Technicians inspect an intelligent production line in Huzhou, Zhejiang province, in March. (WANG SHUCHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY)
China's accelerated efforts to develop the industrial internet and build more lighthouse factories will inject new vitality into the country's industrial economy, enhance the competitiveness of manufacturing on the global stage and empower high-quality development of the digital economy, experts said.
Zhou Yunjie, chairman and CEO of Chinese home appliance giant Haier Group, said the industrial internet has become a new engine driving the growth of the digital economy, and will play a bigger role in deepening digital transformation in manufacturing, operational management and marketing services.
Zhou said manufacturing is the foundation of a country, and the high-quality development of China's manufacturing sector has entered the fast lane, buoyed by digital technologies like cloud computing, big data, the internet of things and blockchain.
"As the country is making efforts to build itself into a manufacturing powerhouse, more efforts are needed to promote innovative application of the industrial internet and fully unleash the value of massive data resources, which are key to advancing new industrialization," he said.
Haier has invested heavily in the industrial internet to develop COSMOPlat, which is designed for companies to customize products quickly by collecting and analyzing data from consumers, suppliers and factories, while boosting productivity and cutting costs.
Powered by COSMOPlat, six factories owned by Haier have been included in the Global Lighthouse Network, an initiative launched by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with market consultancy McKinsey in 2018.
For instance, the company's washing machine factory in Tianjin, which has been selected as a lighthouse factory, has improved productivity by about 30 percent and reduced energy consumption by 35 percent through the integration of 5G, IoT, automation and advanced analysis technology.
A total of 132 factories worldwide are now engaged in the Global Lighthouse Network, which refers to the community of leading manufacturers applying advanced technologies to speed up and spread the smart adoption of Industrial 4.0 technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing and big data to their industries worldwide.
Boasting high efficiency, intelligence and sustainability, lighthouse factories represent the highest level of global intelligent manufacturing. Currently, there are 50 such factories in China, the highest number among any country, which make up more than one-third of the global total.
Digital transformation in manufacturing has become an irreversible global trend, and Foxconn takes the industrial transformation trend as a new opportunity to further enhance its manufacturing capabilities, said Brand Cheng, CEO of Foxconn Industrial Internet, the Shanghai-listed unit of Apple's key supplier Foxconn.
FII, which currently has six lighthouse factories, said it will continue to increase investment and accelerate its presence in the high-end intelligent manufacturing segment.
The industrial internet, a new type of manufacturing automation that combines advanced machines, internet-connected sensors and big data analysis, is expected to boost productivity and reduce costs in industrial production.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the country has nurtured over 240 industrial internet platforms that have strong regional and industry influence, with more than 81 million units of industrial equipment connected to the platforms, which have served 250,000 enterprises covering over 40 key sectors.
Revenue from China's core industries related to the industrial internet reached more than 1.2 trillion yuan ($166.5 billion) in 2022, up 15.5 percent year-on-year, said the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.
"The application of digital technologies has been expanded from the consumption to the production field. In particular, new industrial forms such as the industrial internet are taking shape, which has become a new growth driving engine of the digital economy and has shown remarkable development potential," said Liu Xiangdong, a researcher with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.
Liu said the booming industrial internet will see surging demand for accuracy in data acquisition, transmission speed, storage space, computing capacities and intelligent application, which will drive the development of big data and cloud computing infrastructure and foster a batch of industrial internet companies that are globally competitive.
The industrial internet should be established on the basis of traditional industries and information and communication technology, said Ni Guangnan, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, adding that more efforts should be made to facilitate the development of the industrial internet, which will boost the long-term international competitiveness of China's manufacturing sector.