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Technology gap gives foreign firms the edge in China robot wars

by admin   |   Posted on Monday, September 21st, 2015

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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Morales on getting held at Hong Kong airport: ‘It was bullying’

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

Former Philippine Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales upon her arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after she was barred from entering Hong Kong on May 21, 2019.

MANILA, Philippines – Former Philippine Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has called her temporary “detention” at the Hong Kong International Airport a form of bullying, after immigration officials barred her from entering the country for a few hours on Tuesday afternoon.

“Yes, that was bullying. How do you call it if that’s not bullying? I think someone came up with the theory that shocked and awe daw. Hindi naman ako nasho-shock; hindi naman ako naa-awe. Nabubwisit lang,” Morales told reporters upon her arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at past 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Morales, along with her family, arrived in Hong Kong airport at 12:20 p.m. for a vacation. Her husband, son, daughter-in-law and her grandchildren were allowed entry but Morales was stopped by immigration officials.

Philippine Deputy Consul General Germinia Aguilar-Usudan said the Hong Kong Immigration office did not provide the exact reason why Morales was barred entry.

“For the reason why she was not allowed immediate entry to Hong Kong, we were not given any reason by the immigration office,” she told UNTV News and Rescue in an interview.

READ: Ex-Ombudsman Morales temporarily held at HK airport

According to Morales, Hong Kong authorities told her she was being detained for “immigration reasons,” but refused to explain the grounds.

“They did not tell me anything about it. I was insisting they give me the ground. They said nothing,” she said.

Morales said that during her brief detention, she was asked by Hong Kong Immigration officials to sign a document but she refused to do so because parts of it were blanks.

“I read it and then it said ‘detention,’ and of course, the detention I was thinking of was behind bars,” she added.

With the help of Philippine Consulate officials, the former Ombudsman was eventually allowed entry at around 3 p.m. but she decided to just take the flight back to the Philippines.

“I was disappointed not because I was not allowed entry but because I was deprived of the opportunity to see my grandchildren enjoy their vacation in Hong Kong,” she said.

In March, Morales along with former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, filed a complaint of crimes against humanity against Chinese President Xi Jinping at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for purportedly damaging the resources at the disputed territory in West Philippine Sea through China’s ongoing reclamation activities in the area.

Morales said the incident at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday afternoon has further strengthened her resolve to proceed with the complaint she filed before the ICC.

Although she has yet to determine her next steps, Morales has vowed to remain resolute at speaking against Chinese policies despite the friendlier stance that the current administration has taken towards China. (with details from Asher Cadapan Jr.)

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Gov’t checks on security concerns amid Huawei woes

by Marje Pelayo   |   Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

Courtesy : Reuters

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang assured the public that the government is acting on the issue involving Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Millions of smartphone users across the globe went into a frenzy after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered U.S. companies to ban supplying their technology to Huawei amid the ongoing US-China trade war.

The ban was followed by Google’s decision to cut off Huawei’s Android license which dazed Huawei users with the thought that they would lose access to Google’s proprietary services and be deprived of future upgrades on their phones.

The U.S. accused Huawei of posing an international security threat saying the Chinese telecom company is being used by China for surveillance and to “spy” on Americans.

In line with this, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made certain that President Rodrigo Duterte will do his part once he receives the recommendation from the concerned agencies.

“I supposed the Department of National Defense, as well as the national security adviser, is studying that matter and the President is waiting for whatever recommendation they have on that,” Panelo said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said they do not see any threat to the country’s security so far with the public’s patronage of Huawei products.

“Magmula ng lumabas ang issue na iyan ay nagsagawa ng validation ang PNP at sa araw na ito ay natunghayan natin na wala pong sapat na katibayan o ebidensya na mag uugnay sa kumpanya ng Huawei sa alegasyon na umanoy pang-eespiya,” said Police Colonel Bernard Banac, the PNP Spokesperson.

(Ever since that issue surfaced, the PNP has begun conducting validation on it. And up to this day, we have no proof or evidence linking Huawei to alleged espionage.) – Marje Pelayo (with details from Rosalie Coz)

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Eleven pulled alive from rubble in China building collapse

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Thursday, May 16th, 2019

A team of rescuers are trying to find survivors under rubble after a building collapsed in Shanghai, China on May 16. | Photo grabbed from Reuters footage

Rescue services pulled out 11 people alive from a collapsed building in China’s financial hub of Shanghai on Thursday (May 16), and about same number are believed to be still trapped in the rubble.

The building in Shanghai’s Changning district was being renovated when it collapsed late in the morning, trapping some 20 people inside, fire services said in a statement.

Witnesses heard a big bang which lasted for five to six second and a cloud of dust that enveloped the building.

“The accident happened at 11 am and a big bang lasted five to six seconds. I immediately ran to the balcony and saw the entire factory was surrounded by dust. After the dust dispersed, I found the factory collapsed. As it was my first time to witness this, I was quiet shocked,” said Zhang Lei, who was working in an office next to the collapsed building

More than 150 rescuers are on the scene but they have not said how the building collapsed. (REUTERS)

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