NANJING, June 8 (Xinhua) -- In a workshop of Hengtong Group in Suzhou City of east China's Jiangsu Province, a glass cylinder 6 meters long goes in at one end of a draw tower and comes out at the other end an optical fiber as thin as a human hair.
The cylinder, a fiber preform designed and made by the company, can be heated and drawn ceaselessly for six days to become a fiber thread stretching 15,000 kilometers. About two decades ago, fiber preforms in China were largely imported, but Hengtong founder Cui Genliang wanted to change that.
Cui started in 1991 from a small factory and quickly expanded it in its early years making power and communications cables. He soon realized that only companies possessing key technologies could win in fierce competition.
In 2006, Hengtong started developing its own fiber preforms. Despite advice to the contrary, as the mission was deemed too tough, Cui took his research and development (R&D) team globally to survey the markets and worked tirelessly for over 1,200 days before finally producing a homegrown model in 2010.
To stay competitive, the company has long adopted a preemptive strategy in advancing innovation: keep one generation of product industrialized, one under development, and one in reserve.
As the communications industry evolved, the company's product portfolio included communication cables, optical fiber, fiber preforms, and industry system solutions for the Internet of Things. Hengtong now takes up 15 percent of the global optical fiber market.
Chinese enterprises including Hengtong are playing increasingly pivotal roles in the country's transition toward innovation-driven growth.
Official data showed that the R&D investment of Chinese companies accounts for over 75 percent of the society-wide total.
China housed 400,000 high-tech enterprises in 2022, up from 39,000 in 2012, and 500,000 small and medium-sized technology firms. Together they contributed 68 percent of the total R&D investment of enterprises nationwide, and 762 of these were among the world's top 2,500 enterprises in terms of R&D input.
The country has vowed in May to ensure the principal position of enterprises in sci-tech innovation with institutional arrangements.
As the company grows, Cui said it could "never make any money tainted by environmental pollution" and started seeking greener business approaches. The company worked to minimize emissions and pollution in producing fiber preforms and recycled industrial wastewater.
Hengtong has said it wants to axe overall energy consumption per 10,000 yuan of output by 40 percent by 2028 compared to 2020 and lower carbon emissions by the same measure by 50 percent.
More Chinese companies are making similar low-carbon efforts. China's major industrial firms are expected to shave their energy consumption per unit of value-added output by 13.5 percent by 2025 from the 2020 level.
To Cui, Hengtong now faces an uphill battle in the critical window of upgrading. The company will continue to progress in communications and other main businesses and focus on exploring new ventures like marine energy and intelligent cities.
"In an era of disruptive innovations, our only way to stay competitive is to perceive the changes, respond, and innovate to transform ourselves," Cui said. ■