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Call for boost to R&D cooperation in core robotics technologies

Yuan Shenggao
Updated: Oct 11,2018 9:49 AM     China Daily

Industrial experts have called for increased cooperation in research and development concerning core technologies, as well as improved innovation in the Chinese robotics sector.

Industrial robots generally feature multi-linked manipulators and have been widely used in the automotive, metals products, electronics, rubber and plastics industries and other sectors.

They can replace human labor currently employed in such manual tasks as welding, moving objects, packaging, painting and cutting in production facilities.

A report on China’s industrial robots industry, released by the Chinese Institute of Electronics in August, showed that the domestic robotics sector has entered a high-growth phase.

It found that the country has ranked top of the industrial robots applications market worldwide for six consecutive years, accounting for about one-third of the world’s total market share.

The market size of the global industrial robots market is forecast to reach $16.82 billion this year, to which China alone is estimated to contribute $6.23 billion, according to the report.

Despite the huge market demand, Chinese brands have yet to reach their full potential, with a combined 9.7 percent of the global market share in 2016, according to another industrial robots report, released by Pingan Securities earlier this year.

Four big names in the industry — Fanuc and Yaskawa from Japan, Switzerland’s ABB and Kuka from Germany — together took up 58 percent of the market share in the global context.

In China, the top four accounted for 57.4 percent, while the proportion of Chinese brands was 32.8 percent, a position that paled besides their overseas rivals yet nonetheless showed an marked increase from their 25 percent share in 2015.

The current number of patent filings related to industrial robots worldwide is close to 15,000, of which roughly 5,000 were from China, Wu Ping, general manager of an intellectual property operation company in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, told China Intellectual Property News, a Beijing-based newspaper.

The Chinese filings are mainly from higher education and research institutes, including Zhejiang University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Dalian University of Technology, Tsinghua University and the Shenyang Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The core patents for industrial robots remain in countries like the United States, Japan, Germany and Sweden, Wu said.

“By comparison, China is short of patents related to core technologies in the industry and has yet to increase efforts to relieve the gap,” he said.

The report by the Chinese Institute of Electronics found the current R&D focus of Chinese manufacturers was still on breakthroughs in key technologies.

Experts say that with increased cooperation between industry and research, Chinese-made industrial robots are gaining growing acceptance in the international market.

Shining examples include a robotics-themed intelligent manufacturing industrial park in Baoji, Shaanxi province; LeaderDrive, a key robotic components manufacturer; and the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

These all achieved breakthroughs in patented technologies, experts said.

The report suggested establishing a national robotic innovation center that could serve the entire industry.

An industrial robots patent pool has already been founded in Guangdong province, aimed at combining innovation resources to boost the growth of the sector.

“Governments, companies, higher education institutes and research centers need to join forces to formulate technology development plans for key parts of industrial robots and seek breakthroughs revolving around the global industry’s technological development trends,” Wu added.