At a time when most companies are struggling to keep their sales charts abuzz, the mention of growth comes as a pleasant change. Knowing that the growth is the best ever in the past few years is even more interesting and intriguing. KUKA Robotics (India) Pvt Ltd is one such company and to learn how that was achieved, we caught up with Raj Singh Rathee, Managing Director.
Rathee claimed the company is largely unaffected by the downturn, since bulk of its sales was realised prior to the downturn. Having said that, the current slowdown has largely affected commercial vehicles sales, and KUKA hasn't got any new business from this sector in 2013. The growth in the UV segment, nonetheless, is to an extent offsetting the slowdown in the CV segment, said Rathee. "We're looking at increased automation business in this segment in the coming times," he said.
The sudden spurt in UV sales is a cause of concern, said Rathee, where one successful product is overtaken by another in the next few months. Such quickly changing consumer demands put huge pressures on OEMs to develop new models more frequently. "The only way of doing it without spending much is by having a flexible manufacturing system," he said.
The two-wheeler industry, meanwhile, is not on the company's radar. Due to the size of two-wheelers, the number of robots required per thousand components is significantly less than four-wheelers, and doesn't make viable business sense.
KUKA robots are one of the most flexible in the world and aren't line-specific, Rathee claimed. This means that the user can shift one robot from a line to another as per production demands. Another aspect is that the hardware on the lines also needs to be flexible in order to accommodate the robot's reprogrammable abilities. Not all companies offer the high level of all-round flexibility as KUKA does and this is what will help the company grow despite the present challenges, said Rathee.
Rathee told us that KUKA has launched a series of new robots in the recent past, including the addition of a wash proof robot to the small robot series. An even recent introduction was the Quantec Nano robot series, which has been specially designed to support the automotive industry. These robots are a result of increasing requirements from automotive OEMs for higher payload capacity, yet smaller dimensions than the present generations. For example, a robot with a smaller footprint can go easily under the body without any need for additional space for the entire assembly system.
In the heavier category, the company has added new robots to its heavy payload series, increasing it to a maximum of 600 kg. KUKA is presently the only company to have launched a robot in this segment, giving it a newer segment to add business from. A key introduction for the future is the LBR iiwa series of robots, which is a small robot weighing just about 14 kg with high flexibility. It has an integrated four-stroke sensor inside each of its seven axes. Unlike a normal robot, the iiwa robots have a better feedback from their sensors and hence do not cause damage to a surface during operation. Rathee informed us of a recent adoption of the light weight robots (LWR) by Daimler at its Mettingen plant. The LWR, developed in cooperation with the German Aerospace Center, is being used in series production for the first time in rear axle assembly by Daimler, highlighting its flexibility to carry out newer functions and tasks.
He added that he sees a good potential for this robot in assembly operation with OEMs. This again is a new segment since robot utilisation in the assembly segment is very low presently. Also, this series of robots is completely safe to be used alongside humans on the assembly line, the lack of which has limited the use of robots in assembly lines. Rathee also told us about an interesting use of KUKA robots outside the automotive industry. Many of the complex shots in the popular movie Gravity were shot using KUKA robots, highlighting the flexibility of the robots. With such flexibility and focus on new product segments, Rathee is certain that KUKA will continue to grow despite the market fluctuations and cyclical changes.
Text: Arpit Mahendra