A worker operates a machine that makes key parts of high-speed trains at Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co. (Liu Weifeng / China Daily)
CRRC Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co Ltd, China's biggest manufacturer of electric locomotives by market share, will invest 100 million yuan (.45 million) to build six production lines in Zhuzhou, Hunan province, to manufacture high-end rail transit parts by 2020, said its top executive.
Insulated-gate bipolar transistor or IGBT semiconductors will be their key product. The idea is to promote global sales from a long-term perspective.
IGBT semiconductors find applications in a number of areas: bullet trains, smart grids, electric vehicles, new energy products, aerocraft and aviation.
For long, China's railway vehicle manufacturers have been buying IGBT semiconductors from global suppliers based in Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan. At the same time, they have been keen to develop in-house competence in the design and manufacture of IGBT semiconductors.
CRRC Zhuzhou, a subsidiary of China Railway Rolling Stock Corp Ltd, the country's railway vehicle and equipment exporter, acquired British semiconductor maker Dynex in 2008 to gain access to its technologies and R&D capability in IGBT products.
Zhou Qinghe, chairman of CRRC Zhuzhou, said as many emerging countries have just begun to build new railway lines, power and air transportation facilities, they are keen to acquire such products from China, to help them improve their manufacturing ability, railway operations and maintenance, and other services.
"While our China manufacturing facility will focus on lower-voltage IGBT semiconductors, which would derive more benefit from large-volume manufacturing and economies of scale, our manufacturing facility in the UK owned by Dynex will have more focus on high-voltage IGBT," said Zhou. "It has a smaller market demand so less need for mass volume manufacturing."
The company's new production line in Zhuzhou produces IGBT products.
It was built as per Germany's 'Industry 4.0', a concept that promotes digitalization of manufacturing.
CRRC Zhuzhou Institute Co Ltd, a subsidiary of CRRC Zhuzhou, built a production line to make eight-inch chips in Zhuzhou in 2014. The unit has reached annual output of 120,000 chips and 1 million IGBT modules in 2015.
Earlier this month, CRRC Zhuzhou exported eight-inch IGBT chips to India where they were used to upgrade transformers of 100 electric locomotives, making them energy-efficient. The same chips are also used in the 7,200-kilowatt electric locomotives that power China's high-speed trains.
Zhuzhou CSR Times Electric, another CRRC Zhuzhou subsidiary, set up an R&D team for drivetrain sub-assemblies of electric vehicles in 2015. It is based in Dynex's development center in the UK.
The team will research applications of IGBT drivetrains to discover how they can be applied in electric cars. It hopes to develop a viable subsystem technology for sale to electric car manufacturers.
"From a long-term perspective, many developing economies will count on infrastructure projects and enhanced regional cooperation, especially in rail transportation and power facility development. So, their demand for IGBT technologies will remain attractive," said Zhao Jian, a professor of rail transportation at Beijing Jiaotong University.