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New technologies and environment top concerns of carmakers in China 

SHANGHAI  4 JUNE 2010: Automotive manufacturers in China are set to become early adopters of the latest production technologies in order to supply the booming local market and address growing environmental concerns.
This is according to John Buttermore, Vice-President of Manufacturing for GM's International Operations. He was speaking at the first Automotive Manufacturing Solutions China conference, held on 3-4 June at the Intercontinental Hotel Pudong in Shanghai.

John Buttermore, Vice President of manufacturing – GM
Buttermore went on to say that in terms of automotive production, China could no longer be looked at as an individual market separate from other regions. Instead, he noted that both national and joint-venture operations would need to improve process technologies "in order to meet customer expectations that are as high in China as anywhere else in the world." To help reach this goal, Buttermore said that GM would be introducing 10 new models into the Chinese market over the next year.
While carmakers in China are not renowned for their environmental credentials, Buttermore pointed out that the third GM JV facility in China was due to receive landfill-free status. The new technologies automotive companies needed to adopt would further reduce material wastage and emissions, while also serving to improve plant efficiency.

Mario Hu , Manufacturing Business Manager (Asia Pacific and Africa) – Ford
Mario Hu, Manufacturing Business Manager (Asia Pacific and Africa) at Ford echoed Buttermore when he said that the time when you could sell older models in China was now over. To appeal to local car buyers, Ford was now debuting as many new models in China as in the mature markets of Europe or North America.
While such model introduction plans would benefit local consumers, Hu also noted that expansion at this level came with risks related to over-capacity. New technologies, he said, would allow the adoption of flexible production strategies which could off-set associated problems, the implementation of these same technologies coming as a direct result of what the carmaker had learned during the recent market downturn outside China.

Wang Jianhua, Director of Utility Engineering – Beijing Hyundai
Beijing Hyundai's Director of Utility Engineering, Wang Jianhua, highlighted the Korean company's goal to achieve 'clean' production in China. He noted that as part of this programme, the carmaker had installed new panel presses, increasing capacity from 7.8 to 15 stampings per minute while reducing energy consumption by 25%. In the paintshop, Wang also noted that Hyundai had made major reductions in the use of phosphorous in the body treatment area.

Chen Jianwei, Vice General Manager at Guangzhou Automobile, while highlighting the fact that all carmakers had a social responsibility to cut emissions in line with government regulations through the use of technology solutions, also pointed out that labour issues and worker's rights were becoming increasingly important across the Chinese automotive industry.

Chen Jianwei, Vice General Manager – Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor 
With changes including a government-set minimum wage, Chen noted that 'the era of cheap labour is over'. This, he continued, would force those carmakers that had been relying on labour savings in order to control costs to increasingly turn to automation.
Another factor that Chen said would lead to carmakers purchasing additional automation solutions was the apparent shortage of skilled labour, brought about by the rapid expansion of the Chinese automotive manufacturing sector. "Companies that have been using cheap labour will have to automate in order to remain competitive," he said.
In addition to the full two-day conference, the AMS China event featured an 'Ask the Carmaker' panel, where delegates could pose questions to top manufacturing executives from GM, FAW-VW, Ford, SAIC and Chery Automotive. Another event at the conference was the Microsoft and Rockwell round table, which covered the convergence of IT and operations to create an umbrella communications tool to enable greater visibility of the complete automaking process.
For a full report on the AMS China conference, please be sure to see our July/August issue.

Man + Machine:

raising output and quality to keep pace with China's demand

The booming market is setting new kinds of production challenges. The objective now is rapidly-increasing quality standards which satisfy discerning Chinese buyers in a highly competitive marketplace, while delivering the volume to meet the demand.

Automation and the latest technologies are a part of that. But so too is low labour cost. The right blend of man and machine in the Chinese context is the overall theme of the first AMS China conference.

The conference brought together domestic and jv OEMs, and the principal tier suppliers, with the providers of all the technologies which make up vehicle manufacture and assembly. Attendance was at the VP/production director and plant management level, and will be from within China and the rest of the world.

Subject matter covered:
  • OEM strategies
  • production and plant case studies, and the blend of labour and automation
  • sessions on specific technologies, from forging, stamping and cutting, and BIW and paintshop, and on to robotics, test and measurement
  • skills and human factors
  • automation, and the planning & management of the digital factory
  • the green and clean environment required for 2010 production.

Track record of AMS conferences

AMS has organised international conferences in many locations, including Detroit, Leipzig in Germany, and Mumbai in India. One of the most recent events held in the automotive hub of Pune, India from 30 Nov – 3 Dec 2009, attracted almost 300 attendees, along with technology displays from 25 vendors.

Speakers included senior executives from the principal domestic OEMs Mahindra, Maruti Suzuki and Tata, and from the transplants including Ford, GM, Mercedes, Renault Nissan and Volkswagen.  Tier suppliers like Tenneco and Cosma and technology providers from Durr to Microsoft to Uddeholm were also on the panel. See the programme and speakers.