They seem to be everywhere; on the mobile phone, the shirt and even on the toothbrush. The labels proclaiming “Made in China” is of course what I’m referring to. In fact, China accounts for about a quarter of the world´s manufacturing output in terms of value. In some industries, the country is predominant and manufactures for example 70 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 60 percent of its shoes. The fact that China often is called the factory of the world is thus not surprising.
China has quickly emerged as the dominant country of manufacturing. In 1990, the country accounted for less than three percent of the world´s production and has now, as earlier mentioned, about 25 percent. The reasons for this startling growth are many, and it is difficult to pinpoint the most important one. However, it is obvious that the country’s low labor costs, favorable tax laws, well-developed business ecosystem and the permissive environmental regulations have contributed to its success.
During my time here in China, I have had the opportunity to experience the manufacturing industry both through our own factories and through subcontractors’ factories. I have seen big differences in terms of working environment and capability during my visits. For example, I have visited run-down factories with really simple machineries, but also very modern factories with automated production lines. Among the more modern examples is GKN’s plant in Taicang. This factory was started last year and is currently being outfitted with new equipment for the mass production of various components within the Land Systems segment. The factory is of high standard and new production lines can be designed with great freedom, which bodes for good efficiency.
If China will maintain its position as the world’s predominant manufacturer I leave unsaid, but because of the ever-growing pool of experience and the strong desire to constantly achieve new successes, I am not surprised if I´ll see those “Made in China” labels anywhere and everywhere also in the future.
A while ago, I moved to the homeland of the great wall, the panda and the hoverboard, that is to say; China. It is with great admiration and respect that I have settled in this ancient country which population represents a fifth of the world population and which economy is the second largest in the world. Just by reading these figures, you get an understanding that this is a country with big numbers.
With a population of approximately 24 million, my city of residency, Shanghai, is ranked as one of the world´s largest cities. The city has, like most other major Chinese cities, enjoyed a steady growth because of the ongoing urbanization. During the past 30 years, 300 million people have moved into the cities, and another 350 million are estimated to leave the rural areas and move into the cities in the upcoming years.
Something that tends to reach ever higher levels as cities grow is the air pollution levels. With increasing urbanization, water and electricity consumption per capita rises, which in turn means that more electricity from China´s coal plants is needed. This combined with the fact that more and more people can afford to buy their own car leads to increased problems with air pollution in the big cities.
However, urbanization also has positive consequences. Because of higher paying jobs in the urban areas, more and more people are lifted into the economic middle class. This allows for higher consumption of products and services, which in turn results in improved business prospects for both national and international companies.
In summary, it can be concluded that China is a country with large numbers on several different levels, and where the trend indicates that future figures will be even higher.
Production methods and processes are constantly evolving. New technologies and innovations enable more efficient and safer manufacturing processes at the same time as the complexity of the product design can be increased. Within GKN, we are at the forefront in areas such as Additive Manufacturing and are always open to investing in equipment that improve our employees’ health and safety. Below are some trends and future visions for industrial production.
Additive Manufacturing has in recent years been a hot and hyped-up production technology which is expected to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. The method enables the production of complex structures, opening up new, previously unthinkable, possibilities for designers. GKN invests heavily in the development of this technology, especially in Filton, GB, where the company’s center of excellence for Additive Manufacturing is located. The aim with this center is to accelerate the development of the technology and to be well prepared when the demand of parts manufactured by the method increases.
Automation of industrial production is something that has been going on for a long time. Equipment ranging from conveyor belts to welding robots have moved in to the workshops over the years and facilitated the work for the employees. So far, robots have mostly been working in cages to avoid causing any damage. However, the current trend is to remove the cages and let the robots interact with humans. This means that humans and robots can help each other and perform work on a detail in parallel. To maintain safety, the robots are equipped with for example cameras and sensors, and are thus able to track their environment at the same time as the employees are able to communicate with the robot through gestures.
Safety and health is an important area for GKN, why for example safety shoes and safety glasses are required in our workshops. To avoid ergonomic injuries, trainings in for example lifting techniques are offered by the company. However, there is still room for improvement in this area, like it is in most fields. One aid that may decrease the risk of ergonomic injuries is the so-called exoskeleton. An exoskeleton can be described as a mechanical structure that is attached to the body. The skeleton is designed to follow the human movement and assist when for example conducting heavy lifts.
Overall, it looks like that the rapid pace of development and the focus on automation in the production area will continue, and robots will be an increasingly common sight in the workshops.
Exploring new territories and understanding our surroundings has always been in man’s interest. Throughout history, scientists have mapped the flora and fauna, adventurers have climbed mountains and explored uncharted terrain, while researchers have attempted to explain different phenomenon. This motivation to discover the unknown is also what drives the space industry. However, many wonder if it is worth the more than 300 billion US dollars that are spent on the space industry every year, where about a quarter of the funds come from governmental resources.
Among the arguments used to defend the space industry and prove its necessity, is the dream of being able to establish a human civilization on Mars in the event of a disaster like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, that it is a peaceful venue for international cooperation, and that it serves as a stimulus for children and youths to enter the field of science and technology. If this is meaningful arguments or not, I leave unsaid, but what can be said is that space research has led to several more or less important discoveries that have benefitted mankind.
The technology behind the infrared ear thermometer is an example of how technology developed in connection with space research has been used in a commercial product. Through the knowledge of how to measure the temperature of stars and planets, NASA could in cooperation with Diatec Corporation develop a handy thermometer that measures temperature by detecting the amount of energy emitted from the eardrum. Also the freeze dried food technology derives from the space industry. During the preparations for the Apollo missions, NASA tried to find a way to reduce the weight of food while the nutritional content stayed the same. By cooking food, rapidly freeze it and then slowly thaw it in a vacuum chamber, it was discovered that it is possible to reduce the weight of the food by 80 percent while 98 percent of the nutrients are preserved.
Also today, the space industry generates technologies that can improve people’s everyday life. Among the new technologies that have been developed but not yet commercialized is for example a speech recognition technology that is based on electromyographic signals, which means that it is possible to interpret what a person is saying even if the person do not generate sound or move the lips. Also, a coating which has been used to prevent dirt, ice and the like on spacecrafts is now available for commercial use. The coating was developed with inspiration from the structure of the lotus leaf and has superhydrophobic properties, which in simple terms means that the surface is self-cleaning.
In summary, it can be noted that the space industry does not only create a potential haven, but also contribute to innovations that make life on earth a little better.
The aviation industry, the environment and the future
Forecasts of the aerospace industry shows a clear positive trend. Air traffic is expected to increase steadily during the upcoming decades and be three times larger in 2050 than today. This will be positive for the global economy and allow greater mobility among the world’s population. However, the increase in air traffic is not entirely beneficial, but also brings negative consequences in terms of increased environmental stress. Therefore, we must work proactively and find solutions that are good for both the environment and the air traffic.
Air traffic accounts for about three percent of the total emissions of greenhouse gases, but may account for a significantly larger share in the future because of the estimated growth. In order to reach the environmental goals of not increasing the average temperature by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, vigorous actions must be taken. The options available are either to reduce demand through emission charges and other market measures, or to reduce emissions through more fuel-efficient aircrafts. The latter alternative is preferable because the former can have a negative impact on the entire aviation industry and for example on the tourist industry. To accelerate the pace of innovation within the aviation industry and reach closer to the goal of fuel efficiency, the European Commission has introduced a program called Clean Sky 2, which GKN Aerospace is involved in.
Clean Sky 2 is a collaboration between the public and private sectors and aims to create technologies for quieter and greener aircrafts. The goal of the program is to reduce CO2, NOx and noise emissions by 30 percent compared to current levels. To achieve this goal, research and development is carried out on both the aircraft structure and engine. Concepts developed include laminar wings and open-rotor Aircraft Engines. Part of the development of the latter technology is done here in Trollhättan.
An open-rotor engine is simply described as a jet engine without a fan case. This enables the use of longer turbine blades and thus provides greater and more efficient airflow through the engine while the weight of the engine itself can be reduced. However, the removal of the fan case means less noise reduction and a greater risk of damage of the airframe in case of a released blade. Engineers are working feverishly to get around these problems, and tests show that we are already on the way of solving the issues. I am sure that we will succeed in developing the technologies required to achieve the set goals. It will not be easy, but through cooperation and passion, innovation will reach new heights and result in a flying future.
Today’s consumption-oriented economies are fueling the demand for natural resources at the same time as the ongoing globalization enable cross-border trade of these. This has led to great economic opportunities for developing countries that possess generous land reserves through export of for example rare metals. However, this development has not only led to positive consequences, but has also contributed to environmental and social problems. Therefore, companies such as GKN have an important commitment to ensure that procurement of materials like these takes place in controlled and sustainable manners.
Through my projects within the purchasing department, I have got an understanding of what variables that are important when choosing suppliers. Criteria such as capabilities, abilities and quality are obviously among the most important ones when choosing a supplier, but there are other aspects that are important as well, such as the supplier’s work on sustainability issues. The concept of sustainability includes social, economic and ecological sustainability, where some aspects are regulated by laws, while others are controlled by company-specific values. Common to all three is that they are all important in order to sustain an attractive community also in the future.
Because GKN Aerospace is using several different alloys, there is a wide variety of metals in our products. From a sustainability perspective, it is important that the origins of these metals are checked to ensure that they come from suppliers that conform to the sustainability requirements. I’m currently working on a project within this area, namely in a project regarding conflict minerals.
Conflict minerals is the name of a group of metals (tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) that are extracted in the DRC region to finance ongoing conflicts. This financing should obviously be stopped by decreasing demand of these conflict metals. This requires that companies that are buying tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold, make sure that these do not come from an organization that supports the military groups in the DRC area. This is done through mapping the value chain and investigating the origins of the metals that are used. This will reveal if any metals are sourced from a company that is supporting the conflict in the DRC, and changes can be made if necessary.
It feels both interesting and important to work on this project as it is not only important for the company, but is also important to keep the world sustainable.
Quality, precision and excellence. These words describe my overall impression of the business after having spent two weeks in the area where the value literally is created; in the workshops.
With previous experience within the manufacturing industry, I immediately felt at home in the manufacturing area at GKN. However, I quickly realized that my perception of what high quality really is had to be reappraised, because at GKN Aerospace, quality has been taken to new heights. At this company, quality is measured not only in hundredths of a millimeter, but in thousandths of a millimeter.
This was an eye opener for me and is definitely something that I will take with me in future assignments within the company. I just hope that this insight won’t affect my everyday life, because it’s not really time efficient to use a slide caliper to make sure that the shoe laces have exactly the same length on both sides of the knot, especially when you need to hurry for the 05:10-bus in the morning.