The world of automation and robotics is still young in India, but manufacturers are already seeing its disruptive potential
By Jayashree Mendes
There’s an understanding in the manufacturing industry that sales of robots and increase in automation imply that the industry is on a steady footing. So it’s not surprising to know that more Indian companies are dithering less over switching to automation and robotics. Many of the tasks that are vital to manufacturing are also simple, repetitive, and monotonous, making them perfect candidates to turn over to automation and robots.
Automation and robotics is the basis for ‘workforce virtualisation’. High-volume, low value-added tasks can be standardised and performed, not by “robots” per se, but by software applications, which can be scaled up or down as needed and do not require performance reviews or compensation increases and importantly do not depart for jobs with competitors.
Pradeep David, general manager, Universal Robots, India, says, “Currently, India is one of the countries with the least adoption rate of industrial robots. By 2018, India is predicted to adopt just 6,000 robots unlike our Asian counterpart, China which will ship at least 150,000 robots into their country by that time. Businesses around the world are looking at automating their processes as it not only increases the efficiency of an organisation’s work structure but also improves the quality of products being produced by the respective manufacturing units.”
Automation and robots are advanced tools that enhance production operations. For most companies it will then be viable to shift base to a country that has adopted robots as part of their shop floor. For countries like India, this would mean loss of business as companies will re-shore businesses back to high wage countries that have incorporated robotic technologies. CIOs need to understand that operators and robots working together are more productive than either party working alone. Unless companies adopt and incorporate automation and robots into their operational frameworks, countries like India stand to lose business. It’s not too late for corporates to start automating its shop floors as it will help preserve jobs through increased business and not vice versa.
Paramananda Choudhury, business manager, architecture & software, Rockwell Automation, says, “Automation, today, has gone beyond the traditional expectation of productivity. Today automation is also a means of attaining sustainability of operations and business. This has been made possible through the capability of optimisation and bringing in safety of operations in the manufacturing set up. All these in turn multiply the productivity gains significantly.”
Making equipment smart
Information plays a key role in driving optimisation through the use of automation. Today, with tremendous leaps of technology, most plant floor devices have become ‘smart’, doing more than their basic sensing, measurement or actuating roles. They have the ability to provide diagnostics and prognostics that enable the users to take decisions related to health and efficiency of the equipment. Many plant equipment have been ‘smart’ in the past too as they had been controlled by PLCs/DCS and other controllers and would be the source of important information. But with the advent of open networking standards and smart devices (sensors, actuators, etc) information flow has become easy and efficient.
Sumit Kumar, in-charge, knowledge management, Fuji Electric India, says, “Industrial Rotary equipment were the key elements that led to the Industrial Revolution. The upkeep, maintenance, availability, reliability along with the energy savings provided a competitive edge to the companies. In the past, FEI’s connectivity to the customer’s rotary equipment were mainly with AC drives and PLCs. To bring ourselves closer to the customer and be treated as a value add solution provider, FEI has unveiled WISEROT, a Wireless Simple Diagnostic System for Rotating Machine Vibration. This is a powerful tool for predicting and preventing any failure in the critical rotary equipments caused due to unmonitored vibrations.
WISEROT helps the users with: Early detection of abnormality; increased safety of maintenance personnel; and removal/repair of vibration causing obstruction.
Collaborative robots (co-bots) have the ability to collaborate with humans in a task-oriented working environment. David says, “They are lightweight, portable and can be easily integrated into a facility. Co-bots are distinct in the sense that they are very easy to set up, with just the co-bot and a controller which uses intuitive software to mechanise the co-bots, and allows even the most inexperienced user to quickly grasp the basics of programming and set waypoints by simply moving the robot into position.”
The robots are quiet and produce minimal noise when in operation. Universal Robots uses a one-phase power supply, which can be plugged and played immediately and does not require transformers. They do not need any safety caging as they use dynamic force, thereby reducing injury unlike industrial robots. In India, Universal Robots have started getting payback calculations which is pretty compelling in 1.5 years. The speed of project commissioning is turning out to be swift specially for running lines because it is that easy to get our co-bots retrofitted.
The evolution of manufacturing intelligence tools have enabled all the data that float around in a plant automation network to be set in the context of various operational situations making it easy for different roles in the enterprise to make informed decisions. Choudhury says, “This is where the barrier between IT and OT breaks. The CIO has an important role to play in this convergence and realise that enterprise level decision making cannot be efficient without the real time contextualised information from the manufacturing floor. To enable this convergence, unified platforms of networking, security and information policies relevant to the needs of both manufacturing and the enterprise have to be adopted.”
Solutions for the future
With agility and flexibility getting to be important attributes in manufacturing operations, it is necessary that automation systems evolve. Simplification is the key and some of the ways to do that are using common off-the-shelf technology in industrial automation as well as building more functional and diagnostic capabilities in smaller device footprints. Controllers with multi-discipline capabilities (for instance, discrete control, process control, safety, motion control, etc) are another example of simplification through technology. Doing away with multiple and proprietary networks and achieving controls and information through standard EtherNet networks is another example.
Many of the new production methods in the next manufacturing revolution will require fewer people working in factories, and some lights-out manufacturing is now possible. Manufacturing will still need people, if not so many in the factory itself. Automated machines need people to design, programme and service them. Conventional control architectures will fade away and will steadily be replaced with distributed, robust, modular, adaptive, non-hierarchical, fault-tolerant autonomous control systems.