Heads in the clouds, the road to the future

Updated 2017-05-03 10:02:09 Shanghai Daily

Alibaba, the Hangzhou-based e-commerce giant that is helping cement the city's reputation as a hub of digital technology, is deploying big data and cloud computing to change the way we live.

In one example, Alibaba Cloud assisted ZC Rubber Group in raising the throughput yield of compound rubber to more than 3 percent, saving the Hangzhou company tens of millions of yuan.

Rubber Group buys kilotons of rubber daily to manufacture tires. At its factories, the rubber is classified according to various characteristics before being dispatched to separate production lines that make compound rubber.

In the past, the classification system is relied on the experience of veteran workers. Today it is handled by Alibaba's artificial-intelligence technology. By analyzing the composition of each piece of rubber, a computer can match each type to an appropriate production line.

"In manufacturing, there may be dozens of departments to produce one product, and the parameters at each change from time to time," said Min Wanli, data scientist at Alibaba Group. "The human brain just can't process all that information."

Cloud computing collects all the data and calculates when problems might occur and how to address them if they do happen.

Zhejiang Province is eager to tap the technologies being developed by scientists and engineers in its capital city.

In late April, provincial officials unveiled a plan entitled "Zhejiang Enterprises Go Cloud (2017)." It calls on 100,000 local companies to raise efficiency by using big data, cloud computing and Internet of things technologies.

Tax breaks and financial support are two "carrots" being used to further that goal.

This plan echoes the elements of the "Made in China 2025" campaign, a 10-year national plan to enhance the nation's industrial competitiveness.

Zhejiang-based IT giants like Alibaba and NetEase are leading the way.

Alibaba Cloud, one of the top platforms of its kind in the world, has developed systems for large national manufacturers.

Golden Concord Holdings Ltd, based in Suzhou in Jiangsu Province, is one of the world's largest polysilicon manufacturers. Last summer, it launched a "smart" photovoltaic slicing factory under cooperation with Alibaba Cloud.

According Golden Concord, the slicing of photovoltaic cells involves thousands of manufacturing parameters. Any variation can affect the final product.

After analyzing all the data for months, Alibaba engineers identified the most 60 most important parameters and designed a system to monitor them in real time.

"The manufacturer's product quality rate rose, saving the company 100 million yuan (.5 million) a year," said Liu Song, vice president of Alibaba Group.

At Geely Automobile, Alibaba Cloud developed a computer system that simulates car crashes and provides data that can be used to increase a car's safety performance.

"If all manufacturers in Zhejiang Province raised their throughput yields by even 1 percent, total profit will surge tens of billions of yuan," said Liu.

Alibaba Cloud is reaching into all realms. It is applying advanced technology in sectors such as traffic monitoring, medical care and market expansion.

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