Business

In remote China, factory uses new manufacturing tech to build cars

While workers at car factories in Germany and South Korea fight to save their jobs, one of China's youngest car brands is gearing up to build sport utility vehicles at a new factory with digitally-connected robots and a fresh workforce of 1,800 people.

The Lynk & Co plant in Zhangjiakou combines technology and manufacturing know-how from the Geely and Volvo Cars units of China auto giant Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

The 12 billion yuan (S$2.5 billion) investment is an example of the challenge confronting long-established car factories in mature industrial economies.

As carmakers adopt new manufacturing technology, industry officials are confident they can deploy the same packages of robots, assembly line designs and digital quality control systems globally - and train people to do what robots cannot yet do.

Plant manager Tong Xiangbei is in the vanguard of a tech revolution that enables carmakers to put new factories in remote places such as Zhangjiakou, a city of four million people in Hebei province.

"With this team, we could go anywhere and replicate this factory," said Mr Tong, 42.

The Zhangjiakou complex will build the Lynk & Co 02 SUV and a sedan called the 03 for the Chinese market. Currently, the plant has about 1,800 workers on one daily shift, labouring alongside nearly 300 robots.

The factory uses Kuka robots to weld together the bodies of its vehicles - the same brand used to build Mercedes-Benz cars.

US company Rockwell Automation and Germany's Robert Bosch supply the technology used on the final assembly line.

A robot from ABB glues windshields into each Lynk & Co 02 sport utility.

US tool maker Atlas Copco provided a "nut runner" that bolts wheels on vehicles, records the force used and sends the data to a cloud server.

For its human workforce, some of whom live up to 500km away, the company is building housing for its employees.

But Mr Ton also saw benefits in the plant's remote location.

"We can expand any direction we want," he said. - REUTERS

BUSINESS & FINANCE