Manufacturing: China’s market presents opportunities

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Industry 4.0 is transforming Europe’s traditional manufacturing business into a data-driven level as well as inspiring China, with its Made-in- China plan, and encouraging Asia to catch up, says Angelica Buan.

Industry 4.0 taps into the wonders of the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect small and medium-sized companies more efficiently in global production and innovation networks for efficiently engaging in mass production and customising products. However, proponents would rather call it an evolution than a revolution, the former denoting more of a natural transition than the latter’s forceful change.

In Germany, the VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association and its member firms have set themselves the target of bringing Industry 4.0 to life with specific practical examples. They want to make the sector aware of which Industry 4.0 technologies are already successfully being used today for improving production efficiency in plastics and rubber machinery manufacturing and to highlight the advantages for their customers.

Why this progressive evolution is necessary to take place in the European manufacturing sector is because it accounts for 2 million enterprises, 33 million jobs and 60% of productivity growth, according to the European Commission. It also estimates that digitisation of products and services can pour in more than EUR110 billion of annual revenue in Europe in the next five years.

China takes the cue

Meanwhile, China has taken up Germany’s Industry 4.0 cue with its Made-in-China 2025 policy it issued in 2015. The Ministry of Industry and Telecommunication Technology (MIIT) led the creation of the ten-year plan, which has a three-step strategy to catapult China as a leader in innovation, green development and quality goods by the year 2049, which incidentally also marks the centennial anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The ten sectors targeted include information technology, high-end computerised machinery and robotics, aerospace equipment, renewableenergy cars; and new materials, such as polymers. With this, the country’s manufacturing industries will be able to surmount competition from other developing countries where labour is cheaper; and, at the same time realign its industrial manufacturing prowess amid slowing economic growth.

The initiative is anticipated to maintain the lead of China’s plastics machinery market, the biggest in the world since 2005, according to China Plastics Machinery Industry Association (CPMIA).

“China’s plastics machinery market keeps increasing and now is more than RMB50 billion,” commented Kangjian Zhu, President of CPMIA and Borch Machinery, during his presentation at the Industry 4.0 conference at the Chinaplas event held in April in Shanghai.

Zhu cites the intelligent manufacturing trends being espoused by CPMIA to include setting up R&D, promoting control technology and energysaving injection moulding machines. While the initiative is still in the nascent stage, some machine manufacturers based in China are already seeing the potential of it being integrated by local industries.

China-headquartered machinery maker Haitian International is responding to the Industry 4.0 challenge with what it says are highly flexible injection moulding machines using “Technology to the Point” for diverse categories of plastic parts. Optionally, it can integrate manufacturing cells using available international standard interfaces such as Euromap or SPI as well as integrate with interfaces to networked manufacturing processes.

Automation: challenges and readiness for Asia

Some observers find that with the automation being widely embraced in factories in the West, lower labour costs offered in Asia are becoming less of a concern, and thus there is a growing preference for on-shoring.

Meanwhile, Prof Helmar Franz, Board Member of Haitian, notes a number of challenges arising from integration of machines with an intelligent environment. “There are issues beyond our control, such as data security, network availability, and internet stability. On the other hand, the question arises whether it makes any sense. Not everything that is technically possible makes economic sense for individual processors. It is more to find the golden means, the perfect balance between flexibility and productivity,” he remarks.

In an email enquiry with Joanne Goh, analyst at IHS Technology, she told PRA that IHS, which tracks and analyses the capital expenditure (CAPEX) spending on industrial automation across 15 industries by region, has estimated slower growth than average of CAPEX spending in automation tools and equipment for the rubber and plastics industry, with CAGR of 1.4% from 2015 to 2020.

“Despite the advantages of automation, which helps to maximise process accuracy, safety and efficiency, the concept of industry 4.0 in the Asia Pacific region is not ready to take off within the forecast period of 2015-2020,” Goh says. She points out that the region’s plastics and rubber industry “is still vulnerable due to overcapacity concerns.”

“Industry 4.0 and automation implementation are predicted to come in place when the plastics and rubber industry gains benefits from lower feedstock and improving demand from the automotive industry,” she stated, adding that China will lead the adoption of industry 4.0 in the industry.

Rebranding Industry 4.0

At the Chinaplas, European injection moulding machine manufacturers showcased connected manufacturing in response to the emerging Industry 4.0.


German machinery maker Arburg showcased its Freeformer for additive manufacturing that is also suitable for use in combination with injection moulding and Industry 4.0 technologies for the customer-specific individualisation of high-volume parts. The process involves digitally networked production that enables series production, entering of orders, individualisation using additive manufacturing, packaging and retrieving data.

Austrian machine maker Wittmann Battenfeld has the Wittmann 4.0, which features integrated automation and peripheral equipment with machines, such as the MicroPower 15/10 and SmartPower 120/525, as well as the W838T robot. The machines, the connected robots and the peripherals are linked via a uniform Windows user interface to enable interaction among the appliances.


Another Austrian company Engel has Inject 4.0, its umbrella term for Smart Factory solutions. It is based on what it calls three core elements, namely, Smart machines that boost process capability; Smart production to ensure high levels of productivity, with the horizontal and vertical data integration; and Smart services that improve availability thanks to close proximity and the use of remote maintenance tools.

Engel says that Chinese processing firms are starting to implement smart production and are working with its e-factory Manufacturing Execution System (MES) solution, a modular software package that provides insights into and an overview of a production process. Moreover, it offers the e-flomo, iQ weight control and iQ clamp control, decentralised assistance systems that make machines smarter through the continual monitoring and automatic readjustment of process parameters.

Munich-headquartered KraussMaffei’s Plastics 4.0 sums up global networking in production via intelligent machines with integrated production processes. It categorises the solutions as Intelligent Machines, Integrated Production and Interactive Services.


Intelligent Machines means self-optimising machines for improved productivity and quality. This includes the APC function (Adaptive Process Control) developed by KraussMaffei. APC recognises process fluctuations, which can be caused by changing environmental conditions or fluctuating viscosity, and independently adopts counteractive measures. Integrated Production refers to networked production, in which the individual machines and components communicate with each other and autonomously control the processes accordingly. Interactive Services can, on the other hand, be compared to fast and global services using the example of remote maintenance tools.

Auxiliary equipment offerings for smart efficiency

German auxiliary equipment maker Motan- Colortronic’s Smart Solutions is a network for operating, status and environmental data with an intuitive operating concept that entails a simple configuration. Smart Solutions consists of what Motan Colortronic calls smart products, which use decentralised intelligence to make “everything possible, and thus increases efficiency of the system”. It allows a machine and material supply to communicate with each other, ensuring exact amounts of energy and material required are actually used; and production is exact and accurate, says the firm.


For its pilot project under Industry 4.0, Motan Colortronic offers an automated production start with prerunning of dryers. This has the advantage of using energy efficiently, says Carl Litherland, Vice-President Marketing at Motan-Colortronic, during his Chinaplas presentation.

“It is because the drying automatically starts earlier, energy use is coordinated precisely with the production start, the dryer is chosen according to throughput – no over drying of the material; machine and material are both ready to start at the exact same time and production stops with emptying of the hopper, as well as monitoring of material conveying are automated. Another advantage is that there is no material loss at the end of production,” Litherland adds.

For Austria-based recycling machine maker Erema its Intarema systems promote Industry 4.0 efficiency. Intarema has a standard feature, the ecoSAVE technology, with up to 12% less energy consumption, reduced CO2 emissions and lower production costs. Intarema has practical energy display on the operating panel to provide the user an overview of energy consumption.

“With Intarema, it is achievable to reach perfect pellet quality at the press of a button. It is because the new Intarema features the intelligent Smart Start operating concept, bringing together production efficiency and remarkably straightforward operation. This is all about usability, including an ergonomic touchscreen, practical recipe management and automated standby mode,” according to CEO Manfred Hackl in his presentation.

Moreover, Erema’s Counter Current technology makes it possible to achieve high capacities. The extruder handles more material in a shorter time. This means constant throughput within a considerably larger temperature range, says Erema.

Thus it can be seen that whether companies offer “intelligent” or “smart” solutions, Industry 4.0 is important if companies want to remain competitive on world markets in the future.


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