Received several rounds of the stunning amount of funds, totalled about USD 40 million ; backed by the Chinese government; promoted, every now and then, by the mainstream media like CCTV(China Central Television) and Dragon Media(东方卫视) in China; QKM Technology(李群自动化) seems to enjoy its glorious status as a unicorn among high-tech companies in China. They strategically engineered their product portfolio, carefully chose the appropriate application scenarios for their robots, and acted as a babysitter for their clients, almost covered every need from them. The previous CEO SHI Jinbo(石金博), appeared in almost every photo with her signature smile reflecting her power and confidence. It looks like she is certainly going to seize the success in this battle among Chinese industrial robot manufacturers. It appears to be so smart and so high profile, but if it were really so very smart, why it doesn't challenge the big foreign industrial robot manufacturers instead but only still messing around with the fairly weak Chinese players?
The reason behind this is, obviously, QKM's robots are not that 'smart' still.
SHI mentioned in previous interviews that she is very optimistic about the future development of Chinese Industrial Robot Industry, stressing on the potential opportunities Chinese manufacturers might find because the huge western players like YASKAWA and ABB, were not focusing on lightweight industrial robots. Therefore, they could lock their eyes on lightweight robots to be able to grasp the market share left out by the giants.
However, according to official statistics released by the White Paper on China Industrial Robot Industry, 90% of the Industrial Robots used in China are produced by foreign brands. There is obviously not enough room to play judging from the current status quo.
XU Xiaonian(许小年), economist and the Professor of Economics and Finance at China Europe International Business School said a day ago in an interview that China has already entered into the post-industrialization period, stating that most of the industries in China, except the service sector, had already developed to a quite mature stage that return on investment from them is not worthwhile to be expected at all. This comment from a Chinese experienced economist shocked me because almost all high tech machines utilized in Chinese factories and labs are designed and manufactured by companies from the U.S., Japan, UK, and Germany. In other word, companies who can engineer and produce these high tech machines technically almost do not exist in China. There still remains huge empty space for Chinese companies to explore. Where do we need these high tech machines? Pretty much everywhere in today's highly automated manufacturing process. Pharmaceutical, computers, automobiles, food and drinks, clothing, to name but a few.
What the Chinese companies had been doing all these time?
The smart ones are trying all their efforts to grab the market share left out by western tycoons, hoping that one day, they could develop cutting-edge technology to possibly compete with the early starters. While some others do not even dare to set foot in these industries, but only staying comfortably in the area which China is strong in, such as, clothing, and food and drinks. These scenarios normally do not require high precision machines and facilities.
If you take a look at QKM Technology's product portfolio, you could notice they developed all together 5 different types of robots, only one of them is a 6-axis robot, named Helios, while the others are all 4-axis ones. Comparing to 4-axis robots, 6-axis robots are mostly articulated robots, which are robots with rotary joints. Six-axis robots allow for greater flexibility and can perform a wider variety of applications than robots with fewer axis. The major robot products offered by huge western companies in the industrial robot industry like FANUC are robots of more than 4-axis, some of them even reached 13-axis and above.
According to the comparison above, the overall picture for the Chinese industrial robot industry is not so pinky after all.
SCARA robot is hot in China, it could get hotter
Currently, the major products QKM Technology offers are lightweight SCARA industrial robots applied in 3C and other light industries in China. SHI indicated they choose SCARA robot because they recognize the opportunities lie in the market the western companies are not focusing on, but maybe the technology barrier is the true reason behind this.
SCARA is an acronym for Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm, meaning it is compliant in the X-Y axis, and rigid in the Z-axis. The SCARA configuration is designed to handle material handling operations. The world's first SCARA was developed by Makino,
Though the western giants seem too high to reach for QKM Technology, their SCARA robots could possibly help them to lead the industrial robot industry in China.
SCARA robots have, in fact, been widely used in many industries such as 3C, semiconductors, food, and pharmaceuticals, etc. They are believed to be able to get more popular in the near future in China based on the following four factors:
a. The acceleration of automation in the manufacturing process in China
b. The rising number of aged population in China will result in less working force, factories will be baffled by the difficulties in finding employees.
c. Compared to 6-axis industrial robots, though SCARA robots only have four-axis, they can meet the current needs of Chinese manufacturers. They are reliable and safe to be utilized, and the price has a significant advantage.
In recent years, along with the development of the 3C industry in China, the market size of SCARA robots has grown rapidly.
According to GGII(高工产研) and other resources, in 2017, 70% of the market share of SCARA robots in China is still occupied by foreign brands, the sales volume of SCARA in the Chinese market was 23,000 units, increased 75.57% year-on-year. The market size was USD 156.68 million, increased 61.83% compared with the figure recorded the same time last year. During the period from 2014 to 2017, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of SCARA robots was 47.45%, much higher than the CAGR of all industrial robot, 33.78%.
If the market for SCARA robots continues to perform as strong as last year, it seems there will be quite enough room to play for Chinese SCARA robot companies, including QKM Technology.
However, many challenges remain on the route of development of Chinese SCARA robots.
a. Mediocre technology level due to a later start
The emergence of China's first SCARA robot dated back to 1992. This was more than ten years later than foreign countries. Due to the late start of China's development, many core technologies were not fully developed, or to some extent, not as advanced as foreign companies. Chinese SCARA robots still need to "strengthen their muscles" to catch up with their "foreign brothers".
b. Foreign companies dominate the market
As mentioned above, SCARA robots in China's market mainly come from foreign enterprises. Epson and Yamaha, two companies together, accounted for more than 60% of the world market. In the past two years, the SCARA robot market suddenly became popular. As the companies such as Adtech(众为兴), Delta Electronics(台达), FUJISAN, QKM Technology, Risong Technology(广州瑞松), Shenzhen Inovance Tech(汇川技术), and FACC(珠海智新) entered the market, the number of SCARA industrial robots produced has increased significantly, however, the overall quality is still unable to compete with foreign companies.
In the international market, Chinese companies certainly have no place right now. The global market is basically occupied by Japanese and European companies. Among them, Japanese companies occupy more than 70% of the market share, and their technology has always represented the world's most advanced level. Under such circumstances, if Chinese enterprises wish to rise up in the international market, they need to break through the foreign monopolies firstly through core technologies development and regain their local market with local advantages and their technology strength.
In the future, the cooperating relationship between human and machine is the new trend. Also, the demand for lighter weight and more flexibility of industrial robots is going to further grow. As the application scenarios for SCARA robots expand beyond 3C to more industrial fields, robots need to face with more complex operating environments with better flexibility and lighter weight, they also need to be smaller to fit for limited spaces in industrial production.
Author: LI Jia; Write to at LiJia@EqualOcean.com