Come the (4th Industrial) Revolution

factory-and-chinese-cogTIC Bodies to Boost China Manufacturing 2025

A wave of technology-driven change promises to trigger a new industrial revolution that will serve as a critical engine for the radical transformation of the manufacturing industry. China has dubbed this revolution China Manufacturing 2025, and testing, inspection and certification (TIC) bodies have an important role to play in the process.

This strategic move calls for a big leap in innovation-driven development, which raises a number of questions: What problems does the manufacturing industry currently face? What measures could be taken to solve these problems? And what role can a TIC body play? Millicent Xu of TÜV Rheinland answers these questions and more.

Made in China: Big, but not powerful

Professor Jay Lee, Distinguished Professor at University of Cincinnati and Founding Director of the National Science Foundation’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Centre’s programme on Intelligent Maintenance Systems (IMS) and an Industry 4.0 expert, has spoken out on the problems and possible solutions arising from the China Manufacturing 2025 initiative from the inspection and certification perspective. China’s manufacturing industry, he says, still has significant gaps compared to international standards.

First, key technologies and parts are still dependent on imports. China has made efforts to develop and manufacture packaged equipment, but continues to depend on technologies and parts from other countries. For example, China is manufacturing high-speed railways, but some key components are purchased abroad, such as computer numeric control (CNC) machine tools, robots, electric motors and sensors.

Second, Chinese manufacturers lack systematic quality management. The country focuses on assembly and sectionalised manufacture, and most parts and products serve other countries that must comply with the purchasers’ quality management systems. A sound data collection and quality management system for testing and certification is precisely what is lacking.

Third, products made in China are not yet strong enough to uphold the brand effect of ‘winning through quality’. Manufacturers encounter difficulties in securing long-term orders overseas due to their dependency on assembly, sectionalised manufacture and low prices. As customers find product quality, equipment security and life-cycle services increasingly important, sound, long-term data collection and quality monitoring systems are proving to be crucial.

Meeting international standards, although a necessity, is only the first step for China Manufacturing 2025. Manufacturers will need to quickly determine customers’ intrinsic demands and find innovative ways to become technological visionaries rather than pursuing the designs and technologies of advanced enterprises. As Professor Lee explains, China’s manufacturers lack the confidence to innovate but instead have the tendency to follow in the footsteps of foreign technologies. In fact, as long as there is a sound quality system and inspection platform for the assessment of product safety performance and quality, these ‘original’ products will be in line with market demand.

TIC bodies to provide solutions

Professor Lee believes that professional TIC bodies are required to facilitate the healthy development of manufacturers helping ‘Made in China’ products meet and surpass international standards to go global.

First, ‘Made in China’ products should be inspected by an impartial and authoritative TIC body. Every country is unique in its standard requirements. For example, it takes half to a full day to inspect and test some machines inside China, but two to four days if they are to be exported to Japan, due to additional testing requirements. In this regard, an international inspection company with rich experience could help Chinese enterprises fully understand the product standards of various countries and help them achieve the recognised certification needed to ensure smooth entry into the global market.

An authoritative inspection and certification (IC) body boasts good quality management and production systematisation, which are precisely the weak points of China’s manufacturing industry. An impartial IC body not only provides inspection and certification for products, but also service systems and one-stop solutions and service platforms that allow manufacturers to use big data and networking to stay informed about all product conditions, making full life-cycle servicing possible.

It is not enough to simply meet standard requirements, because the intrinsic demands of customers often far exceed national standards. Under such circumstances, it is not advisable for an enterprise to change its IC standards and requirements based on the customer. It should come into a strategic alliance with its IC body and use the latter’s test method and system to analyse products and customer demands as a means of solving product defects and maintaining upgrades and improvements, thereby meeting customer and market demands.

Professor Lee raises the concept of ‘worry-free manufacturing’. In the traditional manufacturing system, there are numerous factors that cannot be quantified or controlled by decision makers. These uncertain factors exist in both the manufacturing and application processes. The concept means that unseen problems can be solved via function safety and intelligent manufacturing to achieve true production automation. During the process, an IC body may provide effective support in controlling uncertain factors and converting variants into constants.

A large number of sensors and controllers are used in worry-free manufacturing, during which function and information safety are particularly important. Professor Lee believes that manufacturers’ critical technical data and trade and state secrets could be at risk thanks to the rise of big data and the Internet of Things. This could prove to be a significant issue, given the need to share data while using artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. For example, APPs on mobile phones only function well when the user’s location is shared. Thus, mobile APP use is associated with personal information, and big data and the Internet of Things involve trade secrets.

How does one protect manufacturers’ information and state secrets when applying big data and the Internet of Things? A professional IC body can monitor and control the risks, says Professor Lee. Such IC bodies can increase the public safety of networks to a reasonable level and thereby protect business and state secrets based on manufacturers’ safety requirements. Moreover, IC bodies can help manufacturers establish standards for combining their products with big data and the Internet of Things, and practice inspection as needed on their own. For example, a private car can be programmed to conduct a self-inspection one minute before its engine starts, one minute after it stops or during another specified period, during which the operational data on the car parts can be collected, analysed and used to ensure its functional safety.

TÜV Rheinland, an independent third-party testing, inspection and certification body with an international reputation, actively implements the ‘All Quality Matters in China’ platform. It has created a communication framework built on quality that allows Chinese manufacturers to jointly explore product quality improvement methods, build up international competitive advantages and promote the China Manufacturing 2025 revolution.