State-owned enterprises with competitive edges in infrastructure machinery are ramping up efforts for a bigger presence in markets involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, as infrastructure demand is seen on the rise in these markets, especially in Southeast Asia and Africa.
China Railway Construction Heavy Industry Corp Ltd, or CRCC Heavy Industry, is among such SOEs. The company is preparing a trip in July to deliver its latest micro tunnel boring machine, which was rolled out in May, to Thailand.
Breaking the national record for the minimum diameter of a boring machine — 914 millimeters — the equipment will be delivered to Bangkok for the micro tunneling work of a natural gas pipeline project.
Micro tunneling is a process that uses a remote-controlled micro tunnel boring machine, of which the cutter's diameter is shorter than 1 meter, combined with a pipe jacking technique to directly install pipelines underground in a single pass. This process avoids the need to have long stretches of an open trench for pipe laying, which causes extreme disruptions to the surrounding environment.
"Great things come in small packages. I say this not only because we made a tunnel boring machine way smaller than a normal tunneling machine, but it has everything a normal one has. We also managed to manufacture such a thing on our own," said Chen Liang, director of tunneling research with CRCC Heavy Industry, a unit of China Railway Construction Corp Ltd.
Manufacturing small tunnel boring machines, of which the cutter's diameter is shorter than 3 meters — and micro versions — has been beyond China's reach till 2019, when CRCC Heavy Industry set up teams with partner companies to this end and produced a 1.22-meter model after months of intensive research and development, Chen said.
"After adequate exams and checks, we brought the model to a domestic gas project and witnessed what it could do. And it did impress us and dug 191 meters on a single day, a record in the project," he added.
Taking the participation in the Thailand gas project as an opportunity, Chen and his team continued its "strike while the iron's hot "approach and debuted its 914-mm model in May, which passed evaluation and quality checks by the team formed by the Thailand proprietor, the general contractor and subcontractors later the same month.
With infrastructure demand gaining traction around the world, Chinese machinery makers, both SOEs and private players, are increasingly welcomed on construction sites worldwide, especially in BRI markets.
On construction sites of the new El Alamein city in Egypt, trailer pumps specially designed for construction in Middle East regions by Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science &Technology Co Ltd have recently arrived, starting their service together with other heavy machinery also from the company, such as pumpers and excavators. While in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, heavy machinery from Sany Group, which takes up more than 30 percent of the local market share, constitute the main force excavating a local copper-cobalt mine.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the BRI being proposed. With huge potential for infrastructure construction in many African, Central Asian, Southeast Asian and South American markets, the BRI is expected to promote cooperation between major contractors, including central SOEs, in China and other involved economies. Investment into overseas projects, in terms of both number and amount, is expected to surge, according to a report from China Galaxy Securities Co Ltd.
According to Customs data, in the first four months, China's total construction machinery trade achieved $17.1 billion, a year-on-year increase of 27 percent. Among this, total export volume reached $16.2 billion, a year-on-year increase of 30.5 percent, maintaining the uptrend of last year, in which exports reached $44.3 billion in total, a year-on-year increase of 30.2 percent.
Jiang Rui contributed to this story.