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Technology gap gives foreign firms the edge in China robot wars

by admin   |   Posted on Monday, 21 September 2015 10:55 AM

A Baxter robot of Rethink Robotics picks up a business card as it performs during a display at the World Economic Forum (WEF), in China's port city Dalian, Liaoning province, China, September 9, 2015. REUTERS/JASON LEE

A Baxter robot of Rethink Robotics picks up a business card as it performs during a display at the World Economic Forum (WEF), in China’s port city Dalian, Liaoning province, China, September 9, 2015.
REUTERS/JASON LEE

In a cavernous showroom on the outskirts of this port city in northeastern China, softly whirring lathes and svelte robot arms represent Dalian Machine Tools Group’s (DMTG) vision of an automated future for Chinese manufacturing.

On closer inspection, however, most of the machines’ control panels bear the logos of Japan’s FANUC Corp or the German conglomerate Siemens.

The imported control systems in DMTG’s products – used in the assembly of everything from smartphones to cement trucks – are symbolic of the technology gap between Chinese and foreign industrial automation firms, just one of several challenges facing China’s ambition to nurture a national robotics industry.

Chinese robotics firms are also grappling with a weakening economy and slumping automotive sector, and industry insiders already predict a market bubble just three years after the central government issued policies to spur robotics development.

“Last year everybody thought they could produce a robot,” said Alan Lee, director of Asia sales and business development at Boston-based Rethink Robotics. “When you have market saturation you’ll have filtering and M&A. These guys will be the first layer to suffer.”

It is a storyline familiar from other new industries such as solar panels: Beijing’s policies and subsides trigger a wave of low-margin, low-cost contenders to rush into the market, where, with no meaningful technology of their own, they struggle to compete on price alone.

A year after analysts predicted the unstoppable advance of Chinese robot makers, executives at foreign companies now say they are well-positioned to weather any temporary blip in demand as manufacturers tighten capital investment while waiting to see how China’s economy fares.

ROBOTICS EXPLOSION

To be sure, foreign or domestic executives alike say they believe in China’s commitment to upgrade its manufacturing sector and the potential of the domestic robot industry to grow into a leading force in the long run.

With wages rising as much as 10 percent a year, Chinese policymakers have said they fear labor shortages of as high as 30 percent in some areas and are keen to help automation along.

Chinese-made robots deployed have surged from an estimated 3,000 in 2012, when the central government began introducing automated manufacturing proposals, to 15,000 last year, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

The growth rate for foreign-made robots has been slower, but they still dominate Chinese factory floors, with numbers increasing from 22,000 to 41,000, during the same period.

Subsidies have sparked an explosion in the number of Chinese robotics firms from 200 to around 815 in two years, according to OFWeek, a Chinese robot industry news site and research center.

But at most 30 of those firms have done any meaningful research and development, said Wang Baomin, senior analyst at Shenzhen-based consulting firm MIR Industry.

“Companies that get subsidies through connections are cruising without feeling any competition or fully grasping the technology,” said Wang.

“I’m afraid robots will walk down the path of China’s solar industry, with its market development distorted.”

Xu Wenjiu, an executive at Shenzhen-based robot maker LEN, expects a third of domestic robot firms to collapse within three years because many do not have the ability to offer after-market maintenance for products that break down.

TECHNOLOGY GAP

Foreign robot makers are sanguine about the profusion of Chinese rivals – at least for now.

Gu Chunyuan, the China head of Zurich-based ABB Robotics, a leading robotics firm along with the likes of Germany’s Kuka and Japan’s Yaskawa, downplayed the threat of Chinese competition, saying his firm held a significant technological advantage.

The company also ships many “naked” robots to Chinese firms who resell a customized final product to factories.

In Dalian, DTMG’s president, Ma Junqing, acknowledged there was an “obvious gap” between Chinese firms and foreign competitors in robot and automation technology.

But he said his firm, which specializes in automated machine tools, had been making advanced robot arms for only three years and hoped to catch up with Japanese rivals in three years and German competitors within five.

“The complete product chain takes a long time, as does researching technology and developing the market,” said Ma, whose firm has longstanding government links and receives subsidies and loans.

Still, domestic firms like Shanghai Siasun Robot & Automation are seen as making advances in robot technology, while companies like DMTG and rival Shenyang Machine Tool Co are investing to expand beyond traditional machine tools into more sophisticated products.

Rethink Robotics’ founder Rodney Brooks, who has consulted for local Chinese governments, predicted that the champion of Chinese robotics may emerge from an unexpected quarter, given the level of investment and technology required.

He named e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, which has invested in robotics with hardware manufacturer Foxconn and Softbank, as a contender, much like how Amazon Inc has become a major robotics player in the United States.

“It may not be the traditional players but the transformation is still going to happen in China,” Brooks said.

(Reporting by Gerry Shih and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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China commits in drafting South China Sea Code of Conduct – FM Wang

by UNTV News and Rescue   |   Posted on Thursday, 21 March 2019 05:52 PM

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the Pagasa (Hope) Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines July 20, 2011. REUTERS/ROLEX DELA PENA/POOL

BEIJING, China – Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin has met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday (March 20) where the two officials discussed matters pertaining to issues that concern both countries.

Wang assured the Philippines that China will cooperate with all member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in crafting the long-stalled Code of Conduct in the South China Sea in the next three years.

China also raised the possibility of discussing its flagship Belt and Road program.

“China will work together with the Philippines and other ASEAN countries, to remain determined, exclude interference, and strive to finish negotiations on the COC by the end of 2021, and make it a real stabilizer for the South China Sea situation,” Wang said.

In April, the Philippines and China will meet to discuss the China-Philippine Bilateral Consultation Mechanism.

Locsin confirmed, meanwhile, that President Rodrigo Duterte will attend the second Belt and Road Forum in China scheduled next month.

The official added that the Philippine government is working on strengthening its political trust with China to further boost the two countries’ bilateral cooperation which include programs on maritime cooperation and peace and navigational stability.

“Between the Philippines and China, which have always been friends and never enemies, resisting attempts by the great powers of the previous century to use our proximity against each other rather than for each other’s benefit,” Locsin said.

“Early on, I am proud to say that I was part of an effort to bring our countries close together,” the Foreign Affairs Secretary concluded. —  Marje Pelayo (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

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DFA Sec. Locsin to visit China next week

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Friday, 15 March 2019 12:22 PM

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. will embark on a four-day official visit to China next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced Thursday (March 16).

The official visit will take place from March 18 to 21, upon the invitation of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“Secretary Locsin and his Chinese counterpart will hold a bilateral meeting to discuss the strengthening of the friendly relations between the Philippines and China in the spirit of mutual respect and through enhanced functional cooperation,” the DFA said in a statement.

The two foreign ministers are also expected to tackle ways to advance the larger goal of “bringing peace and prosperity to the region.”

This will be Locsin’s first visit to China since assuming the post in October last year.

The Duterte administration has been vocal on its intent to forge stronger economic ties with China despite a maritime dispute over the South China Sea.

The incumbent government has opted to hold a bilateral consultation mechanism with China to settle the dispute, setting aside discussions on the permanent court of arbitration’s ruling on the contested waterways.

In 2016, the international tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines’ arbitration case against China’s expansive nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea. – Robie de Guzman

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DND orders AFP to confirm reported harassment of Filipino fishermen near Pag-asa Island

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, 6 March 2019 05:48 PM

An aerial view shows the Pagasa (Hope) Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines July 20, 2011. REUTERS/ROLEX DELA PENA/POOL

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday he has already directed the military to validate the report on the alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen in sandbars near Pag-asa Island.

The Department of National Defense (DND) said in a statement that there has been no substantiated report from its units on the ground that can confirm claims made by Kalayaan Mayor Roberto del Mundo, based on the initial communication from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (WESCOM).

“The AFP, through the Naval Forces West under WESCOM, will nonetheless continuously validate and report any information relevant to Mayor del Mundo’s claims,” the DND statement read.

Earlier this week, Mayor del Mundo claimed that more than a dozen Chinese vessels were sighted near Pag-asa Island and were intimidating Filipino fishermen.

The local official further said the Chinese vessels are driving local fishermen away from Sandy Cay which is situated between Pag-asa Island and China’s artificial island in Subi reef.

Pag-asa island (also known as Thitu island) is the seat of the Palawan municipality of Kalayaan.

The DND, however, noted that the said area where the alleged harassment occurred is a traditional fishing ground for the Philippines and other countries, including China and Vietnam.

AFP WESCOM has also urged people from Pag-asa Island to continue their activities in the said area since “it has been observed that they have not been fishing in the vicinity of the sandbar, even before the Chinese fishing vessels were sighted in the area,” the DND added.

A sheltered port in Pag-asa is now being constructed to help local fishermen, the DND said.

A maritime law expert, meanwhile, urged the Philippine government to use the reported harassment to intensify its monitoring and patrol operations in the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.

Professor Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs, also believes that filing a diplomatic protest over the said incident is necessary even if the Duterte administration is keeping a careful tread amid its warming relations with China.

“A protest is necessary, even a quiet one, just to make sure that we will never be seen as having accepted the situation,” Batongbacal said.

“I guess the best response was simply to increase vigilance and for our people to continue what they are doing,” Batongbacal added. – Robie de Guzman (with a report from Correspondent Nel Maribojoc)

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