Technology gap gives foreign firms the edge in China robot wars

 In a cavernous showroom on the outskirts of this port city in northeastern China, softly whirring lathes and svelte robot arms represent Dalian Machine Tools Group`s (DMTG) vision of an automated future for Chinese manufacturing.

Technology gap gives foreign firms the edge in China robot wars

Dalian, China: In a cavernous showroom on the outskirts of this port city in northeastern China, softly whirring lathes and svelte robot arms represent Dalian Machine Tools Group`s (DMTG) vision of an automated future for Chinese manufacturing.

On closer inspection, however, most of the machines` control panels bear the logos of Japan`s FANUC Corp or the German conglomerate Siemens.

The imported control systems in DMTG`s products – used in the assembly of everything from smartphones to cement trucks – are symbolic of the technology gap between Chinese and foreign industrial automation firms, just one of several challenges facing China`s ambition to nurture a national robotics industry.

Chinese robotics firms are also grappling with a weakening economy and slumping automotive sector, and industry insiders already predict a market bubble just three years after the central government issued policies to spur robotics development.

"Last year everybody thought they could produce a robot," said Alan Lee, director of Asia sales and business development at Boston-based Rethink Robotics. "When you have market saturation you`ll have filtering and M&A. These guys will be the first layer to suffer."

It is a storyline familiar from other new industries such as solar panels: Beijing`s policies and subsides trigger a wave of low-margin, low-cost contenders to rush into the market, where, with no meaningful technology of their own, they struggle to compete on price alone.

A year after analysts predicted the unstoppable advance of Chinese robot makers, executives at foreign companies now say they are well-positioned to weather any temporary blip in demand as manufacturers tighten capital investment while waiting to see how China`s economy fares.

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