Shanxi harnesses innovation to boost high-quality growth
Pengfei Group's 5G, artificial intelligence and digital control platform for the integrated management of its production sites across various regions begins operation on Jan 1. [Photo by Guo Yanjie for China Daily]
North China province finds success with AI, 5G and smart technology features
The new generation of information technologies, including 5G, big data, industrial internet and artificial intelligence, is becoming a powerful engine in boosting Shanxi's transformation toward high-quality development.
The coal mining and production industry－the traditional economic pillar in this North China province－has been the major testing field for the new-generation IT-powered transformation.
Pengfei Group, a privately run coal mining, coking and coal-based chemicals enterprise based in the city of Lyuliang, announced on Jan 1 the official operation of a 5G, AI and digital-controlled central operational platform for integrated management of its production sites in the cities of Lyuliang, Jincheng, Yangquan and Changzhi.
The platform's operation makes Pengfei the first enterprise in Shanxi to use 5G, digital and smart technologies to equip its entire industrial chain of coal mining, coking and chemicals.
"We have witnessed the revolutionary changes that 5G brings to the coal mining and production industry," said Zheng Peng, board chairman of Pengfei Group. "With clicks of mouse, we can track the operational scenarios of all our production sites in various regions, and instructions from the headquarters can be sent to these sites in the meantime through the same 5G network."
Zheng said the platform can play a greater role in ensuring production safety.
"Safety is the top concern of coal mining and production companies," the executive said. "Equipped with a powerful eagle-eye system, the platform allows us to detect any emerging threat in all of our production sites."
He said the system can greatly improve efficiency through automatic production.
"It makes automatic underground mining possible," Zheng said. "We estimated that the number of mining workers can be reduced by more than 50 percent in the near future."
Pengfei Group began the construction of 5G-connected coal mines in the beginning of 2020, in cooperation with telecom operator China Unicom. It launched its 5G smart coal mining laboratory in June and announced the trial operation of the digital-controlled central operational platform in August.
Following Pengfei, another two coal production enterprises in Lyuliang－Dongyi and Jinyan－recently announced their plans for digital and 5G-connected operations.
A more recent move in digitalized and 5G-connected coal mining is a smart mining technology laboratory launched in the provincial capital of Taiyuan on Feb 9.
It was jointly founded by technology company Huawei, the Shanxi provincial government and local mining companies like Yangquan Coal Industry Group, which is China's largest hard coal producer.
The lab came after the fruitful cooperation between Huawei and Yangquan Coal Industry, which led to the operation of the first 5G-connected coal mine in Shanxi.
Yangquan Coal Industry signed a cooperation agreement with China Mobile and Huawei to promote 5G-connected intelligent mining in September 2019.
As a result of the cooperation, China's first 5G network in an underground coal mine started operation in June 2020 in Xinyuan Coal Mine, a subsidiary of Yangquan Coal Industry.
The network was installed 534 meters deep in the mine, marking the deepest one in the country. It can help convey real-time data from inside the mine, including gas density, temperature and humidity.
Huawei's CEO Ren Zhengfei saw the Xinyuan project as a demonstrative move for Huawei to tap into the mining industry when he paid a visit to the coal mine in December.
"We are the first in the world to use digital and information technologies for mining on a large scale," Ren said. "China has more than 5,300 coal mines and 2,700 metal mines. This will be an ideal testing field for Huawei to tap into the global mining industry."
Neither Huawei executives nor Shanxi authorities limited their collaborations to the coal mining and production industries.
Shanxi is developing three big data industrial bases in Lyuliang, Datong and Yangquan, aiming to serve all industries in the province.
Huawei has established a big data center in the Lyuliang Economic and Technological Development Zone.
The center is a super-large cloud service facility capable of serving thousands of enterprises. It can generate an annual revenue of 500 million yuan ($76.94 million), according to officials in Lyuliang.
Guo Yanjie contributed to this story.