Made of Machines

Features, Special report

Automation & robotics vendors are helping Indian manufacturers achieve optimal levels of efficiency amid a tough business landscape.

by Mitalee Kurdekar

By now, we are all well-versed with
Industry 4.0, recognising its value as an oncoming industrial revolution, wherein intelligent machines and systems will communicate and interact with each other to drive enterprise automation. Today’s automated systems are so tightly integrated that there is no or very little scope for any waste or inefficiency. The role of such systems will get further enhanced when real-time operational processing will get facilitated through Cloud Computing and other analytics applications as they start to get widely implemented. The processes between suppliers and customers will be so seamlessly conjoined and interactive that it will only lead to increasing and sustainable profitable performance.

Even if an organisation is doing all the right things to be effective in the present business scenario, things can rapidly change. Maintaining profitability, in such cases, requires quick adoption and faster time to market without losing out on productivity and precision. If one wants to achieve that near impossible task, then automation & robotics is the way to go. And Indian manufacturers are acknowledging that reality.

“Digitalisation is revolutionising production and ushering in a new era: Industry 4.0. With the help of intelligent machines that communicate with each other and collaborate with us, we will become more efficient than ever,” sums up KV Suresh, president, ZF India.

Inflection Point
If one looks at the purpose of any business, the common goal is sustaining a profitable growth rate, every time and all the time. The business, therefore, is constantly evaluated on its capability to speed up its products to market, to remain responsive to its customer needs, to provide consistent quality of products, to make continuous improvement and to achieve all these with cost-effective operations. The moot question remains whether operations can deliver these objectives, which are incongruent with each other, and still make sustainable profits.

There could be several options to grow the business, but many of them would lead to cutting corners and, hence, are far from being optimum choices. If one analyses the issue, it doesn’t take time to surmise that these goals can be congruent if the business person is able to reduce the variables within operations, which normally arise due to poorly aligned processes and involvement of humans. In that case, automation & robotics becomes the ideal solution, where processes are integrated, interactive and tightly secured, while robots do repetitive tasks with ease to deliver consistency and minimum variability in performance from batch-to-batch or for greater lengths of time.

Speaking about the advent of cutting-edge technology in the Indian industry, PV Sivaram, MD, B&R Industrial Automation, says, “The Indian industry is eyeing best-in-class performance at optimum costs. Manufacturing not only looks at productivity in terms of quantity and quality, but also in terms of overall equipment efficiency, energy monitoring, condition monitoring and machine and plant availability. Technology transition times from developed economies have shortened. Aspirational India no longer wishes to project itself as a low-cost hub, rather wants to be best-in-class and the preferred choice.” He adds that openness also forms the core of Industry 4.0. “Robotics and automation are no longer a good-to-have, but a must-have in Indian manufacturing. CoBots or Collaborative Robots, which is a remarkable combination of industrial robotics and automation, is a product of our global R&D efforts and has also been introduced in the Indian market,” he declares.
Expounding this point, Pradeep David, country head, India & Sri Lanka, Universal Robots, suggests that, “Universal Robots are pioneers in the manufacturing of advanced, user-friendly and light industrial, Collaborative Robotic arms (CoBots) and have recently expanded their presence in the Indian market. These Collaborative Robots safely work alongside humans, without any danger of hurting humans, and more as a worker’s assistant or third arm or helping hand or portable tool.” He further points out that their CoBots have immensely benefited customers in terms of speed to market, responsiveness, consistency in quality and cost effectiveness. Of course, the hunger for automation and robotics depends upon the level of advancement in manufacturing systems and processes.

Sameer Gandhi, MD, Omron Automation, India, states, “The overall level of manufacturing is not very complex in India, as compared to other countries. This suggests that the Indian industry has the opportunity to leap frog this Automation Curve to take full advantage of the automation technologies that are available today and to churn-out world-class products.” He proclaims, “Omron Automation are enablers to the Make in India initiative, and we are very excited to make the best use of these opportunities to assist the Indian industry gear up for new challenges.”

Commercial Proposition
Despite its advantages, investing in automation & robotics solutions is never an easy commercial decision for any business. The initial outlay is quite substantial, and the expected benefits depend upon changing business situations, and hence are fairly undefined. Omron’s Gandhi confirms this, saying, “Affordability has always been a concern with customers, as cost of acquisition grabs more attention than the overall benefits in-store. But they are able to appreciate it once they understand the overall objectives of the investment, thoroughly. And to address this, we work closely with the customers throughout all the stages – right from conceptualisation to planning to actual implementation to after sales.”

Universal Robots’ David believes that while huge investments concern customers, they are able to overcome their scepticism when they evaluate the benefits that come with Universal’s CoBots. He explains, “Our three different collaborative robots are easily integrated into existing production environments. The investment cost is quickly recovered as our robotic arms have an average payback period of just six months.”

David offers the example of Bajaj Auto to make his point. “Our oldest customer, Bajaj Auto, has deployed over 100 CoBots since 2010, and is now the third largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. They saw a gradual rise in productivity and efficiency in their production, after deploying Universal Robots’ Collaborative Robots. It also increased the productivity of their employees, along with their product quality,” he offers.

Providing a customer view point on this business justification aspect, Farrokh Cooper, chairman & MD, Cooper Corporation, confirms their approach towards these technologies of future. He says, “At Cooper, we have always believed in forecasting future industry trends and foreseeing the demand so that we can adapt ourselves with necessary technology upgradation. This philosophy has always given us the first mover’s advantage in the market vis-à-vis other players. We look at automation & robotics as an important investment, which provides timely & qualitative execution of projects, and yields better ROI in the long run, compared to other investments.” In fact, Cooper believes in doing appropriate forecasting of all investments and calculating the desired outcome and ROI.

Future Prospects
In that context, Indian manufacturers are keen to know about new offerings in the automation & robotics’ market and corresponding market trends, so they may adopt the same and better their operations. On their part, vendors are responding with strong product innovations.

“Our solutions are based on a very strong portfolio of progressive Sensing & Control + Think technology. Many of our products are already IoT-enabled and more are being released on a regular basis (for example, we have I/O link to capture the data to the PLCs, which can actually work on this data, and these PLCs can directly connect to and exchange data with an SQL server, MES, ERP, etc.). Some components of AI have also been built into Omron products,” announces Gandhi.
As far as the customers’ response is concerned, B&R Industrial Automation’s Sivaram says, “Their inquisitiveness strongly resonates in the number of customers who visit our interaction events, which we call Innovation Day.”

Supporting this idea with statistics, Universal Robots’ David suggests, “The Indian automation industry is growing at an annual rate of 20-25% according to the Automation Industry Association of India (AIA). Automation has become the competitive advantage in today’s manufacturing world. It has allowed for companies to mass produce products at outstanding speeds, and with great repeatability and quality. In fact, automation has become a determining factor in whether or not a company will remain competitive within the manufacturing industry.”

In keeping with this, customers are eager to collaborate with vendors on projects. “We work closely with our vendors on key projects and decide our automation needs as per the process requirements to reap a better outcome. We also have a dedicated team working closely with vendors on various automation projects, ensuring timely delivery and completion,” confirms Cooper.
Overall, the automation & robotics industry seems to be maturing well, in keeping with the steady growth of the manufacturing sector. The growing realisation that this is the future of manufacturing has certainly helped encourage this transition.
While everyone agrees that robots cannot replace humans, they certainly can complement them well.


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May 2019
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