The industrial automation industry in India was valued at $ 5 bn in 2018, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of about 12 % by 2023, according to a source
These figures were reported before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the numbers are expected to swell further. Auto Tech Review caught up with Sameer Gandhi, MD, Omron Automation India, to understand the current industrial situation, challenges and opportunities as well as about smart manufacturing solutions.
The manufacturing space is coping up with the post-COVID-19 environment that has thrown up three key challenges for automotive OEMs and component suppliers. Two of these are related to workforce, while the other is market driven. The first challenge is concerning social distancing on the shopfloor, and the minimum distance that has to be maintained across operations. Such a mandate by the government leads to the need for lean manufacturing with lesser headcount at the plant. The second challenge is concerning reliability on labour availability, as this pandemic has forced migrant labour to relocate back to their native places, noted Gandhi.
The third challenge is variability of demand given the prevailing market environment – something that is affecting component manufacturers. Besides the variability of demand, supply chain realignment is also adding to the challenging situation. However, this also opens up opportunities so that companies can look at addressing the Indian market dynamic of high mix and low volume in a better manner, observed the Omron Automation India MD.
ROLE OF AUTOMATION
With regards to the three challenges mentioned above, automation can help the situation in a substantial manner. There are multiple cases in which the use of robotics and automating operations can lead to improved manufacturing, which is the need of the hour. The use of robots, cobots, and autonomous mobile robots (AMR) on the shopfloor reduces the amount of labour required for manufacturing, explained Gandhi.
Similarly, the movement of materials on the shopfloor can be restricted by leveraging AMRs. Gandhi further added that robotics in general, can enable flexible and scalable operation for production and related processes, since the application of automation can be customised for almost all types of plant operations. Another important role of automation is in the predictive maintenance of equipment and machinery in a factory or plant. The job of monitoring machines and other manufacturing equipment is a repetitive one, which can be handled more efficiently and accurately by robots or automation. This can help keep the plant working across a longer period of time without downtimes, which are caused due to machine failures alone, he pointed out.
APPLICATION OF COBOTS
Cobots, which is the shorter term for collaborative robots are a good tool to enhance productivity; however, they are a relatively new technology when compared to traditional robots. Cobots are smaller than robots and work together with humans in a cordial environment with the former assisting the latter in a close manner. This technology is finding good traction in the Indian industrial scenario due to the basic advantage of working together with human beings side-by-side. Further, cobots find more usage in areas of the shopfloor that cannot be fenced off.
However, cobots are not apt for all types of applications, and parameters related to payload, speed and accuracy need to be fixed before moving ahead with these collaborative robots, explained Gandhi. Cobots are usually appropriate for lighter payloads that peak at 14-15 kg mass, and are for considerably low speed operations. Therefore, the correct applications where cobots can be deployed should be identified beforehand.
According to Gandhi, a misnomer that needs to be corrected about cobots is they do not need any safety requirements. While cobots are safer than traditionally-used robots, they also need to be used with caution, since at the end of the day they are machines. There is nevertheless a growing demand for cobots in the manufacturing arena, and more so within the automotive sector.
The domain of manufacturing is rapidly evolving with the introduction of new products and technologies. The recently-developed products and solutions aim at predictive safety maintenance for equipment such as motors and for parameters like temperature monitoring of electrical panels. Other innovations include cobots, smart sensors for the purpose of Industrial IoT (IIoT), Industry 4.0 and digitalisation of production.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is also being infused into production, as in the case of controllers that bring AI into edge devices for improved production and monitoring. Gandhi believes that AI is the next big frontier for manufacturing, especially for automotive manufacturers. In terms of connectivity, product life cycle software can now directly connect to enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES) for improved product planning and manufacturing execution.
Further, shopfloor data can be recorded and analysed for purposes such as remote plant monitoring, predictive plant maintenance, machine design enhancement as well as to share analytics to customers. This sensor data collection and related analysis enables the company to sell additional services to customers, in terms of improving their overall manufacturing itself, stated Gandhi. Smart manufacturing is therefore a generic term that is applicable to all the connected and digital innovations being implemented in industries, and this is gaining pace in India. The IIoT and Industry 4.0 need to meet the efficiency or goal of a business, and Indian manufacturers are implementing such technologies in stages, keeping return-on-investment in focus, he noted.
TEXT: Naveen Arul