How AI And 5G Are Transforming One Chinese Toilet Manufacturing Plant

Glazing is the process of applying a glaze slurry on the surface of a shaped ceramic. In ancient times, brushes were used; but nowadays, spray guns are used. In a ceramic factory, this is a highly technical work. The quality of a product is the basic skill of glazing.

Therefore, the practitioner is honored as the master of glazing. However, the process of glazing is always in contact with the glaze slurry, which makes the workers very prone to pneumoconiosis, which is extremely harmful to health.

In one ceramic factory that makes toilet bowls in China, the glazing master have completely disappeared. Instead, there are glaze application robots, which spray the glaze with efficiency three times that of human labors, with a uniformity rate of 100%, and can apply the glaze to the twisted surface that is difficult to reach by humans. Of course, the robots will not get pneumoconiosis and can work 24 hours a day.

Porters and palletizers also disappeared at this factory.

A ceramic toilet weighs more than 100 kilograms. In the old version of this ceramic factory, transportation and palletizing were the most labor-intensive manual tasks. Now there are handling robots and palletizing robots, each of which can replace six to eight workers.

Quality inspectors also disappeared. There are six high magnification cameras shooting 360 degrees against a ceramic toilet on the operating tables. The images were transmitted to the cloud for calculation. All surface quality inspections can be completed within 35 seconds. Its efficiency rate is 10 times that of manual quality inspection.

The achievement of this technology requires very high bandwidth for data transmission and needs to be completed in a 5G environment. This is the world’s first 5G digital smart ceramic factory, and it is located in Yongchun County, Quanzhou, Fujian.

This 5G digital smart ceramic factory in Yongchun is invested by JOMOO, the largest sanitary ware manufacturer in China and the fourth in the world.

The partners are Siemens, China Telecom and Huawei. They are respectively responsible for the overall architecture design of the digital factory, 5G network laying, cloud computing, and smart hardware supply. More than 1,000 sensors of various types are "embedded" in the equipment of the entire factory.

Lin Xiaowei, vice president of JOMOO, said that compared with traditional ceramic factories, the per capita output value of the new factory can be increased by 35%, and more importantly, the energy consumption is greatly reduced.

This project was launched in 2017 and was put into production in April 2020. With an investment of 1 billion yuan, it has the capacity to produce 400,000 ceramic toilets per year.

In 2017, when the project started, the concept of 5G had just taken shape. That year, China had not yet built a 5G base station. The success of this factory is far from guaranteed.

But almost a year into its operation, the efficiency improvements are significant. Beside the above mentioned improvements, there are many other aspects that achieved optimization.

For example, after the kaolin (the main material used to make toilets) is formulated with raw materials, it needs to be ground into a slurry in a ball mill.

There are more than a dozen ball mills in this factory, which are worn out day and night, and may fail six to seven times a year. Once it happens, it will have to be shut down for maintenance for two to three days.

After installing sensors on the ball mill, you can dynamically understand frictions and damages to the ball mills. Once an early warning is found, it will be investigated and resolved within one hour.

This factory also features the longest tunnel kiln in Asia at 138 meters. This is a "gas-eating dragon". The high energy consumption of gas in the ceramic factory is all due to it. Around 15% of the cost of a finished ceramic toilet is energy consumption.

The R&D department installed more than forty sensors in the tunnel kiln, and developed special control software that can dynamically monitor high temperatures and effectively regulate energy consumption through deep learning of artificial intelligence.

At the same time, the peak and bottom electricity consumption can be better distributed. The workshop director said that the intelligent transformation of this tunnel kiln cost several million yuan, but the cost can be recovered in just three years.

For JOMOO, the company started in 2013 to digitalize its purchase, sales and storage functions, opening up the digital full link from sales, production to warehousing, and built a digital backend in 2016.

The opening of the Yongchun Digital Smart Ceramic Factory adds to the benefits that can be reaped from 5G technology and AI.

This kind of transformation are happening everywhere across China as the country aims to upgrade its traditional manufacturing house to smart manufacturing of the future.

Beside strong policy support, private enterprises like JOMOO have strong incentives to adopt intelligent manufacturing.

First of all, China’s manufacturing industry has been forced to the corner by increase of various costs and more selective consumers.

Secondly, China’s Internet application environment provides a conducive basis to implement such transformation. In the past two decades, China has been the most radically changed country by the Internet, with adoption in many categories far ahead other countries.

Finally, China’s huge domestic market can support such transformation. Europe, Japan, or even the United States’ domestic market cannot afford to produce 500,000 mattresses, 20 million down jackets per year, or millions of ceramic toilets that can be consumed internally. But China can. This means companies can invest far more capital into these intelligent systems and make it financially sensible.

(China Money Network’s articles are curated and translated from credible Chinese media organizations with established brands, experienced editorial teams, and trustworthy journalism practices. However, we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information. For any questions, please reach out to our editorial department.)

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