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How Chinese Factories Can Adopt Automation & Smart Manufacturing

March 31, 2021

 by David Collins

Factory worker using computer to control production

As smart manufacturing and automation become a crucial part of manufacturing, why do factories in China still struggle with its implementation? 

China factories are often unprepared for Industry 4.0 because of the wrong mentality for automation.

CMC's founding partner, Renaud Anjoran, wrote a blog on Why Solid Manufacturing Automation Strategies are so Rare in China that explains the common issues that hinder its implementation in the region. Renaud goes on to explain that China factories are often unprepared for Industry 4.0 because of the wrong mentality for automation, resulting in the following shortcomings:

  • Reactive approach to maintenance

  • Shortage of skilled labor

  • Inadequate investment in training

  • “Do now, fix later” mentality 

  • Inability to implement 5S

Automation is often seen as a machine-centric solution to increase productivity and reduce costs – just buy the right machine and hope for instant productivity improvement. This approach is incorrect and detrimental to your operations.

Adopting a Proactive Mindset

Machinery is a tool of automation, but it is not what makes automation successful. American General George S. Patton once said that “Wars are fought with weapons, but they are won by men”. Similarly, automation is achieved with the aid of machinery but will fail without the right people and the right mentality behind it.

The reactive mindset is perhaps the most important in understanding the failure to implement automation. With smart manufacturing required in every aspect of production – from purchasing, machine operation, to warehousing – we need to change the question from “How do we meet production?” to “How can we most effectively plan for production?.

Once this proactive mentality is adapted from within, your company can then purchase machinery for automation. Without it, factories that produce a lot of waste will only automate their waste. 

Move away from a reactive approach to automation with data-driven manufacturing and preventative maintenance.

Data-Driven Manufacturing Approach

Companies need to gather data on their operations to be proactive. Knowing the number of units each production run needs to be manufacturing allows your factory to forecast its production. Having clear sales figures is an excellent start, but tracking a product from the raw material until it leaves the factory warehouse is better.

Building a strong planning department will streamline factory operations and incorporate a sense of leadership, enabling more proactive decisions. Armed with the right data, you can plan your purchases more effectively and minimize warehouse space and downtime.

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Preventive Maintenance 

Adopting and consistently utilising preventive maintenance for all existing machinery is the basis for successful automation implementation. If a factory does not properly maintain its manually operated machinery, it will not be able to use more advanced automation machinery effectively.

When discussing maintenance for machinery, Renaud said

Automated machines have many points of failure and the factories don't have the means to effectively prevent or fix them. The breakdowns are often long and far more costlier than manually-operated machinery.

You may think that it seems simple, and wonder "Why don’t Chinese factories do that now?".

Again, it boils down to an issue with the mentality. Many factory owners and managers we have spoken with do not want to spend money on anything that does not immediately put money in their pockets. Proactive maintenance and starting a planning department do not produce immediate results.

However, 30 minutes of maintenance can save you thousands of dollars in hardware and tens if not hundreds of thousands in lost productivity. Owners who are not willing to invest in activities that do not produce immediate results are not ready for automation.

Shifting Away From Reactive Maintenance

Proactively showcasing the results of small changes like machine maintenance, planning and training can go a long way in changing this mentality.

We find that companies that change their mentality from reactive to proactive whilst embracing long-term improvements are much better equipped to successfully automate their processes – mindset is more important than machines to achieve successful automation.

Working with Chinese manufacturers to change their mindset and shift their focus from short-term to long-term investments are essential to adopt automation & smart manufacturing.


Will your factory be able to enjoy cost savings by implementing process automation? 

Download our complimentary presentation and cost calculator to learn more:

"Will You Save Money With Process Automation in Your Factory" [PPT + sheet]

Topics: Cost Reduction, Automation, Manufacturing In China

David Collins

David Collins

25+ years manufacturing experience in computer, automotive, aerospace, furniture, and chemical industries.
Founding Partner, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Build and managed several automotive plants in North America.
Successfully turned around Foxconn’s Mexico plant.

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