China market for motion-control gear slowed in 2012, but picture brightens starting this year

The overall motion-control market in China contracted 19 percent last year compared to 2011.

By IHS Inc. March 1, 2013

The China market for motion-control machinery shrank last year in the face of weak export demand, but prospects will improve moving forward as the industry shifts focus to satisfying domestic needs, according to a new study published by IMS Research, now part of information and analytics provider IHS.

The overall motion-control market in China contracted 19 percent last year compared to 2011. Within the space, the General Motion Control (GNC) segment slowed 12 percent, while the allied Computer Numerical Control sector declined by a bigger 25 percent. Widely used in industries such as packaging, printing and assembly, motion control is generally considered a subfield of automation and an important part of robotics, in which the position or velocity of machines is controlled by electric motors, linear actuators or hydraulic pumps.

Export vs. Domestic Markets

Weakness in 2012 stemmed from anemic demand in the downstream industries where motion-control gear is involved. In particular, the motion-control market in China was hurt by uncertainty in the European and American markets that imports Chinese-made machinery. A large portion of Chinese-manufactured port machinery, crane construction gear, machine tools, rubber and plastic-making equipment and textile apparatus is exported, so fluctuations in the export markets can easily affect the Chinese market for motion control.

Overcapacity in the production of industrial machinery compounded the problem of already diminished exports, aggravating the overall situation.

Despite the dip last year, a recovery is projected from 2012 to 2016 when revenue grows by nearly 10 percent each year during the four-year period. The anticipated change is part of the government’s Twelfth-Year Plan. 

 “Transforming economic growth from a shift in exports to domestic consumption is a principal target of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan,” said Wilmer Zhou, IHS senior analyst for motor controls and switchgear. “What will drive growth of the China motion-control market from 2013 onward will be those industries related to people’s lives, such as food and beverage production, packaging, pharmaceutical production, water treatment, petroleum and petrochemical processing, and consumer electronics machinery. Meanwhile, industries with excess production capacity or those regulated by government policies—including iron and steel, metallurgy, cement, glass, and paper—will continue to suffer badly.”

High-end equipment makers vs. low-end machine builders

As part of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, China hopes to expand revenue of its high-end equipment manufacturing sector to 6 trillion RMB ($951 billion) by 2015. Demand for high-end machinery and equipment is expected to grow steadily during this period, with high-end motion-control products to play an especially important role in such machinery, IHS believes.  Driving the China motion-control space will be high-end medical equipment, high-end machine tools, CNC centers, highly automated textile machinery, high-precision printing machinery, flexible electronic assembly machinery, semiconductor manufacturing equipment, automated warehouses, and automated material-handling equipment.

Meanwhile, low-end machinery will continue to be present in the China motion-control market, favored by machine builders whose main concern is to keep costs low. Japanese, South Korean, Taiwanese and domestic Chinese motion-control suppliers compete fiercely in this huge market, with rivalry expected to intensify following the launch also of low-cost products by some European makers.

Standard vs. customized motion control

The market for standard motion-control products is in a similar situation to the low-end market just mentioned. The market for customized motion controls is gradually growing because of motion controls penetrating further into emerging industries and dedicated applications.

In comparison, the market for customized motion controls has been growing gradually, with motion-control gear penetrating further into emerging industries and dedicated applications alike.

“Industries that will drive the motion-control market in the future have to do with more specialized applications, such as medical equipment, food machinery, security and monitoring, radar, rail transportation and all-electric plastic injection machines,” Zhou said. Companies that have performed well in this space include U.S.-based Danaher; Infranor from Switzerland; Lenze of Germany; and Lust, also from Germany.

Factory automation vs. process automation

The vast majority of motion-control products are used in factory automation. In contrast, relatively few are to be found in the process automation industry.

In 2011, even nation-wide projects were postponed, and the metal & steel, cement, and glass manufacturing industries fell seriously with over-capacity; however, small and medium-sized projects in the petrochemical and chemical industries are still growing steadily. In 2012, government fixed-asset investments recovered, and were 20% higher than in 2011. Pending projects in railways, urban rail transportation, nuclear power and hydropower are restarting. The investment in environmental protection, energy conservation, and desulfurization projects in power plants, will increase from 2013.

Nonetheless, the factory automation industries closely associated with the process automation industries, including material handling and construction machinery, will perform well, boosting as a whole the market for motion controls in China.

Servo drives: low-, medium- or high-power

Low-power servo drives of up to 1,000 watts account for 40 percent of revenue in the China motion-control market. The devices are used primarily in packaging, textiles and electronics manufacturing, and also in semiconductor and light-emitting diode (LED) manufacturing equipment, instrumentation and test equipment.

In comparison, medium-power servo drives rated from 1 to 20 kilowatts account for a larger 45 percent of the market. The devices are widely used in metal cutting and metal forming; and in the printing, rubber, plastic, and wind power industries.

Finally, high-power servo products above 20 kilowatts are used in large-scale production lines, large machine tools, machining centers, and full-electric injection-molding machines and test equipment.  

Low-power and medium-power servo drives will still be the primary focus of the Chinese motion-control market, Zhou noted, but high-power servo applications in large-scale machinery will be growing significantly faster.

See other research on the Control Engineering web site.