Automation & Robotics

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As the world moves to an ‘Auto’ mode, it is but natural that the manufacturing sector is making a shift to adopt automation and robotics like never before.

Bindu Gopal Rao

While automation was once spurned due to the large amount of human resource in the country, today this is changing. Progressive ministers in the Indian Government actively agreeing to initiate automation programmes and a robotics movement by bringing in advanced technologies has largely contributed to this shift. In addition, India wants to remain competitive globally and is therefore increasingly looking at automation and robotics to increase its competitiveness. There are huge opportunities in new disruptive technologies within automation and robotics.

Do the New

The new form of Robotics in the manufacturing space would be mainly focusing on the usage front (more ergonomically) or Introduction of Robots in the manufacturing with ease of handling the same is more important so as to free human workers from dirty, dull, and fatigue Jobs and also to improve quality by eliminating errors and reducing variability and to cut manufacturing costs by replacing increasingly expensive labour costs. N. S. Madhusudhanan, Senior Manager |Robotics Business Development, Factory Automation and Industrial Division, Mitsubishi Electric India Pvt. Ltd. says, “mainly the usage of AGV’s, IIOT,AI, and Sensors for predictive Analytics to improve the Business intelligence and also the Automatic storage and Retrieval systems which plays major role in Supply chain management is new. Also the IIOT concept which give major space for understanding the Condition based maintenance which in turn gives an ample opportunity for the improve production.” Robots are playing an important part in the modern day shop floor by optimizing human resource utilization through its multi skilled abilities. This has made manufacturing of most intricate and complex geometries easy with improved productivity of more than 200%, complimented with higher degrees of quality in the most cost effective manner. Robots are operated literally 24×7 and are effectively used in the repetitive task and in high risk hazardous work environments, for example in the chemical industry, forging industry, tool & die industry and the like. “Robots are now being designed to perform multiple activities / jobs, while traditionally robots were performing dedicated operations stationed in a fixed location with a single distinct role Advanced robots are now more mobile, multi-skilled, collaborative, coherent, coexistent and dexterous (replica of human hand). These robots are flexible, autonomous through self-learning, decision making and thereby are conducive to be used in variable environments.  The advancement in sensor developments has made robots proficient in image / object recognition to handle various shapes and sizes,” explains Vijay Anand R, Practice Leader – Manufacturing Engineering, QuEST Global.

Demand Drivers

India is an upcoming potential market for industrial robotics industry with a worldwide market share of approximately 15 per cent. With suitable stimulation and investment in the key underlying technologies, a broad range of robotics activities can be enabled. Key to this is the identification of first-wave technologies that will drive early markets. Industrial robots form an essential part of the current manufacturing sector of India. “Without the use of robotics technologies or cost-effective production, a pillar of emerging Indian wealth would not be possible. Furthermore, robot-based production increases product quality, improves work conditions and leads to an optimized use of resources. The miniaturization of robotic technologies and newly developed sensing capabilities mean that these benefits are becoming applicable to an even wider range of manufacturing industries, including those with small and varying lot sizes, materials and product geometries.  In industries, most of the tasks are being considered as dull, dirty and dangerous for human beings and as such utilizing Robotics and automation in these sectors would improve productivity, safety as well as the quality of the end product. Human operators can then take up more value added roles in the industry. Robotics and automation has the potential to revolutionize the industrial scenario. It promises to bring the same result as computer systems have brought in services and other sectors,” says Satanik Roy, Co-founder, HyperXchange.

Tech Talk

Technologies like data sciences and analytics, artificial intelligence, etc. are proving to be growth opportunities for Indian companies in so much so that even start-ups are actively pursuing this path. There are challenges whereby old mind-sets needs to change, new skills need to be encouraged and a way needs to be found to easily scrap redundant and obsolete technologies. “Each country’s legal system on robots will be different as it will need to factor the stage of robotics prevalent and the manner in which robots are perceived by the society and polity. A futuristic and forward looking vision is specifically important for India as robotics is still novel and its impact and consequences are yet to unfold. Developed jurisdictions have already started promulgating separate set of legal and ethical codes for regulating robots. The approach has been to anticipate the impact that robots can have on human kind in the coming two decades. The deliberations involve all stakeholders and the objective is to devise laws which not only promote robotics, but also balances it with the best interests of humanity. India needs to follow suit, failing which it will have to replicate foreign regulations that can stifle the promises that fourth industrial revolution beholds,” avers Roy.

A convergence of rapid technological advancements has led the manufacturing industry to the brink of a new era, presenting what’s been hailed as the 4th Industrial Revolution. This new era is defined by unparalleled machine intelligence and connectivity, introducing cyber-physical systems and IoT on the factory floor. “Flex is leading the revolution that is transforming the way things are made. Flex’s modern manufacturing initiatives are powered by advancements in Machine to Machine (M2M) Communication; Smart Automation; 3D Printing & Additive Manufacturing; Augmented & Virtual Reality (XR); and Enhanced Visualization & Advanced Simulation. The next generation of automation enhances big data analytics and insights through feedback sensors in robotic assembly, enabling customers to monitor detailed information for each product unit produced. A good example would be Flex’s innovative Universal Box Build Automation System.  Flex pioneered the first of its kind Universal Box Build (UBB) system, a fully-automated, state-of-the-art equipment outfitted with Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity via smart sensors, actuators and cameras,” says Sekaran Letchumanan, VP of Operations, Flex India.

Overcoming Obstacles

Robotics has opened the burgeoning opportunities but there are still many challenges that this field faces in an Indian scenario. In India, need is to come up with a world class product in the Robotics industry with deep specialization in server engineering, electrical, embedded programming and mechanical engineering (with focus on design, manufacturing and materials).  “Someone wishing to get into the Robotics industry must have a wide variety of skills and a thorough understanding of system control along with system integration and those who are passionate about Robotics from any field of engineering can be a part of a team working on a particular Robotics project. Talking about the sectors that are best suited for the adoption of Robotics are those with large volumes, frequent demand spikes or are prone to frequent audits/quality checks. Also industries where the volumes are huge enough to occupy large real estate are also prime candidates for Robotics. This makes automation ideal for sectors like retail, pharma, e-commerce, automobile spares and engineering tools. Having said that, Robotics is applicable in almost all sectors that need to store, assemble and transport physical products. DIY robots and UAV research platforms are the need of the hour to make robotics more popular in India. Forecasting the adoption of Robotics in India in the future, due to globalization and high industrialization, Robotics in India is poised for a bright future. Considering that India is already a manufacturing hub catering to the whole world, the use of robots in every aspect of manufacturing will provide the necessary edge to companies,” says Roy. In turn this will propel the requirement of skilled manpower for this technology. Modern robotics engineers are confronted with the task of developing machines that interact with their creators in modes of increasing compatibility.

Adoption Matters

However, many developing nations including India are still to adopt robotics and automation in a big way. Considering the gap and opportunity, industries are rapidly going for automation with its different advantages and thus have given a great stress on robotics as an integral part of their innovation centers in the industries itself. They are investing huge amount on the design and development technologies associated with robotics.  Industries like Thinklabs, robosoftsystems, iRobot, PARI robotics and many more are actively pursuing the innovation, developments and implementation projects in the field of robotics. The adoption of Robotics has increased now with lower pricing of the products available nowadays, but the challenge would be the handling of the same where the ease of programming plays a major role and there should be a disciplined way of learning should be accepted in the manufacturing practices when its implemented else it does not gives the actual required output. “The planning is more important and we need to adopt certain discipline to introduce robotics. There is a myth, if we introduce robotics the production gears up increasingly, actually not rather the process gets stabilised and the utilisation of the equipment and the system gets optimised. The proper training for the user and start any robotics and automation project with simpler way of understanding,” avers Madhusudhanan. Roy adds, “Barring a few regions and technological/engineering institutes in India, Robotics as a subject is not taught well to the engineering students. There is the absence of hardware companies that can cater to the industry and the dependence on countries like China, USA and Europe to procure the necessary components is a major stumbling block.” The Robotics market is growing at 30% for last 2 years and would propel more, the end user has to adopt this new technology to have greener and smarter environment for the best manufacturing practices. Also the need of usage of Robots in F&B and Pharma should increase in India to create more jobs and create a paradigm shift in the industry.

This story first appeared in the Nov 18 issue of Manufacturing Today magazine here: MT_November 2018_Focus – Automation

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