China urged to develop hi-tech products rather than relying on imports

Rather than importing solutions for its problems, a London group says it would be better for China to grasp modern technologies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 3:22am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 6:00am

Halma, a London-listed high-technology group, gave a kind reminder to Chinese businesses that grasping the use of advanced foreign technologies should be more important than splashing out funds to import sophisticated facilities for their latest products.

The maker of safety, health care and environmental technology products consolidated its foothold on the mainland as it added a research and development centre for optical sensing in Shanghai.

"Education is more important," said Martin Zhang, a director of Halma China. "You may not have to take cutting-edge technologies, but you should know how to implement them and conduct product development."

Halma's products are increasingly used in China in strategically vital products such as air pollution monitors and detectors for melamine that help ensure food safety.

Its subsidiary, Ocean Optics, one of the world's leading suppliers of technologies for optical sensing, will develop more new products for China and regional markets after its Asian operations are separated from its US headquarters and would run independently in what the company said was a decision aimed at "giving a quick response" to the mainland's huge market.

Optical sensing technologies are used to measure and interpret the interaction of light with matter. They are widely applied to things like industrial thin film measurement, fruit sorting and jewellery detection.

Halma would not disclose its targeted sales figure in China but it did say that Ocean Optics expected an annualised business growth of 15 to 20 per cent.

China's reliance on imported technologies and sophisticated products has increased by leaps and bounds in recent years in line with Beijing's ambition of moving mainland-made products up the value chain.

The key components and technologies imported from foreign markets or bought from foreign businesses could be either copied or directly used in end-products.

China's bid to raise air quality and ensure food safety also ushered in a buying spree for foreign technologies and products.

Halma's Alicat mass-flow controllers, a series of devices which improve the accuracy of air monitors, has gone into the mainland market as dozens of cities published PM2.5 readings.

PM2.5 refers to airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns, which cause choking haze and poses health risks to hundreds of thousands of people.

Anecdotal evidence showed that a large sum of money was wasted in China as local engineers were unable to operate imported equipment or maintain them.

Some of the production lines were forced to sit idle for several days or even months because of technical glitches before the suppliers sent the technicians to help fix the problems, according to an official with state-owned China National Coal Group.

Ocean Optics has a research team of 10 engineers focusing on product development for China and regional clients. Its Asian operations contributed 20 per cent of Ocean Optics' global revenue.