Friday, November 7, 2014

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Wearable tech triggers automation growth in China’s manufacturing sector

Experts say China’s electronics manufacturing sector needs to move toward automation and robotic assembly to enable the exacting processes needed to create the new wave of complex "wearable" computing devices.

Greater precision is needed to make wearables because the products use more miniaturized components than smartphones or media tablets.

"We have to put more automation and technology in the manufacturing process for wearables because the human hand has a difficult time handling these devices," said Mike Dennison, the president of Singapore-based Flextronics' consumer technologies group. "We are now seeing lots of investments in new equipment and technology."

Last month Macquarie research said the mainland's rising electronics manufacturing, semiconductor, power and high-precision instrument industries would surpass carmakers as the fastest-growing users of industrial robots. It also said the gradual increase in labor costs would drive up demand for automation, which will benefit industrial robot suppliers.

Flextronics, the world's second-biggest contract electronics manufacturer, expects to build a $1 billion a year business in wearables. It has signed up 25 clients over the past three years, including major global brands and mainland start-ups, helped by the automated assembly process at its industrial park in Zhuhai.

David Johnson, Flextronics' vice-president for product industrialization, said wearables are more labor intensive than other devices because they are more intricate products, that they help design, prototype and gear up for mass manufacturing.

Johnson said the devices were being assembled in "clean rooms," using either fully configurable robotic systems or modular automation, in which certain sections of production were handled by human labor.

Flextronics is leading the industry in designing small, lightweight and flexible printed circuit boards into various wearables, including fitness activity wristbands, smart watches, biometric sensors, disposable "digital tattoos" that can communicate with smartphones, and transdermal patches.

Research firm IHS forecast global sales of wearables would rise to 130.7 million units by 2018 from 51.2 million last year.

For more of the South China Morning Post story:

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