Driving the future of automation

Read how the automation market is responding to the technological changes and uncertain market conditions.

Drives play an essential role in automation technology. Stating its importance, K T Chougule, DGM – drive solutions, factory automation & industrial division, Mitsubishi Electric India says, “Generally 70% of the electrical load is motor load in the industry and to run the motor with variable speed according to the machine/process application requires a drive. VFDs also play a critical role in energy saving particularly in variable torque application, where energy is saved considering the difference between process demand & supply, mainly for fan & pump application. Energy saving market is growing very fast in India due to relatively high cost of power in India.” Further he adds, “Drive not only gives variable speed, it can also deliver smooth start-stop, which reduces mechanical impact on machines or equipment, improves the power factor of the system and also reduces the maximum demand (MD) of factory Drive plays a key role in the automation technology, and the drive market is more than 50% of total factory automation market.”

Technological transformation
The manufacturing sector is transforming. Speaking about it, Meenu Singhal, vice president, industry business, Schneider Electric mentions, “Industry 4.0 is changing the landscape of the manufacturing industry in India. While technologies such as robotics, AI, ML, cloud computing & big data analytics exist in the manufacturing sector, their integration with one another will transform the way we do business. In India, Industry 4.0 is still in the early stages, but it is already transforming the manufacturing sector in terms of responsiveness to customer needs, better transparency & agility, and cost savings.”

Seconding the same, Chougule explains, “With the requirement of Smart Manufacturing, controllers need to be Open and should communicate with SCADA/ MES/ERP Systems seamlessly. This calls for adoption of various standard protocols & open communication technologies. In this era, the sensors are becoming more intelligent with memory, processing capabilities & communication over standard protocols. At Mitsubishi Electric, we call it e-F@ctory. It enables Digital Transformation of the manufacturing industry. The key to digitalisation is integration of IT & FA/OT systems. For this, all our FA Products like PLCs, HMIs, VFDs, AC Servo Systems, NC Controllers, Robots, IPCs and Low Voltage Switchgears are equipped with advance technologies for communication. e-F@ctory offers greater visibility of the production processes,” Sameer Gandhi, MD, Omron Automation India further adds, “The early adopters are trying to make a transition towards the automation technologies. It enables them to achieve bigger KPIs like design & energy optimisation, finest asset utilisation, big data & analytics (connected supply chains and shopfloors), worker and machine safety and zero-defect production. There has also been a shift in the robotics portfolio; from ‘hard-tooled robotic cell’ to ‘flexible integrated cell’ and from ‘Hard Coded conventional AGV with limited Flexibility’ to ‘Flexible AIV Autonomous Navigation’. Vision guided robots, autonomous intelligent vehicles, mobile robots and cobots have been gaining acceptance and have been helping create an intelligent manufacturing environment where humans & machines work in tandem.”

Explaining the company’s portfolio, Gandhi notes, “Omron’s motion & drives portfolio mainly consists of servo systems, motion controllers and frequency inverters bringing in value to shopfloors in the form of speed, accuracy, space saving, flexibility and meeting specific load conditions with reliable & customised technology. All the solutions are customisable.”

Highlighting Nord Drivesystems popular product, PL Muthusekkar, MD, Nord Drivesystems says, “I am personally proud of our decentralised drives. These are versatile solutions which are applicable in variety of industries and sectors including material handling, packaging, conveying, so on and so forth. It has been well received in the market as well.” 

Is India a cost sensitive market?
Gandhi answers by saying, “The market, still to a great extent, is price conscious however the manufacturers who really wish to release the complete advantage of an automation solution give it a thought from end-to-end and long-term perspective, which I believe is the right approach.” Speaking about the value these solutions bring in, Singhal opines, “Deploying industrial automation technologies can be a costly at the initial stage, once the businesses start adopting to such technologies, they significantly reduce their operating expenses. In the era of industrial automation, businesses are increasingly investing in technologies that allow their processes, machines, employees, and even the products themselves, to be combined into a single integrated network.”

According to Muthusekkar, the Indian manufacturing industry is dominated by SMEs & MSMEs. “Their contribution towards the economy is immense. They are the maximum job creators. I believe they understand their business & their customers well. As a result, if the need be, they do not hesitate in adopting new technologies & automation solutions,” he says.

“The Indian market mainly looks for advanced technologies at affordable prices. Some industries have already moved in the direction of investment for Smart Manufacturing, whereas some are mainly checking ROI for such an investment. The manufacturing industry is continuously evolving, but due to slowdown in various verticals, the investment in this direction will take some more time,” Chougule adds.

Market scenario
On the backdrop of slowdown, how has been the market for drives? Muthusekkar replies, “Currently the drives market is growing moderately. The market conditions are tough and hence business sentiments are low. But, I foresee this situation changing with the new financial year which begins in April 2020.”

Chougule mentions, “This year, the market has been growing @7 to 8% CAGR and the continuously evolving automation needs, like warehouse automation, facility automation, etc. would propel the growth of variable frequency drives to higher values.” Singhal adds his point of view by saying, “In 2018, AC drives captured the majority of the market share (as compared to DC drives) and is expected to contribute significantly in the coming years because of its energy saving capacity and replacement ability. Additionally, cost effectiveness, system reliability and advanced functionality of the drives are few other contributors catalysing its growth.”

Looking forward
“Automation sector's growth has a direct correlation with the growth of the manufacturing sector. After rapid growth during the last few years, we had a breather in 2019. However, this is just a short-term blip on the backdrop of government's initiatives to roll-out investments in infrastructure, the push for Make in India projects & the expected revival of investments. For the automotive sector, 2020 looks to be another year of robust opportunities & we are hopeful that the entire automation industry will stand benefitted,” Chougule hopes. Speaking about the sectoral growth, Sinnghal mentions, “The OEM market in segments like rotating equipment, material handling, machine tools shall continue to see sluggish growth while we shall see growth coming from Infra based segments like elevators, cranes & hoists, HVAC, compressors, road construction equipment, etc. Due to growth in Infrastructure EU sectors like WWW, chemical, transportation, sugar, pulp & paper, cement and power shall contribute for the growth story of drives business. ”

Seconding the same Muthusekkar says, “Infrastructure is an evergreen sector. India is a vast country and there are several infrastructural projects being carried out simultaneously. Hence, it is one of the important sectors from the drives point of view as well.” He continues by saying, “I think the market for drives will take approximately 6-7 months or even little more than to improve. Drives enter in the project at little advanced stage. I believe, once the market starts showing positive trend, the demand for drives will automatically improve.” Gandhi seconds, “The application-based sectors like packaging, material handling, inspection along with robotics & the whole automotive and food & beverage are some of the segments driving the growth of our drives business.”

Chougule sums up by saying, “In response to the slowing economic growth, the government made a flurry of announcements to boost demand & supply. As the third-largest Asian economy, India remains an attractive investment destination due to the sheer size of its consumer market. With expected growth & intent to boost demand evident from the multiple reforms & measures announced, automation suppliers for the products like PLCs, Industrial PCs will see major demand coming. Expected market growth rate for Factory Automation for 2020 is 6%. Factory Automation is becoming more & more digital with Industry 4.0 and INDIA being preferred destination for manufacturing hub it becomes imperative to increase competitiveness and build efficient value chain with our Ecostruxture offer.”