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Automation will be a necessity soon. Companies are realising this with the pandemic
Driven by the need to make parts faster, better, and for less, manufacturers of all sizes are embracing various forms of automation. The idea is to lower costs, increase production, and reduce response times. From large manufacturing plants that are run almost entirely by robots to small job shops looking to improve a few key production processes, automation is changing the face of manufacturing in ways that were previously unimaginable. Totally self-operating plants are a long way off for most manufacturers. But more and more are adopting automation on a smaller scale in ways that make sense for their businesses.
If one considers CNC machines, which is the mainstay of the manufacturing industry for decades, we have always had highly skilled operators to run them. But we need more and that has been a difficult task. Thanks to new technologies, many CNCs can now make parts without having an operator present or with only minimal human interaction. Automated CNCs not only lower production costs, they also eliminate waste, improve quality and safety, and speed up turnaround times.
DS Ravindra Raju, president, manufacturing, Deepak Fertilisers and Petrochemicals Corporation, says, “Indian manufacturing industry I would say is in a developing stage as compared to the global scale and numbers. However, India is at the right side of growth and the Government’s commitment to empower the manufacturing sector is being witnessed, especially post Covid situation. Even with limited scale, Indian companies have established their mettle when it comes to speed of adoption to global quality parameters.”
He goes on to add that maximum number of USFDA plants outside US are in India and that too are run by comparably smaller players. Another example is the auto industry where we are a hub for all international brands. “Our IT industry is known for its quality products and services. This highlights that in the right environment, the propensity of Indian companies to offer global quality is undeniable. We believe as the market starts to mature and more manufacturing come owing to government’s ambitious programs like Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat, the Indian industry will become much more competitive in the global arena in the near future,” he says.
A manufacturing driven organisation must aim at customising its products and solutions basis cost, functionality or usage and aligning the same with its manufacturing processes i.e. synergies must be built around design to cost, design to functionality and design to manufacturing. Nishant Arya, executive director, JBM Auto, says, “Technology, Innovative Business Model and People (TIP) are the three key pillars that we have established. At JBM Group, we have 10 comprehensive pillars of excellence and they factor in everything that must be considered for a world-class product. These range from Technology to TCO to performance to manufacturing base to global deployment. Then other elements that must be considered are safety, new technologies, waste management, and financial equilibrium.”
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Additionally, staying relevant is important. Bringing future-ready safety technologies have always been our priority. Prashanth Doreswamy, country head and MD, Continental Automotive India, says, “Another factor that works to our advantage is that we are deploying smart technologies in our factories. Our Bangalore plant was the first to initiate the implementation of Industry 4.0 practices. We have implemented Augmented Reality (AR) for remote assistance and problem-solving, Artificial Intelligence (AI) for facial detection of quality inspectors, Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) for material movement on the shop floor and cobots to undertake the repetitive tasks.”
To achieve the kind of speed that the market demands, most companies have streamlined its internal processes in such a way that they design to achieve maximum efficiency in terms of speed and product consistency. Viswanathan, VP R&D, electrical electronic business at Varroc, says, “We strive to achieve first-time-right in all our processes and in prototype builds. This constant drive for internal efficiency helps us achieve agility in bringing novel ideas at a faster pace. Improved internal efficiency combined with our robust product planning process taking into account the end-user needs, we have transformed ourselves from reacting to market demand to creating and growing the demand in markets.”
In the automotive world, R&D and innovation have deeper relevance today. Worldwide customers demand products that specifically address safety, fuel efficiency and functional ease. However, they want all these products at a substantially lower price. This is a challenge faced by all businesses associated with the automotive sector. Viswanathan M says, “Innovation is the only answer to overcoming this situation – innovation that produces products that are brought to the market in a timely and cost-effective manner. Customers look for utility value rather than luxury and more importantly cost to benefit ratio. We see it as a generational opportunity, not a challenge.”
Automation leads to a reduction in cost, but not all the time. That is why it is important that when you deploy automation as a process or a plan, you should be very clear what kind of return you will be expecting out of that investment. With the lockdown, most manufacturing heads have realised that those businesses who relied on physical interactions with customers and did not make that jump (to digitalisation) early on really suffered. For instance, Hero MotoCorp has eliminated paperwork when moving goods from factories and switched to robotic process automation (RPA). The whole thing is now done by RPA, by robots, so people aren’t scared of who is coming. This has led to a huge increase in efficiency, reduction in errors and increase in quality.
Coming to the consumers, there is going to be the digitalisation of everything, whatever we do. Touchless selling is going to be the big thing where customers want everything sitting at home — not just for convenience but for safety and for maintaining social distancing. How we sell things will go through a complete overhaul. Since everything is digital, a lot more artificial intelligence (AI) can come in and one can predict demand much more precisely. Therefore, the whole supply chain will get compressed. The kind of inventories we carry today, which in the auto industry from end-to-end would be about two months, could come down to one month. If the inventory is half, you are taking out a lot of working capital, space requirement, and a lot of loading-unloading that happens.