Automatically to China
For many years, China was regarded as the ‘extended workbench’ of the West. However, these times are over. With enormous investments, the Middle Kingdom is being transformed into a high-tech nation. And this change is being felt by German textile-machinery manufacturers in the form of increased demand.
In 2017 alone, around € 226 billion was spent on research and development (by way of comparison, the total budget of the German government in the same year amounted to € 329 billion). The Chinese government is also investing enormous amounts in infrastructure expansion, renewable energies and information and communication technologies. Automation is also a priority on its investment agenda. And one of the beneficiaries of these future-oriented endeavours is the German textile processing machinery industry.
“There is a growing awareness of quality in modern China when it comes to products and exports”, says Maik Eisenhardt, Sales and Marketing Manager of RSG Automation Technics GmbH & Co. KG. Based near Stuttgart, the company with 20 employees manufactures fully or semi-automatic machines for making textile belts and tapes into seat belts for cars and aeroplanes. The chance of having been belted in by a seat belt made on an RSG machine is high: the company’s machines are used to make around 70 percent of all car safety-belt systems.
Automation vs hand production?
Eisenhardt and his colleagues are showing their automation solutions for so-called narrow textiles for the first time at Cinte Techtextil (4 to 6 September 2018) in Shanghai. One of the reasons for the growing demand: “Wages are rising rapidly in China in the wake of high-tech developments”, says Eisenhardt. Accordingly, Chinese textile manufacturers are looking for ways to make high-quality goods more efficiently. If, however, German machines fold, sew, weld, print, wrap, stack and pack belts and tapes, is there not a danger that jobs will be lost to technology?
“Experience worldwide shows that it is not automation that destroys jobs but rather a lack of skilled workers and trainees, which forces companies to seek new locations”, says Eisenhardt. In this connection, he cites an example from Germany: “Ten years ago, one of our key accounts based in the Czech Republic had around 300 employees – today, they have 1,800. Thanks to our machines, they could increase vastly their productivity and continue manufacturing in Germany.” There is a dearth of skilled workers in the sewing segment in particular. And this is confirmed by a glance at a list published by Germany’s Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) showing the number of trainee agreements made in Germany in 2016: of the over 511,600 trainees, only 120 wanted to train to become textile and fashion sewing professionals.
‘Silk Road’ reloaded
Qualitative aspects play a leading role in promoting demand for automation solutions for making technical textiles in China because there are no factory seconds when it comes to belts, tapes, airbags, tyre cord, filters for use in cars, aeroplanes, medical equipment and smartphones, etc. They are either perfect – or useless. “We have developed patented systems that monitor the sewing process and immediately identity faults in textile materials” says RSG Marketing Manager Eisenhardt. If a defect is registered, the product is immediately sorted out as waste.
In future, even more of such machines for making technical textiles could be exported from Germany to China – by rail. At present, the Chinese government is investing around 1,000 billion dollars in the revitalisation of the world’s best known ‘road’, the Silk Road. In ancient times and in the early Middle Ages, this was the route used to carry wool, silver, gold and – hence the name – silk back and forth between Europe and Asia. When it is complete, this gigantic project – also known as the ‘One Belt, One Road – will cover 11,000 kilometres and link 70 countries. A railway line already runs from the Chinese city of Chongqing to a logistics centre in Duisburg. According to a spokesperson of the port operator in Duisburg, Duisburger Hafen AG, the line is currently used by 35 goods trains a week – a number that is likely to increase very soon.
Title image source: RSG Automation Technics