AUTOMATION

Chinese robot manufacturer forced to retract erroneous sales listed in annual report

Appliance maker denied buying any robots from company last year

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 7:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 May, 2016, 3:20pm

A leading robot maker in Central China, Shenzhen-listed Wuhan Huazhong Numerical Control (HNC) has admitted its financial report for last year included “inaccurate information” on its robot sales.

In its 2015 financial report, released in February, HNC listed deals with state-owned appliance manufacturer Gree Electric as being among the most important sales achievements of its new robot unit.

But HNC put a retraction on its official website early this week after mainland media reported that GREE had not bought any robots from HNC last year.

Shares of HNC have since slumped more than 20 per cent.

Doubts over HNC’s true sales could also affect other Chinese robot makers, whose sales figures are key to their eligibility for hundreds of millions of yuan in government subsidies.

It could be misleading for both investors and governments in evaluating the true size of the domestic industrial robot market
Guo Tiechuan, Heitian Precision Robot

Many robot manufacturers on the mainland are dependent on government subsidies to prop up their businesses as the authorities look to robotics to overcome labour shortages and spur innovation to counter the economic slowdown and spend hundreds of billions of yuan on replacing human labour with robots, according to industry insiders.

In its annual report, HNC said: “So far, HNC has sold a few hundred gantry robots to GREE’s plants in Zhuhai, Guangdong, and Wuhan, Hubei. The gantry robots have operated well on household electrical appliance production lines at GREE’s plants and helped GREE cut its labour costs.”

However, news website eeo.com.cn reported that GREE denied last Friday that it had entered into any deals with HNC last year for industrial robots or robot components.

GREE said it had only purchased a number of components from HNC in 2014, including robot controllers, which it had used to make its own gantry robots.

Rise of the machines: China’s robotics market can only grow

HNC said on Monday it had sold a few hundred control system components to GREE since 2012, and not a few hundred industrial robots.

“I think HNC did need to release such a clarification to the public,” said Guo Tiechuan, a sales manager at Shenzhen-based Heitian Precision Robot. “It could be misleading for both investors and governments in evaluating the true size of the domestic industrial robot market.”

Luo Jun, chief executive of the International Robotics and Intelligent Equipment Industry Alliance, a government think tank, said he did not want to judge HNC.

“But we do need to acknowledge the fact that most Chinese robot manufacturers are relying heavily on imported materials and lack the technology to independently produce high-end industrial robots,” Luo said.

Southern China’s robot manufacturers upbeat about sales after busy first quarter

Subsidies and rent and tax deductions were still critical for domestic robot makers, Luo said.

According to eeo.com.cn, sales by HNC’s robot unit reached 33.9 million yuan last year, accounting for about 6 per cent of the company’s total annual revenue. Meanwhile, the municipal governments of Chongqing and Shenzhen, where it has factories producing robots, had handed at least 70 million yuan in subsidies to the company over the past two years.

Growth in industrial robot sales on the mainland slowed last year, rising 16 per cent year on year to 66,000 units, after growing 55 per cent in 2014 to 57,000 units.