China sees opportunities in surgical robots

By: 
September 23, 2014

Although China surpassed Japan to become the world's largest industrial robot market in 2013, that has not necssarily been a boon for national automation providers, since domestically manufactured robots have only 5% market share, reports Want China Times . Many domestic robot makers are downstream manufacturers that purchase foreign-made robots and reconfigure them to meet client demands, according to the Taiwan-based news organization. This business model, thus far, has not tempted venture capitalists, since China-based integrated robotics manufacturers typically are small companies. But Cai Wei, Vice President of Northern Light Venture Capital, a China-focused venture capital firm with offices throughout China and in Menlo Park, CA, is optimistic about the development of home-grown medical robots. Pressure from the government for hospitals to purchase medical products made in China, which PlasticsToday reported on in " China, Russia build new barriers for foreign medical device manufacturers ," is seen as a key driver in the development of this market.

China has a chance to develop its own brands in medical robots, especially those used in surgery, as demand is very strong, Xie Ming, founder of Smart Robot Technology Group, told Want China Times . More than 400 hospitals have applied for such robots, he added. Right now, though, Intuitive Surgical Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA), the maker of the da Vinci surgical robotic system, is getting all the media attention in China.

The da Vinci surgical robot completed its first operation at the provincial hospital in Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan on Sept. 9, 2014. It successfully removed a patient's gall bladder in about a half hour.

As for industrial robotics, China reportedly is making up for lost ground, as a shortage of labor, rising wages, and safety concerns in high-risk settings will continue to grow demand for automation. Within a couple of years, the industrial robotics market is forecast to reach $200 billion, according to CCTV News , the English-language network of China Central Television. To ensure that domestic robots get their share of this market, industrial parks devoted to automation are being built in Shanghai, Shenyang, Qindao, and the municipality of Chongqing, reports CCTV.

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