Ningbo forges role as economic powerhouse
City's automatic production lines succeed in emphasizing smart manufacturing sector
Renowned as a global trade city since the days of the ancient Silk Road thousands of years ago, Ningbo has been cementing its role as an economic powerhouse in the Yangtze River Delta region by emphasizing smart manufacturing.
"Ningbo is a harbor city which has many connections with the world, and so do we," said Wu Jing, director of the general office of Zhongyin (Ningbo) Battery Co. "We have many new ideas, new information and new technology from our clients, which helps drive us."
As the world's third-largest and Asia's largest producer of alkaline batteries, Zhongyin exemplifies the ambitions of its home city. It produces up to 5 billion batteries per year, accounting for a quarter of the alkaline batteries exported from China.
Its output is fueled by its fourth-generation automatic battery production lines. In an unlit room in the company's Ningbo East New Town premises, two automated production lines produce 500 batteries per minute. The only humans present are technicians that carefully track the production process, ready to address any issue that may arise.
The automatic production lines have been so successful that the company has recently opened a new smart factory in north Ningbo.
"Our aim is not only having a smart production line, but having a fully smart factory, including accessories assembly, the inspection, the transfer inside the battery, warehousing, and deliveries," Wu said.
Ningbo's smart manufacturing efforts can be felt in traditional manufacturing sectors, with Zhejiang releasing a provincial plan for upgrading these industries in 2017.
This can be experienced firsthand at Youngor Group's 5G smart factory, which opened in 2018. Dedicated to producing men's suits for six different brands, the group's Ningbo 5G smart factory produces 170,000 suits per year.
It uses an artificial intelligence platform that allows it to monitor workers in real time and an industrial internet platform to track each step of the manufacturing process, which also provides flexibility for the company to cater to different sizes and orders seamlessly.
"Increasing efficiency and lowering the costs in any business activity have been the main benefits of our smart factories," said Gu Yuejun, Youngor clothing manufacturing information director.
As a leading enterprise in the national textile and apparel industry, Youngor ranked 52nd in the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce's 2022 list of China's top 500 private enterprises, with 143.94 billion yuan ($20.09 billion) in revenue.
Gu credits the company's smart factory for boosting production efficiency by 25 percent and reducing energy consumption per unit by 8 percent. He said the company's period to complete large orders has dropped from 45 days to 32 days.
The company has since upgraded all of its factories in 2020, including its manufacturing plants in Yunnan, Jilin and Zhejiang provinces. Digital twin, 5G, AI, and big data technologies allow the company to be able to monitor all of their factories in real time, aiding the company's management.
"In the future, we will incorporate metaverse technologies, which will complement the digital twins of our factories," Gu added.
The construction of smart factories has been a major focus in Ningbo, with the municipal bureau of economy and information technology releasing a smart manufacturing action plan aiming to construct more than 15 provincial "future plants" and over 400 digital workshops and smart factories by 2025.
The city aims to have 200 companies included in its pilot program for the application of 5G and industrial internet, build over 10 national industrial internet platforms, have more than 230 corporate R&D centers at provincial level, and have about 6,000 high-tech companies by 2025.
Companies like Soundking Group are responding to their home city's ambitions. Founded in 1988, Soundking has grown from manufacturing music cables to an audio and video integration smart manufacturer rolling out a wide range of products in its Ningbo factory, including musical instruments, audio and video equipment, LED cinemas, and smart classroom systems.
In addition to major projects like contributing sound systems for 12 of the 13 new venues built for the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou, Soundking's centralized command system can be used to manage smart factories.
Utilizing an interactive cloud display system that can provide realtime monitoring and provide 3D visualization data. The innovative system allows users to quick grasp the overall situation, forecast trends and make accurate judgments quickly.
"Ningbo is a very important city and manufacturing is its foundation. Now, we have a big goal of building a smart city in manufacturing and our small goal is to make our factory smart enough. So we are making a lot of investments every year," said Li Chi, sales director at Soundking.
With Ningbo aiming to be a global hub for smart manufacturing by 2026, local companies like Zhejiang Dafeng Industry have been making their mark around the world.
Dafeng produced the ground core device that seamlessly lifted the innovative cauldron in the memorable Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics this year, bringing award-winning director Zhang Yimou's vision to life.
The company has evolved from producing cinema seating in the 1990s to creating integrated systems for major events like the Hangzhou Asian Games and the G20 Summit, as well as new urban cultural landmarks like the China National Opera House, Chengdu City Concert Hall, Kazakhstan Peace Palace, Algeria Opera House, and the Havana Grand Theatre.
At its two production bases in Yuyao, a county-level city in Ningbo, Dafeng produces a wide range of products from seats used in subway systems across the world to customized hydraulic stages like the ones it has provided for the country's Spring Festival Gala for 23 consecutive years.
"In the production process, we have eliminated production technology and equipment with high energy consumption, high emissions and low efficiency," said Wu Hangdan, deputy general manager of Dafeng's international business division.
"We have introduced advanced equipment and technology, and have intensified the building of a digital factory to improve production quality and efficiency."
Wu noted the company has made large-scale use of robot welding technology and regenerative catalytic oxidation activated carbon to upgrade its exhaust gas treatment equipment for painting to meet carbon emission standards and reduce air pollution.
In addition, the company has invested 600 million yuan to build the Dafeng Technology Innovation Center, which is expected to open by the end of this year and expand its development opportunities.
"As a listed company, Dafeng shoulders social responsibility and will adhere to the principle of sustainable development to become more refined and stronger, while assisting the country in achieving major strategies related to carbon peaking and neutrality," Wu said.