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Moving a remote area on from ‘black gold’
08.12.2019

    In Karamay, 4,000 kilometers from Shanghai in a remote desert basin of the northwest Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, one of China’s largest oil fields has been the sole driver of the economy.

    Now Shanghai is trying to help the area diversify, with a shift toward more sustainable, greener industries.

    Last week, Karamay officials signed science and technology agreements on eight projects with universities and companies from Shanghai.

    Karamay’s name in Uyghur means “black oil.” It’s been “black gold” for oil companies and local residents.

    Since 2017, more than 40 experts from Shanghai have been to Karamay to help local scientific enterprises with innovation and research. Many young professionals and entrepreneurs from Karamay also went to Shanghai for training and studies.

    Sheng Yungao is one of the entrepreneurs benefiting from the experience. He attended a seminar in Shanghai in June, where he met many compatriots from Karamay.

    Sheng’s company, called Karamay Zhongqiao Productivity Promotion Group, is an incubator that provides resources and infrastructure to local startups.

    “We visited several innovation hubs and incubators in Shanghai and learned from their experiences,” said Sheng. “The personal contact we had was more rewarding than simply being told what to do in a tutorial.”

    Sheng’s shared work space has attracted some 60 startups. In tandem with people he met in Shanghai, Sheng said he wants to attract more young local talent.

    Shanghai is also lending its intellectual talent to Xinjiang, said Jiang Ping, who was dispatched by Shanghai government to work as deputy director of Karamay’s Science and Technology Commission.

    “Karamay is known as a traditional industrial city, but we must find new growth points apart from oil, which will eventually run out,” said Jiang. “Many companies here are anxious to adopt innovation.”

    Huixiang Laser Technology Group, one of the companies that signed agreements with Shanghai officials last week, is located some 130 kilometers from downtown Karamay.

    The company started as a printing house in 2005. Five years later, the company expanded into laser cladding. Huixiang President Sun Chuanxin spent more than 5 million yuan (US$708,000) to bring the first and only laser cladder to Xinjiang.

    Laser cladding is often used to repair battered metal components of large machinery. It seemed like a good business fit with oil rigs, which rise everywhere in the desert basin.

    It was a good idea, but implementation proved harder.

    “We didn’t know how to control the laser beam or the metal powder,” Sun said. “Few companies were willing to give us orders for fear we would damage the bearings.”

    According to Sun, repairing a bearing with laser cladding costs only about 5,000 yuan, but that sum quickly multiplies if damage ensues.

    Sun told Shanghai Daily that he spent three years visiting Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Sichuan and Hubei provinces, trying to learn more to make the cladder more accurate and efficient. By the end of 2017, Huixiang’s annual production was valued at 1 million yuan.

    Last year, Shanghai Science and Technology Commission invited university representatives to visit Karamay. The laser center of Shanghai University of Engineering Science reached out to help Huixiang.

    “It was remarkable for this company to foresee the potential of the technology years ago,” said Yang Shanglei, deputy head of the laser center.

    University assistance helped Huixiang increase the accuracy of the laser beam. The university also sent experts to the company to teach workers how to operate the machinery, and it shared laboratory research data with the company.

    This year, the first laser cladder developed jointly by Huixiang and the laser center started operation. By July, the output value of the company reached 5 million yuan.



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