ABB begins work on future robotics factory

Construction has started on ABB‘s robotics manufacturing and research factory. Located in China, the facility is expected to open in 2021 and is the result of a US$150 million ($218m) investment by the SIX Swiss Exchange traded company.

Located in Kangqiao, near Shanghai, the facility will involve machine learning, digital, and collaborative solutions.

According to a statement released by ABB, the factory will be the most advanced, automated, and flexible factory in the worldwide robotics industry.

“The establishment of the new factory is another milestone in ABB’s development in China and will further strengthen our leadership in the world’s largest robotics market,” said Peter Voser, chairman and CEO of ABB.

Instead of a linear production line, the facility will be structured around cells of automation, with autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) moving between stations. This will allow greater flexibility and customisation, according to ABB.

Collaboration between humans and robots will also be a feature of the site, and the entire site will be visualised for mobility through a digital twin system, which gives engineers and maintenance staff insights into the functioning of the factory.

In addition to the production facilities, a R&D centre will be co-located on the site, to further research into artificial intelligence, and promote collaboration between ABB and its partners.

With ABB predicting that global robot sales will grow from $80 billion to $130b ($116.4b to $189b) by 2025, driven by the largest global consumer, China, and one in three robots sold in 2017 going to the rising superpower, ABB aims to be in the centre of this growing market.

The factory responds to changes in the Chinese labour market, said Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation and Discrete Automation business.

“Despite short-term market challenges, China’s development as a global manufacturing hub, the ongoing trend towards mass customisation, and a rising shortage in skilled labour will continue to create strong and lasting demand for automation solutions in the region,” said Atiya.