Siemens aims for Beijing AI lab to aid factories as industrial output stutters

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(Image credit: Siemens)

German industrial group Siemens on Wednesday unveiled its first artificial intelligence (AI) lab outside of Germany in Beijing, which comes as the urgency for applicable solutions using core technologies reaches fever pitch in key industries.

The company’s first industrial AI hub in the Asia Pacific region, the lab will be staffed with 50 data scientists, and around 800 Siemens researchers and engineers around the globe will be available virtually to offer applied AI solutions for Chinese clients. The industrial giant has 21 research and development (R&D) hubs with 5,000 technological staff in China as of fiscal 2018.

“Artificial intelligence is a core technology for a successful digital transformation and offers tremendous opportunities for all industries. We are excited to work with Chinese customers on their most urgent topics to make production more efficient and raise the availability of systems like machines or trains,” said Dr Roland Busch, chief operating officer and chief technology officer at Siemens AG.

The Chinese manufacturing industries are facing serious downward pressures amid an intensified trade war with the US. China’s industrial output growth slowed much more sharply than expected to 5.4% in April from a surprisingly robust 8.5% in March, reported Nikkei citing the National Bureau of Statistics. The percentages have remained below 9% since last September, compared with the annual growth rate in 2017 of 21%.

Restrictions on critical technologies are also curbing growth for China’s tech companies. The Trump administration on Wednesday moved aggressively in a move seen as largely targeting Huawei, restricting the telecom giant and 70 of its affiliates from buying American components and technologies critical to its equipment and handset production, such as semiconductors.

In a press conference held in January in Beijing, Xin Guobin, undersecretary of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said the central government will accelerate digital transformation in the traditional manufacturing industries this year. Xin added that Beijing will ramp up investment in developing core technologies as part of an initiative to become a high-value economy.

AI is considered the catalyst for scaling the smart factory in the Chinese manufacturing industry. However, most data collected from Chinese factories are irrelevant and unreliable, said Wu Hequan, academician of China’s Academy of Engineering in January. Those kinds of data cannot be used with 5G, IoT, and cloud computing solutions to increase competitiveness and efficiency of manufacturing, maintenance, and quality control.

Factory owners have limited knowledge of AI applications as well as understanding for what sort of solutions are appropriate for their businesses. “Chinese business clients have great expectations of AI, and are willing to believe it could solve all the problems they have,” (our translation) said Zhu Xiaoxun, executive vice resident of Siemens China on Wednesday in a press event in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu.

Zhu added that one of the main goals for the lab would be to help better inform clients about the roles of AI in solving specific problems and what kind of data they need to collect in the process. “Our 50 China-based data scientists will help clients to bring a basic idea into a complete solution,” he said.