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By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief
There is ferment, excitement, energy and directedness in China. I had been to China before, but this trip clearly showed me that something was fundamentally different between what is going on in China and what is going on in the West.
In China, manufacturing is an honorable career path, and automation is an honorable profession.
In China, young people flock to manufacturing and automation as key professions. I attended the Rockwell Automation on the Move event in Beijing in May. I was truly amazed at the energy and attendance at the event. Remember, this is a regional event, which Rockwell moves from city to city over the course of a year. There were over 1000 attendees—customers, partners and media. And the average age of the attendees was about 30. Bob Eisenbrown, Rockwell's vice president of global channels and marketing, was also in attendance, and he told Rockwell's John Bernaden that he wished he could transfer some of this high-energy event back to the U. S. automation industry. Bernaden noted "it's clearly a much different customer base. These younger Chinese customers love to learn about new products and applications by surfing the Internet. Industry analyst GongKong gets more than 10,000 viewers a day to its website while U.S. industry analysts may get that much traffic in a month."
There's that ferment. There's that excitement. It even is affecting young Westerners who are electing to live and work in China instead of taking a more conventional career path. While in China, I had the opportunity to attend a party given by Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, one of the largest PR and advertising firms in the world, and I met several young Western expatriates who had come to Beijing to be a part of the growth and change in China. They were excited about China, and China's economic growth. I found it interesting that none of them said they'd had the same opportunities at home they'd found in Beijing.
“In China, manufacturing is an honorable career path, and automation is an honorable profession.”
There's both good news and bad news about a command economy, as the Chinese do it. We usually hear about the bad news. Yet, it is difficult to see how we in North America can do some of the things the Chinese can do.
In 2006, the Chinese government agreed to shut down the Capital Steel plant in Beijing because it was a high contributor to the air pollution of the Beijing area. This was done as part of the Beijing Olympics bid. This wasn't a good thing for the Chinese economy though, because Capital Steel was the largest steel plant in China.So the Chinese Government sent the plant 220 kilometers east of Beijing, to a specially reclaimed island in Bohai Bay called Caofeidian. Caofeidian is a planned industrial city that the Chinese call an "eco-city." It is intended to be much more energy-efficient and less polluting than traditional Chinese cities. The plant, now called Shougang Jing Tang Iron and Steel Union Company, was designed, built and in operation making steel by the middle of 2009. Currently, there are two blast furnaces with continuous casting processes and a rolling mill. These are both 5500 cubic meter furnaces—making them among the largest in the world, with a production rate of 11000 TPD.
Rockwell Automation received the order for control of the blast furnaces and the concasters, while Siemens received the order for the rolling mill. Such split deals are common in China because the Chinese do not wish to be locked into a single source of supply. By the end of 2011, two more furnaces will be in operation, doubling the output of the plant. One was scheduled to be in operation later this year.
The plant is as modern as any steel mill anywhere. In a departure from the traditional Chinese emphasis on production at any price, the new Jing Tang plant is designed to have minimal pollution. An article from Xinhua News Service shows the new plant will ensure 99.5 percent of the solid waste and 97.5 percent of wastewater are recycled, while air pollution will be reduced equally drastically.
The automation systems are also designed, as Wang Chang Shui, Iron Department Equipment Manager explained, to provide the ability to make much higher quality iron and steel. "This means we are more profitable," he said. In the old plant in Beijing, over 1000 mostly unskilled workers, working in much tougher environmental conditions, manually controlled the blast furnace processes. In the new plant, the Rockwell PlantPAx system allows a small force of 100 degreed automation engineers to control the entire plant from a state-of-the-art control room with a video wall showing live images from critical areas in the plant.Building a plant from less than scratch (they had to build the island on which it is situated first) in the short amount of time they had, Wang said, "caused lots of challenges for commissioning and whole plant integration."
"There are 13000 I/O just for the furnace, and raw material intake and the sintering plant have even more," Wang said. "Getting all the vendors working together was a challenge, but all of our design objectives have been met."
Now that the plant automation system has been brought up to world-class, Wang can concentrate on things like asset management and advanced process control—quite a jump from 1000 wrench turners and knob tweakers just four or five years ago. He can also look into things like environmental monitoring systems like Rockwell's Pavilion Technologies.
Wang was very forthcoming about why they chose Rockwell and Siemens over other vendors. Rockwell's system, he said, was much more open and user-friendly and did not require the purchase of the same vendor's field devices to ensure compatibility. Siemens, Wang said, was similar, although he noted that Rockwell's in-country support was somewhat better. There were potential downsides, however. Yokogawa, he said, had the application down, and Rockwell had not yet produced a system this large in China. It could have been a career limiting move, he admitted.