One trend dominating the current HVAC landscape is the smart home interconnected with the Internet and big data. Add artificial intelligence (AI) systems to the mix and its all about the interaction between humans and machines.

Recognising this, the Midea Group has launched its new Human-Machine Collaboration Strategy.

On the eve of the Appliance and Electronics World Expo (AWE) this month, the Midea Group shared its insights for the future of human-machine collaboration at its annual strategy conference.

Midea believes that the interaction between human and machines will become a more profound and integrated collaborative relationship, and that this will herald a new era of people working together with artificial intelligence systems and machines.

This is not only an extension of the 'smart²' strategy, but also strives to enable products, machines, processes and systems to be loaded with awareness, cognition, understanding and decision-making driven by big data and AI.

This will bridge the company's various unique advantages in products and industrial layout, pushing its practices in manufacturing and living to new heights, as well as bringing users into a 'ahead of life' environment.

Smart manufacturing is more than just introducing robots and building unmanned factories. Previously, all R&D, supply chain, manufacturing, logistics, sales and after-sales services, including consumers, were fragmented in the manufacturing field.

Today, smart manufacturing is developing ways to change this fragmentation and interconnect all processes, based on the analysis and flow of big data.

As a world-leader in consumer appliance technology, HVAC, robotics and automated systems, and intelligent supply chains (logistics), Midea manufactures and sells over 300 million household appliances globally each year. Interconnecting all its manufacturing processes is a daunting challenge.

After almost three years of production standardisation and digital transformation, the Midea Group has successfully developed whole value chain software, thereby essentially achieving the "One Midea, One System, One Standard" global collaborative production platform.

Based on this, Midea, partnering with the world's leading robotics company KUKA, plans to deepen R&D and innovation in big data and AI technologies to gradually launch automation and business solutions adaptable to various types of complex production scenarios, and lay a solid foundation for furthering the vision of human-machine collaboration via smart manufacturing.

According to Wilfried Eberhardt, KUKA AG chief marketing officer, "We see a future in which humans and machines work hand in hand to make life easier".

The need to build an industrial internet has become a global consensus. According to statistics provided by IoT Analytics, the market scale of the Industrial Internet, as of 2021, will reach $2 billion.

Midea enjoys incomparable advantages by having, and running, its own whole value chain. Based on its "One Platform, One Standard" strategy, Midea has created an excellent operation in the whole value chain, which fully integrates powerful R&D capability, response to orders, planning capability, flexible manufacturing, purchasing capability, quality tracking, logistics capability and customer service and installation, thereby achieving end-to-end collaboration.

This digital-driven platform has realised flexible customisation of C2M, platform development, module combination and digital processes for production, smart logistics, digital marketing, smart service and other profound changes, according to Midea's CIO, Simon Zhang.

"The true Industrial Internet is built upon the end-to-end collaboration of the R&D end, production equipment end, supply chain end, business end, logistics end and the user end, which makes 'Zero' inventory production, 100 per cent logistics tracking and C2M customisation possible," he said.

"Midea Industrial Internet has set a solid foundation for this prospect," Zhang said.

Currently, the existing cloud platform offers flexible solutions for multi-layer processing and complex processing, and is capable of supporting the production and operation of more than 10,000 products across 40-plus bases worldwide, through the collaboration of software and hardware.

"The majority of smart household appliances currently on the market simply transplant product operation onto a mobile phone. But Midea believes the meat of real human-machine collaboration is carrier-free," according to Dr. Xu, vice president of the Midea Corporate Research Centre.

To address this, Midea has invested almost $20 million annually to build the largest AI team in the household appliance industry, to study in-depth how to get rid of the carrier between human and machine. Some studies have yielded fruit: the large-scale deep learning computer platform, developed and designed by Midea, has been able to accurately identify the style of finished dishes in Chinese cuisine.

Meanwhile, through AWE, Midea will release a number of AI products and applications, such as smart cooking robots, AI refrigerators and smart new retail.

General manager of the Midea Robotics Company, Olaf Gehrels, said the company will not be limited to the field of manufacturing – robotics will become important parts of logistics, medical care and even the Smart Home. With the aid of human-machine collaboration, Midea will upgrade its smart household appliances to smart home appliances, allowing it to leapfrog its portal-based rivals.

As it marches towards its 50th anniversary, Midea's human-machine collaboration strategy isn't just a technology-driven transformation, it is a blueprint which revolves around the ideas of 'leading products, efficiency-driven, and globally-operated'.


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