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Shanghai Show Marks China's Growing Dominance of Robotics Sector

With the mainland tipped to account for almost 50% of all industrial robot sales on an international basis by 2021, the China International Robot Show provided a fascinating snapshot of this dynamic and rapidly expanding industry sector.

Photo: Shang-high-tech: Expo-bound droids descend on China’s second city.  (Shutterstock.com)
Shang-high-tech: Expo-bound droids descend on China's second city.
Photo: Shang-high-tech: Expo-bound droids descend on China’s second city. (Shutterstock.com)
Shang-high-tech: Expo-bound droids descend on China's second city.

In a telling statistic, China is home to about a quarter of all the world's industrial robots. Indeed, since 2013 it has been the world's largest robotics market. Unsurprisingly then, the International Federation of Robots (IFR) – the industry's Frankfurt-headquartered trade body – is tipping China to be the primary driver of growth in the market on a global basis until at least 2021, at which point it will account for some 50% of all new industrial robot sales.

Over in the service robot sector, it could be that the pace of growth is yet more rapid. According to a report by the 21st Century Business Herald, a Guangzhou-based daily newspaper, by the end of 2018, the mainland market for such systems was worth US$1.94 billion, which equates to a massive year-on-year increase of 44%. In similarly revealing figures, ResearchInChina, a Beijing-headquartered provider of business intelligence, projects the service market will continue to expand by 20% annually over the near-term, taking its total per annum value to $4.9 billion by 2022.

Despite such impressive statistics, Shanghai's eighth annual China International Robot Show (CIROS) was a somewhat low-key affair. Held deep within the city's National Exhibition and Convention Center, it was all but hidden away in Hall 8, with little signposting to aid those less familiar with this expansive edifice. Those visitors that did find a route in were much less than were needed to anything like fill the hall, a shortcoming that clearly disappointed many of the exhibitors – including locally based Echu Special Wire & Cable (Kunshan), a specialist producer of wire cabling for the robotics industry, along with a wide range of other industrial wire and cabling products.

According to Wayne Gong, the company's Sales Manager, the relatively poor attendance at this year's event was largely down to a schedule change by a directly competing expo – the Industrial Automation Show (IAS). Previously held much later in the year, it has now shifted to September, with the move siphoning off both attendees and exhibitors from CIROS.

Expanding on this, Gong said: "Last year, this show was three times its current size and attracted five times as many buyers. Even that, though, was smaller than it had been in the past. In truth, this event has been shrinking for some time.

"For our part, we are one of the largest manufacturers of towline cables – cables able to move in line with the motion of a machine. We launched in 2005 and currently export about 20% of our output to a range of clients throughout Asia and the Middle East. This year, the market has not been anything like as good as it was in 2018. For that, we have to thank the US-China trade war."

Not every business was feeling the pinch, however, with Cologne-headquartered Posital one of the more upbeat European exhibitors at this year's event. Introducing the company, Sales Representative Andy Zou said: "Ultimately, we are owned by the Raba Group, a 100-year-old electronics business. We primarily manufacture a range of encoders and sensors for a number of different sectors, including automated manufacturing and mobile machinery."

Photo: Guoxing Technology: Maker of classy chassis.
Guoxing Technology: Maker of classy chassis.
Photo: Guoxing Technology: Maker of classy chassis.
Guoxing Technology: Maker of classy chassis.
Photo: Drawing attention: Jiangsu’s Golden Cat.
Drawing attention: Jiangsu's Golden Cat.
Photo: Drawing attention: Jiangsu’s Golden Cat.
Drawing attention: Jiangsu's Golden Cat.

At the event, the company had opted to showcase its range of position sensors in support of Palki, its local distributor, which has a particular focus on the construction and military sectors. Outlining the USP of these systems, Zou said: "Our rotary encoding sensors show how much a motor shaft is turning and allow operators to react in real time thanks to the accuracy of the information provided.

"Overall, for us at least, the market is continuing to improve. Last year was great for us in China in particular, with our sales up by 50%. We've only officially been in China since 2015, so we're still expanding here."

One of the more local firms attending the event was Shandong Guoxing Intelligent Technology, a specialist producer of robot chassis for third-party businesses. Assessing the event with a seasoned eye, Sales Manager Rita Wang said: "While this show is considered the leading such event in China, its counterpart in Dubai is more professional and we tend to do better business there. To be fair, this is our second time here and we have met up with a number of Saudi Arabian, Korean and American prospects. To be honest, though, while there are quite a lot of attendees, not many are actually buying."

One of the newer exhibitors was Vobosh, a Jiangsu-based business launched in 2017. The company specialises in small robots for production lines, most of which are connected to runners, which the company also supplies.

According to Sales Representative Zhang Shingjun, while the company is currently only serving the domestic market, it's keen to build up its international presence. Expanding on this, he said: "Basically, we've come to this show to find overseas customers. Disappointingly, though, compared with many of the other Shanghai events we've participated in, this has not been a huge success for us."

By contrast, Golden Cat Robot, a fellow Jiangsu-based business, seemed more than happy with its experience at the four-day event. The company's focus is on the production of robots for a series of specialist applications, including soldering, welding and spraying. Attracting particular attention on its stand was a 3C (Computer, Communication, Consumer electronics) robot, which was rigged up to pen portraits of any attendee who posed in front of its attached camera.

Outlining the company's offering, Educational Training Manager Xu Ce said: "Using our own robots on a production line, we can create a wholly new robot in less than 30 minutes.

"I would say, overall, we are having a good show. Although we are currently only selling in China, we are looking to export and believe this event may prove to be a useful stepping stone for us."

One company that was perhaps even more confident about its future prospects – although notably less enamoured with its experience at the event – was HG Innovation, a nine-year-old Suzhou-based industrial design house.

Detailing the company's evolution, General Manager Weason Fen said: "Although we only entered this particular sector in 2014, robot design now comprises 60-70% of our business. We make prototype robots for shopping malls, advertising purposes, hotel room services, banks and restaurants. Over the past few years, our robot design business has boomed and is now growing by about 30% a year.

"We come to this show because many of our potential customers do, as do a fair number of our suppliers. Having said that, the event has shrunk considerably since we first attended in 2017. These days, we find Beijing's China Robot Show is a better bet for us."

Photo: Cyber China: By 2021, more than half the world’s new industrial robots will be bought by mainland firms.
Cyber China: By 2021, more than half the world's new industrial robots will be bought by mainland firms.
Photo: Cyber China: By 2021, more than half the world’s new industrial robots will be bought by mainland firms.
Cyber China: By 2021, more than half the world's new industrial robots will be bought by mainland firms.

The 2019 China International Robot Show took place from the 10-13 July at Shanghai's National Exhibition and Convention Center.

Chen Rong, Special Correspondent, Shanghai

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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