E. China silk farming hub uses robots to breed silkworms

Much of China's rural areas have suffered a loss of labor as younger populations migrate to cities in search of work, leaving behind the elderly to take care of the farm work. Mechanization is China's agricultural sector is still at low levels.

Robots and automation technologies are being introduced in Huzhou, a city in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, to modernize a centuries-old industry: silkworm breeding.

At a silkworm breeding firm in Nanxun of Huzhou, a city known for its burgeoning silk industry, staff now use robots to move case after case of silkworms onto an automated production line, instead of loading them up by themselves, Chinese media reported.

These square- or round-shaped cases, made of bamboo with walls on all sides, contain a mattress for the larvae of silkworms to sleep on.

The robot also disinfects the cases and feeds mulberry leaves to the worms, freeing staff from most of the tedious labor.

According to Chinese media reports, mechanized silkworm breeding slash labor costs and enhance efficiency by 50% to 60%.

Much of China’s rural areas have suffered a loss of labor as younger populations migrate to cities in search of work, leaving behind the elderly to take care of the farm work. Mechanization is China’s agricultural sector is still at low levels.

The silk mill where the larvae are nurtured is air-conditioned, complete with heaters, humidifiers and thermometers, to bring the indoor temperature to a range congenial to the growth of silkworms.

The company responsible for applying robots to breed silkworms runs this program in conjunction with local farmers, Gao Guorong, a company manager was quoted as saying.

He added that after growing the larvae to certain size, the firm will use robots to sterilize their
abode and dispense mulberry leaves, before distributing the grown-up insects to local farmers for further breeding.

Through robot-assisted mechanized processes, the company has provided pre-production, in-production and post-production guidance and services to silk farmers in Nanxun.

To date, the district has 67,300 mu (4,486 hectares) of mulberry groves, with 33,000 households engaged in silk farming and producing 16,000 “colonies” of silkworm.

In industrial parlance, a standard silkworm colony weighs 15g and when the bugs grow bigger, they can make cocoons weighing as much as 50kg. This amount of fabric is enough to be converted into between 5kg and 10kg of silk cloth.

Robotics are deployed on a wider scale in all of China and across a variety of industries. Agriculture is one area where robots are gaining currency, with drones and robots used to empower plant protection, replace human pickers and increase productivity.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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