URUMQI, May 13 (Xinhua) -- In just one year a one-billion-yuan factory was built and starting production, at what Zhang Shimin calls "Xinjiang speed."
Zhang is the vice general manager of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region branch of China Railway Construction Heavy Industry (CRCHI), a track and underground engineering equipment producer headquartered in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province.
"It usually takes two years to build a factory like ours, which covers over 14 hectares with floor space of 80,000 sq meters. We were eager to explore the market in Xinjiang, so we hired extra workers," he said.
Due to its latitude, Xinjiang has more daylight hours, and the construction team worked overtime to finish the project, he said.
Construction started in June, 2015 in an industrial park in northern Urumqi, the regional capital. Less than 13 months later, the first batch of tunnel boring machines had rolled out of the factory.
"We received strong support from the local government, which has been assisting high-end manufacturers," Zhang said.
At the core of the Silk Road Economic Belt, Xinjiang is quickly building up strong industries, including chemicals, information technology, machinery manufacturing and textiles. In 2017, industrial investment is expected to hit 461 billion yuan (about 66.8 billion U.S. dollars), of which manufacturing totals 280 billion yuan, up 51 percent from last year.
"Smart manufacturing is a pillar industry. We will help companies to build their factories and lower logistics cost to expand it into a multi-billion-yuan industry," said Ma Chuneli, an official with Urumqi Economic and Technological Development Zone, home to many companies like CRCHI.
At CRCHI's factory, workers are assembling a 5.5-meter-tall, 230-meter-long tunnel boring machine. This piece of equipment, which costs about 50 million yuan (about 7.2 million dollars), will be used to build a water diversion project in Xinjiang.
Since July last year, CRCHI has sold 1.8 billion yuan worth of equipment to subway and other underground project builders in Xinjiang, the company said.
"Workers previously used explosives to dig tunnels. This is a multi-functional digger, with a giant cutter-head to thrust into hard rocks, arms to build a roof and cleaning equipment to move the debris. This type of machinery is already widely used in western countries, but it has only become popular in China the last few years," Zhang said.
The price of the domestically-produced machine is about 70 to 80 percent of a foreign equivalent, and because there are so many projects using the machines, improvement is very fast, he said.
CRCHI has set up offices in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and Zhang is optimistic about international sales. "Now that we have a big production line here. It is a golden opportunity for us to find business in western and central Asian countries," he said.
The same development zone houses another modern industry -- software developers. Over 100 companies have set up offices in the 14-hectare Xinjiang Software Park in Urumqi.
iFlytek, a Chinese industry leader in voice-recognition, has dozens of staff developing software for translation between Mandarin Chinese, Uygur and Kazakh.
As an ethnically diverse region, Xinjiang is an ideal place to develop voice recognition for languages such as Uygur and Kazakh, said Kahar Kadeer, technical director of iFlytek Silk Road Speech Valley.
The accuracy rate of translation between Mandarin and standard Uygur is about 87 percent, and around 80 percent for Mandarin and the Uygur dialect spoken in Hotan prefecture, according to the company. "The accuracy will be improved as users generate more data," said Kahar.
"In the future, cross-language voice translation will be used in call centers, e-commerce and independent tourism in Xinjiang and central Asian countries," said Ling Yunzhi, vice general manager of the company.
"Smooth communication between different languages will help Xinjiang achieve its goal of building an open economy," Ling said.
Xinjiang borders eight countries. Many Chinese firms are looking at business opportunities across international borders.
Xinjiang Rival Tech bought cutting-edge membrane-making equipment from Germany for their new factory in Urumqi.
The company was founded in Gansu Province, but moved further west to expand its business, said Liu Xueping, Rival Tech's project manager.
"Xinjiang has a big logistical advantage. Our exports can travel west by rail to Russia and other countries, which saves time and money compared to going through north China's Port of Tianjin," she said.
In Rival Tech's factories, automated machines are churning out durable shopping bags for buyers in Almaty, Kazakhstan. "There is a big market to the west of Xinjiang," she said.