Chinese restaurant owner says robot noodle maker doing “a good job!” Chinese restaurants, industry develop taste for robots

CHINESE RESTAURANT OWNER SAYS ROBOT NOODLE MAKER DOING “A GOOD JOB!”

Written By: Peter Murray
Posted: 04/19/13 8:15 AM

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Noodle peelers should probably start looking for other things to do around the kitchen – there’s just no competing with these robots. Not only are they saving restaurants in China money in wages, they can work rapidly and tirelessly for hours.

We reported on the robots, invented by restaurant owner Cui Runguan, last August. Now, we’re hearing from another restaurant owner who has had one of the robots in his “employ” for a month. How is the indefatigable noodle-maker working out at the Jinhe Noodle Shop in Beijing? The restaurant owner, with the last name Zhao, loves it and tells China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency that “It does a good job!”

Runguan’s robots peel noodle strips from a firm piece of dough and tosses them directly into boiling water “before diners’ eyes can follow the whole process.” To Zhao and a growing number of restaurant owners in China, choosing robots over human noodle cooks is a no-brainer. While a cook doing the same job would make about 40,000 yuan ($6,400) per year, the robot cost him just 10,000 yuan ($1,600). And no human chef can work so tirelessly.

Its price is already down from $2,000 this past August, which is no doubt a big reason why more than 3,000 restaurants that have already relegated their noodle-making to the robot. As the technology improves and the cost to build and run the robot drops, business will only get better for Runguan, who has received four patents for the technology.

That humans can be replaced by robots that do the job faster and cheaper is an idea that now pervades Chinese employers. “Chinese companies usually start considering robots when the payment for a skilled worker exceeds 50,000 yuan ($8,060) a year,” Tan Xueke, a manager at the Xinsong Robot Automation Company in Shenynang, told Xinhua News Agency.

The repetitive action that goes into preparing certain foods such as noodles makes automation an obvious choice. In Japan robots are already being used to make sushi, and a robot in San Francisco can serve up 340 hamburgers an hour. But while robotic cooks provide restaurants a novelty for customers and savings for owners, other robots are invading China’s workplace on a much grander scale. Most notably is Foxconn who, last November, began replacing 1 million jobs performed by humans with robotic automation. The metamorphosis is advancing quickly. In late February the company announced it put afreeze on hiring new entry-level workers. This was due in part to a high worker retention rate following pay increases, but it’s also a conscious decision to accelerate the automation of their factories.

And as prices for the robots drop, they’ll continue to invade the workplace at increasing an increasing pace. Already China is expected to become the world’s largest robot market next year. And as entry-level jobs become scarce, out-of-the-job workers such as those at Foxconn and Jinhe Noodle Shop will find the new reality hard to swallow.

Chinese restaurants, industry develop taste for robots

English.news.cn   2013-03-22

BEIJING, March 22 (Xinhua) — Imagine a robot in a chef’s uniform working with a firm dough: noodle strips are peeled off and directly shot into boiling water before diners’ eyes can follow the whole process.

The scene is taking place in real life, not at an industrial exhibition, nor in a movie. The robot chef has been “employed” by a restauranteur in Beijing since late February.

Jinhe Noodle Shop, located on the city’s Southeast Third Ring Road, looks just like thousands of small eateries standing on Beijing’s street corners. It has a dozen tables, selling noodles prepared by the robot chef at around 10 yuan per bowl (1.6 U.S. dollars).

“It’s cost-effective,” said the restauranteur, surnamed Zhao. “A cook doing this job usually asks for 40,000 yuan (6,400 U.S. dollars) a year. I bought the robot last month for 10,000 yuan (1,600 U.S. dollars).

“It does a good job! Business is as good as before.”

Zhao said the inventor of the robot has a team who will come and help if his new purchase malfunctions.

Inventor Cui Runquan, a 38-year-old farmer from neighboring Hebei Province, said he has sold robots like this to more than 3,000 restaurants across China since launching the mechanical avatar in 2010. He obtained his fist patent in 2010, for a mechanical arm, and now has four patents for his invention.

As wages grow by 10 to 20 percent annually in China, the age of the machines is dawning. From small restaurants to big factories, the advent of relatively cheap robots is beginning to change the country’s economic landscape.

Industrial robots, with more sophisticated designs than Jinhe Noodle Shop’s chef, are entering Chinese factories to take on jobs like welding, painting, ironing and packaging.

“Next year, China is expected to become the world’s biggest robot market, with demand for 32,000 industrial robots,” according to Zhao Jie, an expert on the subject for China’s “863 Program,” a state high-tech initiative.

“Chinese companies usually start considering robots when the payment for a skilled worker exceeds 50,000 yuan (8,060 U.S. dollars) a year,” said Tan Xueke, a manager of the Xinsong Robot Automation Company in Shenyang, capital of northeast China’s Liaoning Province.

Tan has the math. A welding robot, for example, can replace the work of three welders. A welding robot currently sells for 150,000 yuan (24,100 U.S. dollars), equal to one year’s pay to three welders.

“As a robot can serve for three to five years, it is obviously an economic alternative,” said Tan.

As for threats to Chinese jobs, experts say it all depends how fast engineers bring down the cost of robots, and meanwhile, how fast China’s labor force shrinks.

Five years ago, a welding robot sold for 500,000 yuan (80,600 U.S. dollars), more than three times their price now, according to Tan.

China experienced a rare decline in its labor force in 2012, the number of working-age people (15-59 year olds) in the country decreasing by 3.45 million to 937.27 million. The trend of an ageing population is set to pose challenges to the world’s second-largest economy.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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