ABB has announced a new US$150 million investment in Shanghai, China to build an automated and flexible robotics factory – a cutting-edge centre where robots make robots. The new Kangqiao manufacturing center, near ABB’s China robotics campus, will combine the company’s connected digital technologies, including ABB Ability solutions, state-of-the-art collaborative robotics and innovative artificial intelligence research to create the most sophisticated and environmentally sustainable “factory of the future.” It is expected to begin operating by the end of 2020.
ABB and the Shanghai municipal government also signed a 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 center 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, and an onsite 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 increase both the breadth (type of robots) and depth (variants of each type) 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.
The Shanghai factory will be modeled 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 analysing 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
The new factory will have an innovative, 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 meter 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.