Upgrading China’s manufacturing in the age of artificial intelligence

Beijing, March 25 2018 - ABB CEO Dr. Ulrich Spiesshofer today attended the China Development Forum 2018 in Beijing, and shared his insights on how to upgrade China’s manufacturing through the deployment of advanced automation and AI technologies in a white paper titled Manufacturing in the age of artificial intelligence. This is the 5th consecutive year that Spiesshofer has attended the annual CDF conference to contribute advice on China’s sustainable growth based on ABB’s pioneering technology leadership, domain expertise and strong customer relationships.



Spiesshofer pointed out that, since the 1970s, production processes have become increasingly automated by computerized control systems. In recent years, software has become a subset of a rapidly expanding range of digital technologies, including cloud computing, big data analytics and machine learning, which refers to the capacity of AI to rewrite its own software in response to new data.

Today, investment in artificial intelligence and machine learning in particular is expanding rapidly worldwide. Increasingly sophisticated algorithms and more powerful computers, together with the proliferation of data and affordability of data storage, have increased the likelihood that we will witness a step change in the capacity of AI systems in the near future.

“Machine learning and other disruptive technologies have, to date, primarily been deployed by the consumer goods sector. The widespread application to the industrial and B2B sectors, however, will be a more critical test of the technology’s potential to reshape the economy,” said Spiesshofer. “Unlike consumer-generated data, which is relatively easy to interpret, data generated by machines is often far more complicated, and as much as 40 percent of it may prove to be irrelevant. There are no shortcuts available to companies that do not have large amounts of high-quality, structured data that can be processed by an algorithm.”

While many challenges remain, the potential benefits of advanced automation and AI for manufacturing are enormous, and extend to optimizing processes, automating assembly lines, minimizing waste, speeding up delivery time, and enhancing customer experience. “To realize the full potential of these technologies, there must be a concerted effort to fully digitize every aspect of a company’s operations, networking them together to create a ‘smart factory’ that generates and transmits high-quality structured data about the entire value chain,” added Spiesshofer.

Advanced automation and AI are the continuation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which began in 1970s with the world’s first microprocessor-controlled industrial robot, pioneered by ABB. More than four decades later, cloud-connected robots and machines can be remotely monitored from anywhere in world. With the expertise built up from its global installed base of more than 70 million connected devices and 70,000 industrial control systems, ABB is turning the data into actionable intelligence which its customers can use to increase uptime, speed and yield of their operations. Last year, ABB launched ABB AbilityTM, an innovative offering of digital solutions and services that uses data-driven intelligence to optimize industrial operations and take performance to the next level.

Following the launch of ABB Ability, ABB joined forces with IBM to develop its machine-learning capabilities. By pairing ABB Ability with IBM’s Watson computing system, ABB is seeking to move into a new era of cognitive industrial operations, where mines, industrial plants, offshore installations and all manner of facilities are effectively able to run themselves.

China is one of the countries taking the lead in AI development. Over the past few years, the Chinese government has rolled out a series of forward-looking policies, demonstrating its commitment to comprehensively upgrade its industrial base through the deployment of advanced automation and intelligent technologies. To support China’s ambitions, ABB is helping China’s utilities, industry and transport & infrastructure customers to lay the foundations for the coming AI era.

Looking forward, AI has the potential to reshape manufacturing in the years to come, yet the right conditions must be created for this transformation, such as accelerating the development of smart manufacturing, establishing rules and standards to ensure all the data generated are machine-readable and building a more sophisticated data ecosystem through cross-boundary collaboration. While the mass deployment of automation and machine learning will create vast new fields of employment, strong measures for recalibrating the educational system need to be taken to secure a promising future for AI and manufacturing.

ABB (ABBN: SIX Swiss Ex) is a pioneering technology leader in electrification products, robotics and motion, industrial automation and power grids, serving customers in utilities, industry and transport & infrastructure globally. Continuing a history of innovation spanning more than 130 years, ABB today is writing the future of industrial digitalization with two clear value propositions: bringing electricity from any power plant to any plug and automating industries from natural resources to finished products. As title partner of Formula E, the fully electric international FIA motorsport class, ABB is pushing the boundaries of e-mobility to contribute to a sustainable future. ABB operates in more than 100 countries with about 135,000 employees. ABB has a full range of business activities in China, including R&D, manufacturing, sales and services, with 17,000 employees located in 139 cities, 40 local companies, and online and offline channels across over 300 cities.

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