BY MIKE VIOLETTE
It’s normal to have a few regrets and I have more than the crooner would mention. One of the regrets I’ll never have is jumping into the action in China some 15 years ago. It has been a never-ending throb of activity: perplexing, entertaining, frustrating, rewarding and an ongoing ceaseless inebriation of the senses.
As a technology voyeur and recovering engineer, it is marveling to see the arc of development in native Chinese innovation in an astonishingly short period of time. This brings me to the topic of this issue’s
Reality Engineering’s: A sample of the development trends in the world’s most-populous country. The first commentary is around the expansion of technology, EMC making a good case study. The second is the vision of central planners in selecting infrastructure choices for the Twenty-first+ Century China. The linking elements are the paces of development and the resources available in the world’s second-largest economy.
Looking around the exhibits at the 13th EMC/China 2014, a minor state of awe slowly builds. Strolling around the hall, one recognizes the familiar signs, sights and brands of electronic test equipment from the US and Europe. What is intriguing is the growing bunch of homegrown Chinese test gear. This is a showcase of the blend of iconic western industry standbys and newly-minted equipment manufacturers from the Middle Kingdom.
Now, one can argue successfully that some of the devices’ ‘look and feel’ have been leached from existing Western designs, as many of the boxes look remarkably similar to existing products in the EMC market. On the other hand, how many different ways can a bi-conical antenna be fashioned? On the third hand, it is obvious that Chinese designers have done their share of innovation—and have designs (of another sort) on a global market.
But it’s more than LISNs and current probes these guys are hawking. There are plenty of high precision microwave connectors, RF waveguides and component vendors, bespeaking the machining mien that is the emerging norm in corners of Chinese specialty manufacturing. It’s only a matter of time until they put a guy in space. Oh, yeah, they did that already.
Like all things China, the EMC business is big. The remarkable thing is that there so much money available for investment to develop surge generators, spectrum analyzers, amplifiers, you name it. A good idea can come to fruition in an amazingly short period of time. That, coupled with the vast interconnected supply network (thanks largely to the great manufacturing outsourcing wave of the ‘90s and ‘00s), allows for speedy supply-chain response.
According to my colleagues, the source of cash for local investment is huge, if you have an idea and a good connection. The economic boom of the past 20 years has minted many million- and billionaires. The money is there, if you have a decent notion, energy, drive—and a rich uncle.
(And there’s money and there’s funny money. A recent piece in the newspaper China Daily covered the arrest of an official in the coal regulatory body; seems he had somehow appropriated over $30M in cash and had it stashed in his house. The whole load—dollars, euros and RMB—weighed over 1.5 metric tons. Now that’s some serious scratch).
Moving On to Nantong
Quitting Shanghai, I’m on a bat-out-of-hell taxi ride speeding north to Tongzhou Bay. (The man at the wheel could give a lesson or two to Boston drivers: dart, weave, feign, squeeze, take the shoulder if you please).
Tongzhou is an expansive newly-developing area not far from Nanjing, the once-capital city of China: Nan-South, Jing-Capital City (Bei means North, by the way, as in Beijing, Tokyo is Dongjing, “East Capital City,” wryly so).
Tongzhou Bay Model
If we don’t get bounced off the road by an overloaded semi-trailer or ram a cart stacked with cardboard, we’ll arrive at the Binhai region: Bin=Near, Hai=Sea, Near the Sea (Shang, by the way, means ‘above’ or ‘up,’ Shanghai then is above or, maybe, over the sea).
Binhai, currently a tidal moosh of grass and mud in the Yangtze River delta, is to be home to 750,000 people by 2030, according to the developers who are our hosts. The plan is to develop an enormous port/industrial/living city centered around Tongzhou Bay; the central government is pushing to make the port the largest on the East Coast of China. A vast area of water will be claimed and filled in to accommodate some of the largest container vessels used in global trade. Access to the Yangtze River via Shanghai connects the port to the center of China. Already the wetlands are being dredged and diked, the first step in making some 150 berths for cargo operations. One hundred fifty kilometers of roads have been laid and the current residents are being “re-located” (somewhere).
We get a tour of the model room (SOP for these gargantuan civic projects) and watch an over-the-top video production about the sweeping changes in store for the reeds, sand and scrub, complete with vivid graphics, a booming announcer’s voice and vertigo-inducing animated flyovers.
The plan is as detailed as a bank note. There is even a nascent yacht club—a modern angular building with a marble foyer, a display of vintage boats, a Liliputian-scale model of the recreational area and nautical art. It is perched oddly above a muddy wasteland, soon to be filled with hookups and docks for sails and prop.
Other sectors of the development include a city center, an industrial area for R&D and an aviation sector. Bombardier recently signed a “Letter of Intent” to cooperate with Nantong Tongzhou Bay Aviation for Q400 NextGen aircraft training. The area is also pulling in universities and research organizations.
For us measurement types—and unique in my experience in touring these expansive development projects—there is a focus on bringing in the testing industry: Up-front, they recognize the need for test labs in the local industrial ecosystem. As I said, this is an interesting recognition of the coupling of R&D and testing and manufacturing.
Enticements of reduced/free rent, subsidies for equipment, loan guarantees, import and transportation assistance all are dangled to get foreign operators to hang their shingles on shiny new buildings.
The long-term success of the entire enormous project is not certain, but something is going to happen. It would be good to come back in 30 years and have a look. Maybe even better to jump in today.
(For a video drive-by of the current state-of-development of Tongzhou Bay area 24 months in, go to: http://tinyurl.com/mexl2uy)
The intersection of EMC industrial innovation and massive public works and industrial planning has a parallel, perhaps. The money is there, the investment is happening, but the point is that the expansion is happening across many sectors. There are ongoing debates about the economic sustainability of the expansion of China’s economy, but the stuff is happening now and practical business-persons have to recognize that reality.
Fifteen years ago, to be sure, there were no ESD generators that carried the label “Made in China.” Can’t say that anymore.
Originally published in IEEE EMC Magazine,
Volume 3, Number 4, 4th Quarter 2014.
Reprinted with permission