HANGZHOU, China – Robots are revolutionizing production chains in China, a country that plans to increase industrial automation tenfold over the next five years.
In a household appliance factory in the city of Hangzhou, in the east of the Asian nation, the changes are evident at every stage of production.
“The robots have revolutionized the entire production line and we have figures: while previously 430 people worked, now only 138 are needed to do the same tasks,” Zhang Rongzhong, deputy director of manufacturer DE&E, told EFE.
“Robotic laser welding has a very high precision, it is the most advanced welding method and the quality of welded products is very consistent,” one employee said during a tour of the factory.
With a traditional manual machine, 28 people were needed to carry out welding.
Now there are only three who move the pieces while the “Motoman Yaskawa” releases the heat to weld at a much higher speed than a human.
Nine people previously worked in sheet metal pressing. Now there is only one supervising while the machines make housings for the appliances.
In the paint shop, one of the biggest advances, two robots spray high-pressure electrostatic powder with 24 pistols, a team of 12 people previously painted by hand which was a health hazard from being in direct contact with the chemical.
“In the past we had many health problems for workers, it is not advisable to spend so much time working with chemical substances,” a spokeswoman said.
Zhang said there have been less accidents in plate handling and added: “We recorded some accidents in the past because they are very sharp and accidents happened but now using machines for certain dangerous tasks we can protect the health of our workers.”
The Chinese Government has said it plans to increase the level of industrial automation in the country by ten times in the next five years, to reach 1.8 million units by 2025.
By that time more than half of the jobs that exist today will be replaced by ones that will make machines, according to a report “The Future of Work” by the World Economic Forum last year.
It is estimated that around 50 million jobs will be lost and around 130 will be created in the sector.
Both workers and governments will have to make “a huge effort of training and adaptation” in the coming years, it added.
Zhang said that not all the workers that have been replaced by robots during the last few years have gone to the streets.
“Some have been trained and have gone to work at our technological qualification center or technological development centers, although it is true that people with a lower qualification had to be fired,” Zhang added.
The factory is one of the most technified in the country and even includes a robotic warehouse, which has increased the use of space by five times and reduced the delivery error rate to zero thanks to technology such as data intelligence.
The 24,000 cubic meters of total capacity that were previously operated by 120 workers now only need two people thanks to four robots and 24 strollers that move through the warehouse.
Compared to other countries such as Japan, China still has a low rate of automation, in 2018 there were 68 robots per 10,000 industrial workers, compared to 631 in South Korea, the world leader in automation.
In recent years robotic companies in the country have multiplied, driven by the change of its economic model and government initiatives.