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ABB invests $150m to build ‘most advanced robot factory’

29 October, 2018

ABB is investing $150m to build “the world’s most advanced, automated and flexible robotics factory” in Shanghai, China. The new Kangqiao manufacturing centre, located near ABB’s existing robotics campus, will combine the company’s connected digital technologies, collaborative robotics and innovative artificial intelligence research to create “the most sophisticated and environmentally sustainable factory of the future.” It is expected to start operating by the end of 2020.

The new factory will include an r&d centre which will help to accelerate innovations in artificial intelligence. Using a new, global approach to design that ABB announced earlier this year, the factory will be able to increase “dramatically” both the breadth (type of robots) and depth (variants of each type) that can be made onsite, allowing more and faster customisation to meet the needs of customers.

The factory will be modelled as a digital twin, providing tailored dashboards to help managers, engineers, operators and maintenance experts to make the best decisions. This includes gathering and analysing intelligence through ABB’s Ability Connected Services on the health and performance of ABB robots in the factory to allow early identification of potential problems. As well as avoiding costly downtime, the digital technology can improve performance, reliability and energy usage, and provide access to platforms such as the Microsoft Azure enterprise cloud – the first international public cloud service operated in China.

The new factory will have an innovative, flexible floorplan based on interlinked islands of automation, rather than fixed assembly lines. It will use logistics automation systems including AGVs (automatic guided vehicles) that can follow robots autonomously as they move through production, supplying them with parts from localised stations. This will allow production to adapt and scale to changes in China’s robot market without needing extra capacity expansions.

To aid the move to mass customisation in manufacturing and to ensure the highest levels of productivity and flexibility, the new factory will also make extensive use of ABB’s SafeMove2 software, which allows people and robots to work safely in close proximity. In addition, ABB’s YuMi robots will allow close collaboration on many of the small parts assembly tasks needed to produce a robot.

“The concept behind this factory is the same advice we give our customers every day: invest in automation solutions that provide flexibility and agility to grow in whichever direction the market goes,” says Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s Robotics and Motion division. “ABB is proud to help our customers in China and around the world with solutions that take full advantage of the latest technologies to meet the challenges of mass customization, faster cycles and constant change which have become the new normal – even in our own factories.”

“There’s a large shift away from looking at factory size and Capex investments as the way to meet future demand,” adds Per Vegard Nerseth, managing director of ABB Robotics. “The concept behind our new factory is to make the smartest and most flexible use of every meter of production. That comes from combining agile automation solutions with the great capabilities of our people.”

ABB's new $150m robot factory in Shanghai will use its own YuMi collaborative robots to assemble parts for other robots

ABB has signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Shanghai municipal government, focused on supporting industry, energy, transport and infrastructure in the region.

“China’s commitment to transform its manufacturing is a torchlight for the rest of the world,” says ABB CEO, Ulrich Spiesshofer. “Its strategic embrace of the latest technologies for artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and cloud-based computing present a playbook for every country that wishes to have a globally competitive manufacturing base.

“Shanghai has become a vital centre for advanced technology leadership – for ABB and the world,” he adds. “We look forward to working with Shanghai mayor Ying Yong, other community leaders and our customers as we launch this major expansion of ABB’s substantial presence in China, building on our journey to become China’s leading Robotics manufacturer that started in Shanghai over two decades ago.”

ABB is already China’s leading robotics manufacturer. In 2017, one in three robots sold around the world went to China, which bought nearly 138,000 machines. Currently, ABB employs about 5,000 people in Shanghai, while its robotics businesses in China together employ more than 2,000 engineers, technology experts and operational leaders in 20 locations. ABB has invested more than $2.4bn in China since 1992, and has more than 18,000 employees in total.

ABB was an early entrant in the China robotics market and the first global robot supplier in the country to have a complete local value chain, including r&d, manufacturing, system integration and service.

The new Shanghai factory – with its r&d centre – will become a key part of ABB’s global robotics supply system, together with the company’s recently upgraded factory in Västerås, Sweden and its factory in Auburn Hills, Michigan. ABB says it is the only global robot supplier with a US manufacturing footprint.

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