Small City, Hi-Tech Growth

2024-01-29 14:16:00 Source:China Today Author:staff reporter ZHOU LIN
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A formerly resource-intensive city is pursuing high-quality development by upgrading its manufacturing sector.


The city of Zaozhuang in east China’s Shandong Province, with its abundant mineral resources especially coal reserves, once made significant contribution to the national economic growth and social development. Over these years, it consolidated its position as a base of modern coal chemistry, energy, building materials, and machine manufacturing industries. However, as the city’s coal reserves dwindle and green growth drives China’s economic development, the once resource-intensive economy of Zaozhuang is now exploring a new path of high-quality growth. Its top priority now is industrial upgrading and developing a high-end equipment manufacturing industry.

Employees of Shandong Huifen Analytical Instrument Co., Ltd. are debugging environmental testing instruments on December 8, 2023.

A New Development Strategy

The desired transformation, however, is not all smooth sailing. Zhaozhuang faces challenges like having a small industrial scale, few leading enterprises and low-efficient production. The local government is therefore trying to speed up industrial restructuring to regain its former glory as an industrial base. The new development strategy is focused on pooling the resources of its major industries to build a highland of smart manufacturing.

Zhang Lei, deputy director of the publicity department of Zaozhuang government, told China Today that Tengzhou, a city under the jurisdiction of Zaozhuang, has a solid foundation of competitive industries. It is well-known for its machine tool industry, a key industry in industrial machinery manufacturing. Machine tools are regarded as “industrial mother machines” – machines used to manufacture machines. With a history of more than 70 years, Tengzhou is now a research and production center for small and medium-sized machine tools in China. It is also developing itself into a high-end computer-numerical-control (CNC) machine tool base in Shandong.

The city has developed an equipment manufacturing industrial cluster with leading enterprises as its mainstay and small and medium-sized firms providing support. The cluster produces more than 10 categories of products in 1,000 varieties, including CNC machine tools, precision analytical instruments, and engineering machinery. According to its 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), Tengzhou aims to develop a high-end equipment industry, for which industrial parks have been built. They include the Tengzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone, the Machinery Manufacturing Industrial Park, and the Mozi Sci-Tech Innovation Park.

In November 2023, the Shandong provincial government issued an action plan for high-quality development of industrial mother machines in the province (2023-2027), which envisions breakthrough with “1131” projects – one cluster, one highland, three hubs and one system. “One cluster” refers to forming a world-class industrial mother machine industry cluster. “One highland” means cultivating a globally renowned high-end CNC machine tool enterprise. The “three hubs” are the pioneer cities of Jinan, Weifang, and Zaozhuang; and “one system" is the innovation system of the industrial mother machine technology. “Zaozhuang being one of the three hubs will definitely bring huge opportunities,” Zhang said.

The Mozi Sci-Tech Innovation Park is a base for the full chain R&D and industrialization of precision machine tools in Tengzhou, Shandong Province.

Mozi’s Legacy of Technical Innovation

“Tengzhou is the hometown of the ancient Chinese scientist Mozi or Micius. In the transformation from resource-intense to manufacturing-driven growth, we should carry forward Mozi’s spirit of technological innovation in every aspect of our work,” said Liu Guangchao, director of the Investment and Operation Department of Tengzhou Industrial Asset Operation Co., Ltd.

The Mozi Sci-Tech Innovation Park is the latest incubation platform for enterprises in Tengzhou and even Zaozhuang.

The park is the cradle of an internationally leading technology for processing 32 aviation engine blades at one go. The technology was developed by Zaozhuang Beihang Machine Tool Innovation Research Institute Co., Ltd., a company jointly established by the Beijing-based Beihang University and the Zaozhuang government, exemplifying industry-academia research cooperation. It is a flagship project of Zaozhuang to build a precision machine tool R&D incubation and manufacturing base.

“The Mozi Sci-Tech Innovation Park is a base for the full chain R&D and industrialization of precision machine tools,” Liu said. “It is an incubator, accelerator, and an industrial park. We seek good projects with rapid growth, constant innovation, high technology and great potential.”

The aviation engine blade breakthrough was made in 2017 by Beihang University researchers led by Professor Chen Zhitong. Their technology is far ahead of that used for the imported machine tools in processing efficiency and accuracy and has made Zaozhuang-made machine tools competitive in the national aviation engine field.

Today, the Zaozhuang Beihang Machine Tool Innovation Research Institute specializes in the R&D of high-end CNC machine tool design and manufacturing technology, as well as aircraft engine impeller blade grinding and polishing technology. They already have 60-plus invention patents and have applied for more, of which three technologies are leading internationally.

The company’s general office director Liang Teng told China Today that the firm has invested more than RMB 80 million in research. The outcome has been fruitful. The institute has produced more than 10 types of blade processing machine tools and carried out nearly three dozen blade research projects for aviation engine enterprises, resolving impeller blade grinding and polishing problems.

The innovation park has also streng-thened cooperation with universities and scientific research institutions, attracting a large number of high-quality equipment manufacturing projects. They have cooperative agreements with high-end equipment manufacturing enterprises such as Beihang Machine Tool R&D Institute, Shenyang Machine Tool, and Jiangsu Jinyan Technology, all of which are included in the list of the top 30 innovative industrial clusters supported by the Shandong government.

Employees are installing analytical instruments in the transparent glass cubicles of Shandong Huifen Analytical Instrument Co., Ltd., on December 8, 2023.

Meet a Gazelle

Precision instrument manufacturing integrates multiple disciplines and technologies, including electronics, precision machining, biochemistry, materials science and software development. Shandong Huifen Analytical Instrument Co. Ltd. in the Mozi Sci-Tech Innovation Park is a manufacturer of analytical instruments. It is a gazelle company, that is, a young, fast-growing enterprise with a base revenue of at least US $100,000 and four years of sustained revenue growth. It is also a national hi-tech enterprise and an enterprise that uses special and sophisticated technologies to produce novel and unique products.

A wall in the exhibition hall of the company is covered with various certificates. “Our main products are widely used in the laboratories of scientific research institutes and enterprises, such as EPC (electronic pneumatics control) intelligent chromatography, volatile organic compound environmental protection instruments, and industrial online control systems,” said Miao Qingtai, the company’s general manager.

In the transparent glass cubicles of the company’s factory, workers were busy installing instruments. Pointing to a white cabinet-like object 50 cm wide and as high as an adult, Miao said it was a GCS-60 online sulfide analyzer, mainly used for analyzing the sulfide content in natural gas, coke oven gas, blast furnace gas, refinery gas, and other gases. He explained it is used in workplaces where pollutants exceed the limit and manual testing is risky. Besides, manual tests are constrained by time and location while the analyzer can run 24 hours a day. Therefore, they are widely used in industries such as petroleum, mining, new energy, electricity, building materials, and chemical engineering.

Instrument development represents the level of a nation’s high-end manufacturing technology. Moreover, the instrument manufacturing industry has a green industrial chain with no pollution, which brings both economic and social benefits. Tengzhou’s high-end manufacturing industry is anticipated to vitalize the economy of not just this small city in Shandong but also beyond.

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