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back to index backCHINAtalk November,  2016


Robot replaces man: Made in China 2025

China has become an important testing ground for an emerging paradigm of capitalist production that has been promoted under catchwords like intelligent manufacturing, digital production or industry 4.0. In 2015, the government presented a masterplan for China’s future manufacturing entitled Made in China 2025”. Germany’s Industrie 4.0 strategy serves as a prominent point of reference. China’s plan proposes advanced automation, digital systems of factory management and large-scale deployment of robots, along with the development of an indigenous industry for advanced manufacturing equipment. There seem to be golden growth potentials for providers of robots, 3D printing, and big data. However, the strategic implications of MiC 2025 for the transformation of production networks and the rebalancing of China’s socio-economic growth model have not been well understood. Especially the transformation of work and labor markets in China’s emerging digital capitalism” remains a black box.

In developed industrial countries, the drive for digital manufacturing has revived visions of manless factories and fears of massive job losses. In particular, medium-skilled industrial work seems to be at risk, whereas the demand for very high and very low skilled work is expected to rise. In China, similar visions and concerns are prevalent. Media, companies and policy makers use the slogan robot replaces man” to promote automation in factories and workplaces. Such strategies are motivated by the need to curb rising labor costs and the continuing labor shortages in coastal areas, especially in the field of semi-skilled and higher skilled work.

On the other hand, digital manufacturing offers the potential to restructure production in socially and ecologically sustainable ways, and to overcome the human, economic and environmental costs of globalized mass production. Some of the new concepts promise new forms of decentralized manufacturing in smart factories and a shift away from mass production to customized product design and participation of the consumer. This implies relocation of production closer to end markets and evokes hopes of relocation of jobs back to industrialized countries, perhaps a reversal of dominant forms of globalization.

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Source: HKFP - GAI






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