China eyes robot manufacturing as way to fuel economic growth
- The government believes the robotics industry is on the cusp of a ‘revolutionary leap’ that could help fuel the country’s development
- The country is already the world’s leading market for the sector, with revenues passing the US$23 billion mark last year
The country is the world’s largest market for robots and last year more than half of the industrial robots installed worldwide were in China.
Last week Xin Guobin, a vice-minister for industry and information technology, urged the robotics industry to aim for “breakthroughs in high-end machines, key components and the production process” through innovation.
“Robots are deeply integrated with the new generation of information technology, with enhanced automation and adaptability and expanding applications. [They have] penetrated every aspect of the economy and society,” Xin told the opening ceremony of the six-day World Robot Conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
Xin said the use of industrial robots has rapidly expanded in new energy vehicles, lithium batteries, photovoltaics and other emerging industries.
“The robotics industry is now approaching a tipping point towards a revolutionary leap, containing huge investment opportunities and surging development momentum,” Xin said.
China’s industrial robotics industry has grown significantly over the past few years, last year generating more than 170 billion yuan (US$23 billion) in revenue. The production of industrial robots rose tenfold between 2015 and 2021 to reach 366,000 units, according to the industry ministry.
China produced 222,000 industrial robotic units in the first half of 2023, up 5.4 per cent from the same period the previous year. It also produced 3.53 million service robot units, a 9.6 per cent rise, over the same period, according to the ministry’s figures.
Xin added that China will expand international cooperation in robotics technology and encourage foreign robotics companies to invest in China.
At the 8th China Robotop and Intelligent Economic Talents Summit held in the eastern province of Zhejiang in May, You Wei, a robotics expert from the industry ministry, said China has “basically achieved independent production of core parts for industrial robots”.
Beijing is keen to boost its advanced manufacturing sector and boost its self-reliance in the face of increased pressure from the United States, which is trying to limit its access to advanced technology such as chips.
The country’s falling population and weak economic growth have given these efforts a further spur.
China is now the fastest growing robot market in the world. The International Federation of Robotics said in December last year that thanks to massive investment, China overtook the US for the first time to become the world’s fifth most automated country in 2021.
The federation said the number of operational industrial robots relative to the number of workers hit 322 units per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry for China, compared with the top two, South Korea and Singapore, which had 1,000 and 670 respectively.
State news agency Xinhua said on Saturday that figure had risen to 392 last year.
A number of local governments have also unveiled plans to boost the robotics sector.
In June, the Shanghai municipal government proposed to use at least 20,000 new industrial robots in the next three years.
On Wednesday, the local government in Beijing said it would set up a 10 billion yuan robotics industry fund and support the financing and listing of robotics companies.