has about 30 robots for every 10,000 factory workers compared with 437 in South Korea and 152 in the United States. The global average is 62. Beijing wants China's number to rise to 100 by 2020.

The switch to robots has raised fears that it will contribute to slowing job though there are few signs that's happening yet.

Deng said Rapoo hasn't had to resort to layoffs. Rather, the company is just not replacing workers who quit.

"It's not simply replacing the operation of workers by robot. We do more than that. We are making a robot platform" in which humans and machines work together to make production more flexible, he said.

On a recent tour of Rapoo's factory, Deng pointed out the efficiencies.

Robot revolution sweeps China's factory floors
In this Aug. 21, 2015 photo, Chinese workers and an orange robot arm are seen at Rapoo Technology factory in southern Chinese industrial boomtown of Shenzhen. Factories in China are rapidly replacing those workers with automation, a pivot that's encouraged by rising wages and new official directives aimed at helping the country move away from low-cost manufacturing as the supply of young, pliant workers shrinks. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

As a conveyor belt carried circuit boards out of an industrial soldering machine, a robot arm removed them from metal jigs and placed them on another belt. Human workers typically do this job in other factories, Deng said, but turnover is high because of the heat and repetitiveness.

In a glass-walled room, robots assembled receivers for wireless mice, tasks that were previously done by 26 people, Deng said. Now, one or two humans supervise as a laser automatically fuses shut metal USB plug housings, four at a time, while steps away, arms slide the plugs into plastic sleeves.

Automation means "accuracy can still remain very high and there are seldom failures for the robots," said Deng.

Boosting quality also helps China's companies achieve another national goal of shedding their reputation as shoddy, low cost producers to compete with global rivals.

Robot revolution sweeps China's factory floors
In this Aug. 21, 2015 photo, a Chinese worker is seen behind orange robot arms at work at Rapoo Technology factory in southern Chinese industrial boomtown of Shenzhen. Factories in China are rapidly replacing those workers with automation, a pivot that's encouraged by rising wages and new official directives aimed at helping the country move away from low-cost manufacturing as the supply of young, pliant workers shrinks. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Automation will allow Chinese factories to grab a bigger share of industries where accuracy and precision are crucial, such as aerospace, medical devices and optical components, said Derick Louie, of the Hong Kong Productivity Council.

Makers of toys and other low-profit consumer goods, however, "probably will have to move outside of China due to rising labor costs and environmental taxation," he said.

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Egleton
5 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2015
Good for China. Work is the scourge of the drinking class.
krundoloss
4 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2015
So it begins, automation making its way into the last frontiers of manufacturing. I wonder what will happen, what is already happening now, where there are not enough jobs for all of the people in the world. It seems that with increase automation, and other technologies that allow fewer workers to do more work, and fewer jobs overall, that it is inevitable that everyone will not be able to have a job. Think about it, if robots do more and more work for us, then there will be a point where there just are not as many jobs as there are people. How will we make the transition? Should a person live in poverty because a robot has taken every available job?
Eikka
3.5 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2015
Deng said Rapoo hasn't had to resort to layoffs. Rather, the company is just not replacing workers who quit.


In other words, they fire the person and make them sign a paper that says they quit.

The workers have started to demand wages that would put their products in price parity with their western alternatives, so the government fires all the workers and replaces them with subsidized robots so the factories can keep cost competitive and the manufacturing industry wouldn't slip back to the west.

In the business world, that's called predatory pricing.

https://en.wikipe..._pricing
Predatory pricing (also undercutting) is a pricing strategy where a product or service is set at a very low price, intending to drive competitors out of the market, or create barriers to entry for potential new competitors.


China is caught in a bind because they're running their show on debt just as the US is, so if they lose industry, they go bankcrupt.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2015
there are not enough jobs for all of the people in the world.


There's no reason why there wouldn't be enough jobs. It takes more resources to have a person on unemployment and a robot doing their work, than simply have the person do the job because you have to pay them anyways.

The reason we are seeing people displaced with robots is because of exploitation, by governments and by corporations. In reality the society ends up paying more

In the Chinese case they're simply extracting the cash out of the public pocket. In reality they have plenty of people in need of basic entry-level jobs, and using the robots costs the Chinese society more than it would to simply employ these people at a living wage in those jobs. The government elite solves that problem by simply not doing anything about the poverty issue because they're personally profiting on the exports.

The people pay for the robots that take their jobs, and the elite sells the products to the west.
Eikka
4.3 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2015
Basically, if a person is producing enough value to make a surplus/profit beyond sustaining themselves, they will continue to do so whether we have robots or not.

Therefore, it makes absolutely no sense to displace the person's labor output with a robot, because it leads to a loss in productivity: now you are sustaining the person but not making use of their labor. Even if the robot made twice as much product, you would still get more for your money if you had both the robot AND the person working.

The only way robots can displace human workers is by short-sighted profiteering, because the cost of the unemployed worker comes right back at you in the form of taxes for social aid and reduced demand for products.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.6 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2015
if a person is producing enough value to make a surplus/profit beyond sustaining themselves, they will continue to do so whether we have robots or not.

Therefore, it makes absolutely no sense to displace the person's labor output with a robot, because it leads to a loss in productivity
Robots can work 24/7/365 with minimal servicing. Robots do not need vacations or sick days or health care. Robots can work in physical conditions that no human could tolerate for long.

Robots are inherently dependable. They do not get into disputes with each other or management. They do not strike. They do not steal or sabotage. They do not ask to be paid for commuting.
now you are sustaining the person but not making use of their labor

Robots do not need pensions or health care beyond retirement. You do not have to support them for 20 years past their usefulness.

Robots are intrinsically more cost-effective which is why companies all over the world are switching to them.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2015
Robots do not get injured on the job and then collect workmens comp while suing the company for millions. Robots offer better quality control and reduce the possibility that greedy humans for instance will choose to ship salmonella-tainted peanut butter to consumers and kill dozens of them.

Importantly, robots are capable or recording and reporting exactly how much work they do and how much resources they consume while doing it. This opens the possibility that they can be taxed directly for the work that they do, thereby bypassing the management middleman and greatly increasing revenues collected by the state.

Automating the tax process in this manner, and eliminating the inevitable cheating and corruption that humans add to the mix, offer the potential to increase revenues enormously.

The fewer humans there are in the whole process, the more efficiency, safety, and accountability is enabled.

We have always been producing machines to replace us. What did you expect?
gkam
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 23, 2015
So far, we can just unplug them. My limited work troubleshooting industrial robots show me how vulnerable they are to upsets. From voltage variations to signal reference offsets, they are easy to stop, . . so far.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (6) Sep 23, 2015
So far, we can just unplug them. My limited work troubleshooting industrial robots show me how vulnerable they are to upsets. From voltage variations to signal reference offsets, they are easy to stop, . . so far.
What - was this job #23? And how does a 30yo temp position as a maintenance man give one special insight into the vast industry of state-of-the-art robot design and dependability?

Every time you offer a bullshit claim of 'experience' it will be ridiculed and debunked.
gkam
1.6 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2015
You can also hit them with the magnetic fraction of EMF, which is not stopped by Faraday cages.
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2015
Poor otto, caught up in some kind of personal attack mode is not conversant with robots in the real world. While he deals with his mania, I'll let you know there are very common errors and conditions in installation and operation which interfere with robotic operation, just from communications to power requirements alone.

Want a real world example or two??
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2015
You can also hit them with the magnetic fraction of EMF, which is not stopped by Faraday cages
Your psychopathic delusions tell you that just because this popped into your head, it has something to do with the topic.

It doesnt.
Want a real world example or two??
From 1986? No thanks.
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2015
Any real people want to discuss the operational security of industrial robots?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2015
Any real people want to discuss the operational security of industrial robots?
Personally I would want to discuss this or any topic with someone who is genuinely knowledgeable about it, not some delusional psychopath who thinks these threads are here as excuses for talking about himself and unrelated topics about his made-up experience and his bogus knowledge.
EWH
1 / 5 (2) Sep 26, 2015
The threat of robot displacement of human wages causing a continuing cycle of eroding demand must be countered by making ownership and rents of robots widely held among the population, former workers in particular. This should be desirable both to capitalist and Marxist ideologies: to capitalists because it makes a large segment of the the population into capitalists who derive their income from ownership of productive machines, and to Marxists because it directly implements the workers' ownership of the means of production.

All that is required to implement this program is to limit the concentration of ownership of robots (perhaps through insurance and financing rules), to encourage low-interest machine-secured lending, and to facilitate a market for machine leasing to manufacturers. Leasing robots and other adaptable productive machinery such as 3D printers makes manufacturing more flexible and less capital intensive, making new business models attractive and ensuring growth.
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 26, 2015
"Robot revolution sweeps China's factory floors"
--------------------------------

Sweeping floors is good, but if they ever learn how to do more than that, we are in trouble.
Uncle Ira
3 / 5 (6) Sep 26, 2015
"Robot revolution sweeps China's factory floors"
--------------------------------

Sweeping floors is good, but if they ever learn how to do more than that, we are in trouble.


glam-Skippy. How you are Cher? I am good thanks for asking.

Pssst, this me whispering to you. They been doing a lot more than sweeping the floors for dozens of years. Everything from building cars to putting together radios and televisions. So maybe considering your mental conditions the nice people at physorg will make the exception for you on the "Three-Minute-Take-Back-The-Silly-Comment-Rule".
gkam
2.1 / 5 (7) Sep 26, 2015
Please stop your silly personal comments.

Do you have experience with industrial robots? I can tell you they can be stopped by grounding errors insisted upon by the manufacturers not understanding how electrical grounding works.

They can be stopped by being starved of power for short periods (milliseconds). When they do, entire production lines stop. What do YOU do when that happens?
Estevan57
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 26, 2015
"Sweeping floors is good, but if they ever learn how to do more than that, we are in trouble." - gkam

Do you think about what you post, or do you crave the abuse? What a stupid thing to say.

No-one cares about your "experience", George.
Uncle Ira
3 / 5 (6) Sep 26, 2015
Please stop your silly personal comments.


My comment was about your comment saying that robots have not got past the floor sweeping stuffs. What you said was silly him self so it deserved a silly comment back.

Do you have experience with industrial robots?


Probably more than you do.

I can tell you they can be stopped by grounding errors insisted upon by the manufacturers not understanding how electrical grounding works.


Well Skippy, I am sure the manufacturers are buying what they need. What does that comment mean anyway? It's really good you can tell me that. But I can tell you that robots have been doing a lot more than "sweeping floors" for a long time.

They can be stopped by being starved of power for short periods (milliseconds). When they do, entire production lines stop. What do YOU do when that happens?


Skippy, everything electrical or mechanical you use in your house depends on robots to put him together.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (6) Sep 26, 2015
"Skippy, everything electrical or mechanical you use in your house depends on robots to put him together."
------------------------------------

Nope. Reality is not exactly the world Popular Mechanix tells you about.

And I was discussing the vulnerability of industrial robots to show how far they have to go before they are going to "take over". You and others want to distort it for personal attacks. That nonsense will stop eventually.

Meanwhile, as long as you keep on bringing me up, I can tell you how to harden against those particular vulnerabilities. All you have to do is ask nicely.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 26, 2015
Well Skippy, I am sure the manufacturers are buying what they need. What does that comment mean anyway?
It means

"I desperately want to use any excuse at all to talk about myself and all my glorious 'knowledge' and 'experience' even when it has nothing to do with the article.

If it doesnt, I will make it so because I am george kamburoff and the world was created for ME and not the goobers I wish to enlighten."

It also means

"I am one dumb sick fuck and dont care if the whole world knows it."

"He does bizarre and self-destructive things because consequences that would fill the ordinary man with shame, self-loathing, and embarrassment simply do not affect the psychopath at all. What to others would be a disaster is to him merely a fleeting inconvenience."

-which is the opinion of an unqualified amateur I might add.

:))
Probably more than you do
Now let us not forget that george fiddled with a few back in '82. That and his AF work make him an expert.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 26, 2015
That nonsense will stop eventually.
No, it wont. Because its not personal.

No one tolerates liars and fabricators and self-absorbed cheaters for long.

Im sure you know this from much personal experience.

But thats just a personal assumption.

:))
Uncle Ira
3 / 5 (6) Sep 26, 2015
Nope


Yep Skippy. Robots have been doing a lot more than sweeping floors for dozens of years. I don't why you haven't heard about them. They build cars and computers and tvs and all kinds of things.

Reality is not exactly the world Popular Mechanix tells you about.


Well it more real than what you tell me about. At least I knew they do more than sweep floors.

And I was discussing the vulnerability of industrial robots to show how far they have to go before they are going to "take over"


No you said if they ever got past sweeping floors we were in for it.

You and others want to distort it for personal attacks


You said what you said Cher if you didn't really mean it don't blame us.

I can tell you how to harden against those particular vulnerabilities


Why tell me about it? I do not own the car or tv factory.

All you have to do is ask nicely


Skippy I don't mean to be mean, but you might be one of last ones I would ask.
Dug
5 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2015
I really hate to interject into the self-stimulation exercises of petty anti-social exchanges going on here - but...

I don't worry much about robots. However, all of those disposed Chinese workers are going to be a real social chaos problem for the Chinese gov. First, they are enticed to leave the agriculture communes and come to the cities for factory jobs, then the factory jobs are taken by robots. Mean while western style mechanical agriculture fueled by NPK instead of traditional manure - means there is no going back to the ag. communes. What could possibly go wrong? Tiananmen Square riots will undoubtedly become a common event until a major revolt errupts.

I see some kind of virus trimming a large portion of the excess growing unmanageable Chinese population. The Chinese gov. has been very active in genetically altering both the most virulent Influenza type A and Ebola virus strains recently in their new French designed BSL-4 lab - "To develop vaccines." Sure.

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