China’s innovation hub leading the way to the country’s future of industries

China’s innovation hub leading the way to the country’s future of industries

In the last decades, China’s economy has experienced a remarkable period of rapid growth, making it the strongest economy in the world today based on the purchasing power parity. With the expansion of the Shanghai free trade zone, the city could be leading the way to positioning China as a global innovation leader. ABB has an extensive history with Shanghai, home to some of ABB’s most cutting-edge technological facilities.

ABB’s relationship with China dates back to 1907, when ABB delivered a steam boiler to the country. Today, ABB has a full range of business activities with nearly 20,000 employees across 130 cities in China. As a global innovation hub serving as powerful engine for the country’s growth and digital transformation, Shanghai is ABB’s most important manufacturing and R&D site – and with over 6,000 employees, also ABB’s largest office in the world. In his speech at the 31st annual meeting of the International Business Leaders Advisory Council (IBLAC) for the Mayor of Shanghai, ABB Chairman and CEO Peter Voser commented on the opportunities for innovation created by the extension of the Shanghai free trade zone (FTZ).

“The expansion of the Shanghai free trade zone with the Lingang New Area is a great opportunity to further advance Shanghai’s and China’s position as a global leader in technology innovation,” said ABB Chairman and CEO Peter Voser

The Shanghai FTZ has played a vital role in attracting the investment and expertise that have made the city a global innovation hub that it is today. Building on ABB’s long-lasting commitment and presence in China, ABB is continuously investing in the country, further optimizing its business footprint and driving the localization of the whole value chain.

Digital factory of the future in Shanghai

In 2018, ABB and the Shanghai municipal government signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Strategic Cooperation in the fields of industry, energy, transport and infrastructure. Less than a year later ABB broke ground for its most advanced and flexible robotics Factory of the Future and R&D facilities in Shanghai, aiming to support the advancement of Shanghai's high-end manufacturing, the construction of a science and technology innovation center, and the promotion of the city's growth and core competitiveness. ABB’ robotics factory will be the most advanced, automated and flexible factory in the robotics industry worldwide, utilizing the latest manufacturing processes and the largest R&D, production and application base of robotics in China.

Production in the highly automated facility will be based on automation cells, with robots moving from station to station, enabling greater customization and more flexibility than in traditional, linear production systems. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) will deliver parts to the production robots just in time, while the latest collaborative technologies will ensure that humans and robots can work safely side by side, bringing greater flexibility and agility to production processes and combining the advantages of robots with the unique capabilities of people. A digital twin will provide everyone from managers and engineers to operators and maintenance teams data insights and machine learning power to improve performance and maximize productivity. ABB will use a machine learning-based system to inspect robots as they are being assembled, to ensure the highest quality standards.

The facility will also host a world-class research and development center, which will accelerate innovations in robotics and industrial artificial intelligence (AI). The center will serve as an open innovation hub where ABB closely collaborates with its customers to co-develop automation solutions tailored to individual needs. ABB’s robotics factory of the future is expected to open in early 2021, expanding over an area of 67,000 m2 and representing an $150 million investment.

  • ABB's digital factory of the future in Shanghai
  • At the groundbreaking ceremony, from left to right: Peter Voser, ABB Chairman and CEO; Chunyuan Gu, President ABB Asia, Middle East and Africa region; Sami Atiya, President ABB Robotics & Discrete Automation business; James-Gang Li, Lead Business Manager, Robotics and Discrete Automation, ABB China

ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operation Center in China

In 2017, ABB added Shanghai to its global network of ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operation Centers to support the shipping industry’s journey towards digitalization and ultimately safer and more efficient vessel operations. ABB has provided integrated propulsion systems to a wide range of vessels built in China, with both domestic and global operations. The new Shanghai center allows ABB experts to remotely analyze equipment performance, troubleshoot and diagnose as well as work on maintenance planning and fleet benchmarking. To do so, it uses data gathered by sensors onboard ships and sent ashore by satellite. The center offers real time support in English and Chinese and, supporting vessels on a 24/7 basis and regardless of their location through the it’s collaboration with other ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operation Centers in Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Italy, the USA and Singapore.

ABB is currently remotely monitoring more than 900 ships.

ABB in China – a future of innovation

China is ABB’s second-largest market worldwide with more than 90% of sales from locally-made products, solutions and services. Since 1992, ABB has invested more than $2.4 billion in China. Following this long-term commitment to innovation, the nucleus of economic growth and development, ABB will continue driving the future of industries, cities, mobility, energy and work in China.

The agreement between the Shanghai municipal government and ABB, singed in 2018, identifies key areas of future cooperation, including smart manufacturing, smart transportation, smart city, new energy development as well as the marine and ports industry. ABB will take advantage of its innovative technologies, which cover the whole value chain of industrial automation as well as its leading ABB Ability™ digital solutions, to forge industrial cooperation with Shanghai’s local enterprises to upgrade the level of automation, flexibility and intelligence. It will utilize its rich resources and experience in urban informatization, smart power distribution, smart community and electrical security, to support Shanghai in building a smart city and enable safe and efficient connectivity. Relying on its advanced technology in clean energy such as wind and solar, it will also help Shanghai improve the utilization of green energy, integrated energy services and digital operation of energy assets.

In the fields of transport and infrastructure, ABB will support the rapid development of new electric vehicles (EV) and the construction of a green charging ecosystem in Shanghai with its technical advantages in EV charging, renewables, energy storage and micro grid. Earlier this year, ABB has provided 10 Terra 63Z DC fast chargers for a pilot project, jointly established by BP and 66iFuel, opened in the Jiading District, Shanghai. The Terra 63Z DC fast chargers, having an output of 60kW and equipped with ABB Ability™ Connected Services, can remotely diagnose 90% of possible problems and solve 60% of exceptional cases, greatly improving the operating efficiency and uptime of charging piles. 

ABB's Terra 63Z DC fast chargers
ABB's Terra 63Z DC fast chargers

In addition, ABB will serve the shipbuilding and port construction enterprises in Shanghai with its leading products, systems and solutions in the marine and ports industry, jointly developing digital technologies for ships and smart ports to support Shanghai in becoming an international shipping center. In a historic deal with Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. (SWS), ABB has been awarded a contract to supply an integrated package, including two Azipod® units which are proven to cut fuel consumption by up to 15 percent, reduce noise and vibration and offer 360-degree maneuverability, a complete electric power plant concept with electricity generators, main switchboards, distribution transformers and a propulsion control system for moving the Azipod® units from the bridge. The digital system includes remote diagnostics capabilities, which enable connectivity to ABB AbilityTM Collaborative Operation Centers. The 323-meter vessel, due for delivery in 2023, will be able to accommodate 5,000 passengers.


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