At Biel Crystal Manufactory’s Huizhou plant in Guangdong province, two robotic arms work round the clock, uploading and offloading the smartphones modules.
They are part of the automation process that the world’s largest producer of cover glass has adopted to deliver 4 million pieces of products a day.
Less than 100 kilometres away in the adjacent city of Dongguan, TAL Group, one of the world’s largest dress shirt makers, has also automated its production process and capitalised on technology for product innovation.
The two are among numerous Hong Kong manufacturing pioneers that have embraced the digitalisation of manufacturing and brought the “smart factory” created under the so-called Industry 4.0 into their businesses to better compete globally.
More importantly, their successful transformation gives the manufacturing sector, once a crucial growth driver of the city’s economy and production base to many overseas brands, a new lease of life. In so doing, the transformation mitigates the pressures of labour shortage and rising wages.
The value of Hong Kong’s value-added manufacturing halved from US$7.9 billion in 2000 to US$3.5 billion in 2015 to account for a mere 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to the most recent World Bank data .
In contrast, value-added manufacturing in China surged nearly eightfold from US$384.9 billion in 2000 to US$2.9 trillion in 2013, according to the most recently available data.
“Forty per cent of our manufacturing activities are automated,” said Biel’s chairman Yeung Kin-man, whose company produces glass cover used in two of every three of Apple’s iPhones sold in the world.
Biel is also the supplier of glass screens for Samsung’s smartphones, and for devices made by Huawei Technologies, Oppo and Vivo.
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