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Interviewee | Duan Zhiqiang, Director, Information Management Department, CITIC Dicastal
Moderator | Liu Jing, Co-founder and COO of CIO Times, General Secretary, New Infrastructure Innovation Research Institute
Liu Jing: Since when has CITIC Dicastal started the digitalization and intelligentization?
Duan Zhiqiang: Back to 1999, we adopted CIMS (Computer Integrated Manufacturing System). And the second large-scale construction for informatization was in 2010, primarily involving PLM, ERP, OA and other core business information systems. These systems assist in operation management, enable horizontal integration of upstream and downstream information systems, laying the foundation for globalized operation management and financial business process reengineering.
We officially commenced digitalization and intelligentization in 2013 to evolve into a digitalized company with leading service providers. We chose ERP, PLM and DMS (Dicastal Digital Manufacturing System) as the core management platforms, collaborative R&D and digital manufacturing respectively, in addition to a DEco ecosystem management platform responsible for procurement, sales, logistics, operation and many more functions.
CITIC Dicastal has essentially completed the integration of horizontal and vertical information systems for more than ten years, thereby benefiting the company in terms of cost reduction, quality consistency and efficiency. In the meantime, it has won recognition from the standardized demonstration factory of integrating informatization and industrialization from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the pilot demonstration of smart manufacturing and the pilot demonstration of AI applications. Last year, the company was also certificated as a “Lighthouse” factory by the World Economic Forum.
Liu Jing: What are the company’s strategy and overview of informatization and intelligentization, say, in terms of smart manufacturing?
Duan Zhiqiang: As far as concerned, CITIC Dicastal is to develop the capability of digitalization and intelligentization while absorbing the experience in smart manufacturing, ultimately turning them into our core competitiveness. Through our cooperation with an international high-end automatic equipment enterprise, we gained sufficient experience and data to enhance our wheel equipment manufacturing capability. To ensure the core equipment supply for wheel production, Xinyue Intelligent Equipment Company, a subsidiary of CITIC Dicastal yet with independent intellectual property rights, was set up to serve as an intelligent equipment supplier to us and other relevant ventures. Besides, our IT team has strengthened capabilities in building digitalization and intelligentization during a series of journeys and attempted developing software, even leading to the establishment of Xinzhi Information Technology Company in 2017.
As the first aluminium alloy wheel factory in China and the world’s largest aluminium alloy wheel manufacturer, CITIC Dicastal has accumulated solid experience after years of exploration and mass production. We transform our experience and capabilities into high-quality products and services alongside dedicated subsidiaries, all contributing to our core competitiveness.
Strategically, as we could not start digitalization and intelligentization in all of our 25 plants worldwide from the very beginning, CITIC Dicastal has already designated pilot factories, and once successful, all factories will follow their steps and go digital. That being said, when digitalized systems and intelligent applications can be applied in a certain procedure of any factory, we will replicate them in other procedures and in domestic and overseas factories in order to maximize the value of our inputs.
In response to the 14th Five-Year Plan, CITIC Group, a diversified and integrated enterprise, has been focusing on five sectors: comprehensive financial service, advanced intelligent manufacturing, advanced materials, new consumption and new-type urbanization.
Liu Jing: Representing the “advanced intelligent manufacturing” sector, how does CITIC Dicastal connect with CITIC Group’s network, as well as the branches across the globe digitally?
Duan Zhiqiang: The private interconnection between CITIC Group and CITIC Dicastal is essentially achieved via China Entercom’s private network, since we are one of the first-tier subsidiaries of the Group that plays an important role in the advanced intelligent manufacturing sector. Through the MPLS backbone network with global coverage offered by China Entercom and its parent company CITIC Telecom CPC, the interconnection between production plants and worldwide branches are made possible, including the factories in Changchun, Chengdu and Ningbo of China, and those in the United States, Germany and Morocco. Thanks to China Entercom and CITIC Telecom CPC, we have established a secure, efficient and agile data highway.
On the other hand, we have achieved globalized and digitalized operation and management mainly through our globally integrated ERP system, PLM platform for collaborative R&D, OA cooperation management platform that supports multiple languages across time zones, and video conferencing, which are backed by the global private network.
Liu Jing: Did the company encounter any challenges or breakthroughs while developing the “Lighthouse” factory and promoting digitalization and intelligentization?
Duan Zhiqiang: Being a pioneer in the industry and also in digitalization and intelligentization, CITIC Dicastal has little reference. Instead, we solved the difficulties and pain points of traditional manufacturing steadily with information technology and the advantages of our business scale.
Certainly, we had several challenges to overcome during the process, and the first one is how to recruit talents. It is by no means an easy task to attract elites in the IT industry to a small and medium-sized city and engage in traditional manufacturing.
The convergence of IT and operation was tricky as well because we must blend the systems into our business. It usually has to go through all four continuous stages: operational requirements, development and implementation, business application and system optimization. In particular, many systems may end up abandoned since they did not survive the last two stages of blending-in. It is impossible to figure out the problems and fix them promptly if we do not use the systems at all, and in the end, it will discourage their deployment. When systems blend into business, they will only get better and better. If it is the other way round, then we will suffer from a huge waste of investment and digitalization deceleration, if not criticism.
As for the breakthroughs made from “Lighthouse” factories, we have realized intelligent design and simulation of products, precise control of digital manufacturing and first-of-its-kind intelligent applications of key workmanships that include smart die-casting machines for thermal process, smart closed-loop quality adjustment for machining process and smart X-ray diagnosis for inspection process.
Liu Jing: Which role has your department played in facilitating the construction of digitalization and intelligentization?
Duan Zhiqiang: First of all, the IT department has to gather and sort out the business needs for a comprehensive deployment plan. We are committed to providing dynamic technical support so as to cater the needs quickly after eliminating the repetitive and segregated needs, and then mapping out the plan.
In addition, when systems are in place, they are not entirely ready for blending into business and do not work well with the company unless optimized constantly. That is why we are in charge of integrating IT with business, and adding value to the company in terms of cost, efficiency and quality, ultimately boosting profitability and competitiveness.
Liu Jing: What factors did CITIC Dicastal put into consideration when choosing an ICT service provider? Could you also share the reasons why China Entercom outcompeted others, as well as the experience of working with them?
Duan Zhiqiang: For selecting ICT service providers, we pay attention to their background, resource coverage, customer service, innovation and after-sales, etc.
There are five major reasons why we chose China Entercom as our service provider after thorough consideration:
1) As a member of the CITIC Group, China Entercom’s integrated services of “cloud, network, intelligence and security” are most compatible with the Group’s “14th Five-Year Plan” and the informatization strategy, which have also been endorsed by the Group and the fellow subsidiaries, not to mention the solid experience of working with many Global 500 companies or leading enterprises;
2) With multiple ISO and MLPS certifications, China Entercom’s background and capabilities are widely recognized by the industry;
3) Together with the parent company CITIC Telecom CPC, China Entercom is equipped with extensive resources that their services cover 160 countries, including those along the Belt and Road and RCEP members, thus accelerating the establishment of business and enabling flexible expansion;
4) To offer a high-speed, stable and secure connection for CITIC Dicastal, China Entercom’s MPLS private network comes in handy;
5) China Entercom’s one-stop cloud, network, intelligence and security solution offers round-the-clock network monitoring, management and back-up services supported by a team of experts available 7x24 online, guaranteeing a smooth network connection through their high-quality services.
Our partnership dates back to 2013 and has been going on for almost a decade. Initially, our Qinhuangdao headquarter first adopted China Entercom’s MPLS private network service. However, we have increasing demands on digitalization and intelligentization, as well as network coverage and quality, since our business continues to expand. Although we also examined others’ ICT solutions, we decided to maintain the partnership with China Entercom based on the consistent quality of services we have witnessed over the years of cooperation.
Liu Jing: Shall we wrap this up with your expectations for intelligent ICT solutions, say, AR overlays and big data analysis?
Duan Zhiqiang: If digitalization is said to be promoting transparency in manufacturing, then intelligentization is to streamline the processes. By minimizing manual involvement, we can leverage technologies like AI and big data analysis to empower automated adjustment and optimization in equipment and workmanship. It reminds me of the emergence of mechanical cameras that photographers 20 years ago were trained to adjust the aperture, shutter and depth of field to take a good picture. Later there were point-and-shoot cameras and digital cameras, and now cell phones. The same goes for wheel production—we need technical support from China for the construction and operation of our overseas plants today, but in the future, any factory could be producing wheels with 100% pass rate if there are more and more intelligent applications.
For this reason, a comprehensive convergence of the Internet, big data, AI and the real economy is what we are looking forward to. To make the Chinese dream come true, taking a new road to industrialization and modernizing industries are vital to rejuvenate the nation. This convergence will transform “Made in China” to “Created in China”, from high-speed to high-quality, from the largest producer to the world-leading manufacturing power.
The technological revolution and development are booming, driving the integration of big data, 5G, cloud computing, AI and blockchain to reshape technical framework, product form and service pattern; and promoting a full-scale innovative reform in the industry especially the automotive and car parts sector. Eventually, enterprises can enhance the quality of services with reduced costs and improved efficiency by leveraging big data as a basis for management and decision-making. To achieve all-round digitalization and intelligentization, we need robust backstage support; to push the business forward, we need secure and reliable interconnections; to guarantee secure operation, we need data security and protection.
Under such circumstances, enterprises must understand and master the innovative ICT technologies to create their own blueprints of digitalization and intelligentization, so as to save costs, increase efficiency, and even sustain business development. To address these issues, China Entercom offers revolutionary integrated ICT solutions certified by international and domestic authorities, which release enterprises from managing complex IT tasks with innovative and intelligent technologies to focus on core business and enjoy higher cost-effectiveness.
Cloud, network, intelligence and security are fundamental in digital transformation. China Entercom encompasses most key areas of ICT with four flagship offerings: CeOne-CONNECT Private Network Solutions, TrustCSI Information Security Solutions, SmartCLOUD Cloud Computing Solutions, DataHOUSE Cloud Data Center, as well as a suite of value-added services. Notably, their ICT-MiiND strategy launched in 2021 fuses decades of industry experience and innovative technologies ranging from artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), Internet of things (IoT), blockchain and 5G, to build an unbreakable data pedestal with integrated “cloud, network, intelligence and security” services. Looking ahead, China Entercom will relentlessly reinforce the services in the hope that CITIC Dicastal and more automotive-related companies can be backed by a robust data pedestal, removing obstacles for digital transformation and innovation journeys under their globalization strategies.
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