Time for the Change

The pandemic situation may change industry’s mind-set to adopt new technologies. Learn how

Additive manufacturing, 3D printing, Digitalization, Agricultural equipment, Construction equipment, Post-lockdown era, Industry 4.0, Ashim Sharma, Nomura Research Institute, Prabhakar Shetty, L&T Technology Services, Ninad Deshpande, B&R Automation, Cobots, Pradeep David, Universal Robots, Lokesh Kaushal, Rockwell Automation, Bhanwar Lal Bishnoi, L&T Electrical & Automation, Raghavendra Deolankar, ZF India

Over the years, automation has remained a million-dollar question. How to go about it? What should be the right strategy? Now these questions are also applicable for robotics and digitalisation. To add into in to it pandemic has changed the perspective towards adopting new technologies.

Speaking about it, Sameer Gandhi, Managing Director, Omron Automation India says, “Definitely, pandemic will have impact on the way people will adopt automation and robotic solutions. Consumers may demand non-touched products henceforth keeping their safety in mind. In that case, manufacturers will have to align their processes accordingly. Also, this will be safer from the employees’ point of view as well.”

Manufacturing Today recently conducted a webinar on the topic of 'Practical Approach towards Adopting Automation'. Speaking at the webinar, Raghavendra Deolankar who heads Manufacturing at ZF India, added yet another point of view. “The difference between pre- and post-lockdown era would be social distancing. Each company will have to follow new norms in this regard. Aa a result, every company will have to identify processes where such norms are difficult to deploy. Accordingly, they need to work around and see which stations can be clubbed or processes can be automated. Apart from automating machines, AGVs can be looked at as an option to transport the parts/components within the factory to ensure they are not touched.”

Agreeing to him, Bhanwar Lal Bishnoi, Group Head -Embedded Design, L&T Electrical & Automation mentions, “In the pandemic situation automation and non-contact manufacturing will be helpful and safe from employees as well customers’ point of view. Now that we are looking at breaking the chain of spreading the virus, these things definitely will help and allow manufacturing to continue.”

It is easier for bigger companies to adopt such practices quickly where processes and systems are in place. However, for SMEs and MSMEs, the scenario is far more different. In this regard, Mukul Verma, Vice President Projects, JK Paper mentions that “Many a times SMEs do not have Level 1 automation or tracking systems in place. So, they should focus on what exactly their requirement is. Not all technologies have to make sense to every company. So, one needs to be careful while selecting the technology.”

SMEs and Start-ups

Many a times, automation solution providers handhold SMEs in their journey of new product developments. In this regard, Lokesh Kaushal, Regional Segment Leader – Packaging Machinery Asia Pacific, Rockwell Automation said, “Creating a new product is a journey starting from an Idea and up to the delivery or what we call as D3 Design, Develop & Deliver. The goal is to build smart flexible plants which are able to adjust to required product changes and hence provide maximum throughput with reduced changeover time. Our latest Independent cart Technology products i.e. iTrak & Magnemotion series help customers obtain batch size of one. In addition, to support our customers on this journey we provide consultation and solution delivery along the journey. We have teams of domain experts who specializes in different industries and applications to provide insights to customers and help them create products better & faster.”

Agreeing to the same, Pradeep David, General Manager, South Asia, Universal Robots highlights importance cobots. “Beyond their innate Industry 4.0 compatibility, cobots have played a major role in enabling companies that might not have been able to afford industrial robots to start automating their processes. Because they are versatile, easy to program, small, lightweight and affordable, cobots are being deployed by SMEs, to retrofit older factories belonging. It is a blessing for the companies that otherwise might not be in a position to build a turnkey Industry 4.0 facility, and at companies of all sizes in developing countries. These same qualities – versatility, user-friendliness, small footprint and affordability – also make cobots eminently suitable for deployment in processes that were not previously automated. By “democratising” robotic automation in this way, cobots help companies everywhere join the latest wave of automation.”

While speaking about start-ups, David mentions, “Start-ups are a building block of our country – just take the location of our South Asia headquarters, Bangalore, which is the country’s start-up capital! More and more companies are introducing cobots as the flexibility they get through Human Robot Collaboration is far more successful than with a single purpose Industrial robot or human workforce synergy. Cobots are also very popular amongst startups and R&D centres as they allow for a multitude of experiments, thanks to their versatility and flexible redeployment. Thus, they are used by MNCs and start-ups alike, and has proven to be one of the best investments that an organisation can make to skyrocket production, efficiency, and quality – all while enabling otherwise small players to use a future-forward technology that allows them to stay competitive in a global marketplace.”

Speaking about start-ups approach, Ninad Deshpande, Head - Marketing & Corporate Communication, B&R Automation says, “There is a huge difference between being cost conscious and cost centric. Many start-up are cost conscious but are aware that they can only differentiate themselves from competition with technology. We are offering advanced automation solutions in virtually every industry. We find a lot of synergies with not only MSMEs, SMEs, global machine builders but also start-up for adopting our technologically advanced automation solutions.”


On the backdrop of pandemic and lockdown, the industry experts think that the process of digitalistion will fasten. Speaking about it, Ashim Sharma, Partner & Group Head - Business Performance Improvement, Nomura Research Institute says, “As automation increases, tracking and tracing gains importance, digitsalisation will also move forward. Data is likely to be the key in the future.”

Seconding the same, Prabhakar Shetty, Global Head - Digital Manufacturing Services, L&T Technology Services adds, “Today industries like medical equipment manufacturing, pharma, CPG are looking at line expansions while on the other auto companies are getting into ventilators manufacturing. So, there is a need for services to be delivered remotely. As a result, form and shape in which we get in touch with customers are changing.”

Elaborating on the same, Kaushal adds, “Connectivity forms the base for digital connected operations, today manufacturing information is separated in silos across the enterprise. Best practices are often shared manually as the manufacturers face the great divide between IT (Information Technology) & OT (Operational Technology). KPIs are seldom evaluated to establish best practices and take corrective measures in real time.

Connected Enterprise transforms real-time data, from intelligent assets and multi-disciplined control

from a plant, or a remote site into actionable information while securely bridging IT & OT divide

• It connects operations with their supply chain and gives better insight into their customers

• It connects employees to one another for easy collaboration & problem solving

• It also connects the business – from operations to enterprise thus driving efficiency.”

Deshpande continues by saying, “Strong connectivity for efficient results is the basic need of every modern business. It is right to say that connectivity is the lifeblood of advanced manufacturing. It is one of the important pillars of concepts such as Industry 4.0 and IoT. Factories and plants desire seamless vertical and horizontal connectivity on their shop floor. However, the challenge until today was the lack of a uniform network for communication. Today, open source vendor dependent connectivity protocol such as OPC UA, OPC UA over TSN, MQTT and AMQP are increasingly being demanded by factories for achieving IT and OT convergence. In modern manufacturing setups, it

is about assets such as machines, devices, sensors, and people to connect and communicate with each other.”

Speaking about how connected factories help global operations, Kaushal mentions, “Connected Machines/Equipment is going to allow you to bet ter leverage the most powerful element that too few organizations today are fully capitalizing on: YOUR OWN REAL TIME DATA.

This intangible commodity is the key to better understanding your operational performance at the most granular level so you can improve operations, and produce more at higher quality levels, in a more efficient manner.

To capture this value, the industry is adopting these enabling technologies:

• Smart Things – more devices are connecting to our networks

• Data Analytics – turning data into actionable information

• Scalable Computing/Cloud – leveraging scalable computing including off premise resources

• Mobility – creating a smarter and more productive workforce

• Security – everything must be secure”

How’s the future?

Answering this question, Gandhi says, “The industry has varied struggles in store. While on one side many of the makers are gearing up and expecting a rise in demand post Q1 or so, they have a big task to handle on the shopfloor to manage the deployment of workers as they now have to consider stricter norms of social distancing. This may require lot of retrofitting which will lead to increase in cost. They have to think about the balance of labour and machines at the shopfloor and so many of them will now be made to think about enhancing their investment in automation solutions. However, the deployment of automation solutions is a long-term perspective. Right now, most of them are focusing on sorting the supply-side scenario.”

Continuing further Sharma says, “As companies are relooking at manufacturing process from the point of view of social distancing and employees’ safety, going forward, automation will become necessary in some cases. This can be in three ways – 1. Automation on the machines 2. Automation of back-end processes and 3. Automation of material handling.”

Seconding the same, Gandhi says, “Absolutely! Some of the industries will be left with two choices –either reduce production capacity or opt for automation solutions. So, demand for automation solutions is likely to increase in the months to come.”

Maintenance is yet another crucial aspect. Highlighting it, Deolankar says, “In the post-lockdown era, we will have to change our maintenance system from current breakdown maintenance to predictive maintenance.” He further mentioned that today, we do not know about how the demand will change in the upcoming months. It is possible that consumers may avoid public transport and hence look at personal vehicles, which may bring surge in the demand of personal vehicles.

Deshpande sums up by saying, “Off-highway industry is extremely cost-competitive but technology craving. The sectors such as agricultural equipment, forestry, mining and construction equipment is keen to adopting new technologies and ready for investment. They are also aided by various government schemes. Additive manufacturing (3D printing) is seeing a huge investment and also many start-up aiming to moving in this direction. Additive manufacturing definitely has many challenges but has a lot of applications and in future definitely would turn out to be more effective than conventional production and manufacturing techniques. Auto comp, F&B and packaging sectors are too looking at possibility to optimise operations and looking at integrating liner track technologies such as ACOPOStrak and SuperTrak in their lines for higher OEE, mass customisation, batch size 1 production, lower total cost of ownership and high Return on Investment.”


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