The automotive industry in India has been at the forefront in terms of technology adoption, and automation trends are rapidly catching up with global standards and subsequently changing market dynamics. Omron Automation has been a key player in providing solutions for this sector in India. As an integrated solutions provider to OEMs, Omron has been helping them enhance their efficiency, productivity, flexibility, accuracy and safety as they scale up their value chain. Auto Tech Review met Sameer Gandhi, MD, Omron Automation, India, to discuss advancements in automotive technologies currently being witnessed in the country.
The automobile manufacturing sector is currently one of the leading sectors in terms of adoption of industrial automation. Gandhi believes that the auto industry is growing global at a rapid pace and has challenging benchmarks fuelled by stiff competition, so the rate of tech adoption is quite high. There have been significant advancements in the sector in the way automation is now being prioritised by manufacturers as a basic requirement for improving operational excellence, productivity and quality improvements in order to attain the desired global standards.
Currently, Omron’s key automation applications are in the field of Integrated Lights-Out (ILO), safety and robotics translating into sensors, PLCs, servos and drives, quality inspection solutions based on vision, and solutions for safety. The company intends to provide customised solutions to its automotive customers, as there are significant differences in levels of automation requirements among OEMs globally and in India.
One of the notable advancements in this domain has been the introduction of the concept of Internet of Things (IoT). Considering the number and kinds of sensors used in an advanced automobile manufacturing set-up these days, IoT is a useful upgrade due to the benefits it brings with pervasive connectivity. Gandhi believes that there are thousands of sensors being used 24x7 today, so initiating unscheduled downtime is just not feasible. The increase in flexible manufacturing techniques requires more variation and programs, coupled with more interfaces to robots and other automated, connected, pre-programmed devices. In such a scenario, it‘s important for vehicle manufacturers to be able to maintain uninterrupted operations, without reprogramming all their equipment or reconfiguring the entire control architecture, to ensure output and productivity remain high.
With IoT, a production manager is able to read all kinds of parameters in real time with improved efficiency, convert them into data points which can be easily monitored, and schedule downtime accordingly, which leads to a significant improvement in productivity.
Gandhi said that any smart sensor used in a manufacturing facility today stores a large amount of data related to the device on which it’s mounted. However, so far this data has not been accessible beyond the device it is paired with. Newer technologies, however, now empower the vehicle manufacturer to access data from multiple sensors in real time, without using diagnostic tools, thus leading to a ‘connected’ shopfloor where data is collected from various sensors and other input devices to be used for predictive maintenance, better control and long term analysis. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and traceability are the other two technologies which are being well accepted by automotive manufacturers and are seeing widespread use in the industry.
Omron has been an early mover in the field of sensing and control technologies and has been contributing towards quality inspection systems by providing avant-garde ‚vision‘ solutions. Traceability is another concept which is gaining prominence in its automotive-focused portfolio, which comprises of solutions for tracing and keeping track of individual components, enabling the OEM to trace and verify the history, location, or application of an item by means of documented recorded identification.
Considering that just one defective product can bring large losses and setbacks to the credibility of a brand, bringing the right automation solutions to the table is important and this is what ensures a zero defect manufacturing system, says Gandhi. This is of significance for the automotive industry where assembling of multiple complex components needs constant checking at every step and despite stringent measures, product-recalls are routinely witnessed. Omron is ready for IoT implementation with a line-up of advanced solutions like the Omron I/O Link, which are already being used by the industry and which are expected to reduce fault incidence.
The Return on Investment (RoI) in terms of a sizeable reduction in costs and significant enhancement in quality and productivity has also been a key motivating factor for OEMs and component suppliers alike, towards enhanced adoption of industrial automation. However, there are segments where market sentiment is averse to investments in technology and stakeholders are wary of pumping in additional amounts of money, as they are content with the existing levels of technology being used. Gandhi says that this might be detrimental for them, as sooner or later customer needs will compel them to adopt global automation processes.
With the gradual shift towards improved safety and environmental sustainability in the automotive manufacturing sector, Gandhi believes that the awareness level of automation is increasing, which is a positive trend and will yield good results over the long term. Most of the players in the Indian automotive industry already have global operations and manufacture and export products from the same factory. In order to meet global standards, they need to keep investing in R &D and automation to keep pace with global standards.
TEXT: Anwesh Koley