Shanghai — Industry 4.0 — the term first used in Germany to describe the much deeper combination of information technology and manufacturing that's now emerging in factories — can help China's plastics industry upgrade, even if it's not entirely clear what shape that upgrade will take.
As one step, the head of China's plastics machinery association is calling for a plastics-related manufacturing innovation center.
The topic of industrial upgrades took center stage at a German industry-sponsored forum on Industry 4.0 at the Chinaplas show in Shanghai in late April.
Borch Zhu, the chairman of the China Plastics Machinery Industry Association, told the conference that Germany's 4.0 advancements can help China meet its own goals of upgrading manufacturing as part of the government's Made in China 2025 plan released last year.
A key part of the Made in China 2025 plan calls for much higher levels of locally made content in core components and materials, increasing to 40 percent locally made by 2020 and 70 percent by 2025.
Zhu talked about why he believes it's important for the local machinery industry to be involved in the China 2025 effort, and said it is worthwhile for plastics companies to seek the attention of the government.
He called plastics machinery a “sunrise industry” that continues to boost its technology.
He said that last year, for the first time, China exported more plastics machinery than it imported. China has had the world's largest plastics machinery sector since 2005, he said, and currently has annual sales of more than 50 billion Chinese yuan ($7.7 billion).
“We are still on the growth curve,” he said.
CPMIA data presented at the forum indicated that locally made plastics machinery is taking a much larger part of China's market. Made-in-China plastics machinery accounted for about 80 percent of the Chinese market in 2015, up from 50 percent in 2008.
The data did not make it clear, however, how much of that increase came because of the sizable increase in foreign machinery investment in China's plastics sector in the last decade, rather than from solely Chinese-owned companies.
Zhu noted that China still has weak links in bridging gaps with more advanced manufacturing economies, including in skilled labor. He called for setting up an innovation center for plastics, to bring in technology from other industries and help the local plastics sector.
An analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said that Made in China 2025 draws “direct inspiration” from Industry 4.0, but is much broader than the German plan. For example, the Chinese plan calls for creating 40 national innovation centers in manufacturing.
“The Chinese effort is far broader, as the efficiency and quality of Chinese producers are highly uneven, and multiple challenges need to be overcome in a short amount of time if China is to avoid being squeezed by both newly emerging low-cost producers and more effectively cooperate and compete with advanced industrialized economies,” CSIS said.