Four years ago, TAL Manufacturing Solutions, a unit of Tata Motors, launched a robot called BRABO at the “Make in India” week in Mumbai. Short for “Bravo Robot”, BRABO was claimed to be the first “Made in India” industrial robot, designed to lift loads of up to 10 kilograms.
BRABO is just one case in point. Enterprises are increasingly turning to robots to achieve greater productivity and efficiency.
Around 3,412 new industrial robots were installed in India in 2017 and 4564 in 2018 and the market is estimated to grow at 13.3% CAGR from 2019-2024, according to a report by the International Federation of Robotics.
Some of the leading robot manufacturers in India are ASIMOV Robotics, Fanuc,Invento Robotics, Grey Orange, I2U2 Robot, KUKA Robotics, Pari and Sastra Robotics India.
Speaking to The Blue Circle, Asim Behera, COO & Executive Board Member, Daifuku India, says, “Robotics is one of the three pillars that constitute smart manufacturing or Industry 4.0 . For me when I think of smart manufacturing I think agile; and something where consumer choices impact in real time the production volume and design. Robotics gives the flexibility and scalability desired out of smart manufacturing; so yes, Robotics will play a key part.”
Advancing robotics and automation
The establishment of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence(AI) and Robotics (CAIR) in 1986 in Bangalore marked the beginning of the robotics era in India; since then the robotics industry has never looked back.
According to the International Federation of Robotics, India ranks third in the world in implementing industrial robotics for its core business processes.
Bangalore-based SME Suparna Plastics, which makes plastic ball valves, is using SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) robots in its assembly operations to enhance speed and accuracy. Instead of hiring more workers, they decided to go for robots that also brought down the labour cost.
Kush Mishra,CTO & COO, SenRa told TBC, “Advanced Robotics and AI enabled Automations are believed to be the two biggest factors that would increase productivity and efficiency for factories of the future.”
Sources say that Maruti Suzuki now has one robot for almost every four workers and that it has some 5,000 robots at its Manesar and Gurgaon plants.
Tata Motors also uses robots in its Pune factory and Mahindra and Mahindra already has in place a “robotic weld line” at its factory in Nashik, which caters to many of its products including the Marazzo and the XUV300.
Samsung has deployed around 80 robots in its manufacturing plant in Noida.
Ravindra Dayal, ED, Maruti Suzuki, says, “Many auto component suppliers are extensively using robots in spot welding, painting, casting and injection molding, forging or parts. One typical application is welding of seat frame (safety item) and seat foam molding due to smell), which is done by robots. These are standalone applications and tooling cost is low so it makes sense to use robots for consistent quality and safety and reduce rework and waste.”
The Hyundai plant in Sriperumbudur in suburban Chennai churns out one car every 30 seconds! Working alongside humans, robots are helping ramp up the unit’s efficiency and productivity. 580 robots are in use, the defect ratio has dropped from five per cent to less than two.
A few hundred kilometres away, Honda’s two-wheeler plant, near Narasapura, in the outskirts of Bengaluru, also uses robots to improve efficiencies. Where earlier humans picked up material from one machine and fed it into another, this task is now done via a robotic hand, from end to end. Thanks to automation, the line that was earlier manned by around 10 workers has upped its productivity with just three or four workers.
A new robotic technology has been developed by Honeywell Intelligrated to unload trucks, trailers and shipping containers at parcel distribution centers. The fully automated unloader significantly reduces the manual effort. This helps warehouses to improve workplace safety, reduce staffing challenges and minimise damage to packages.
Collaboration with Cobots
Cobots are safe, easy-to-use collaborative robots that work together with humans. They carry out tasks like stretch wrapping, packaging handling and palletizing, which are manual in nature and can be done in no time. As cobots can be easily programmed, re-programmed, re-installed and are mobile and lightweight, they serve as the perfect solution for both small and large scale businesses.
“A gradual shift towards the next generation of Cobots is already seen. Amazon is a good example. I hope to see logistics stalwarts of the world adopt more such use cases to set an example for the rest of the cohort,” says Kush.
Bajaj Auto has deployed Universal Robots’ cobots for all its functional requirements. Several processes such as material handling and machine tending were collaboratively handled by cobots and Bajaj employees. Some benefits of these cobots are zero annual maintenance costs, and reduced power consumption.
Another example is the L’oreal factory in Pune. Here, employees lifted up to 8,500 kgs in a day. With the inclusion of cobots, this task has become much simpler.
German auto-component maker Bosch’s Bidadi plant also has cobots, working alongside humans.
Some of the key challenges in deploying robots are the huge upfront investment, future modifications costs, workforce investment including upskilling, maintenance cost and risk of cyber attacks.
“In weld and paint robots, considerable time is required to set up the program. For instance, in painting robots the exact angle and quantity of paint spray is required to be set up by experts and need calibration during the shift and from time to time,” Ravindra adds.
He further cautions, “Robots have a limitation of flexibility in weld area as different models require different applicators and welding guns, and universal applicators are very expensive. Accidents can take place if proper safety precautions are not taken.”
The Future is here
Factories can look forward to hiring these robots on contract, like workers. As a precursor for what is coming soon, US-based Hirebotics allows firms to hire cloud-connected robots. These robots work on an hourly wage and can work a minimum of 80 hours a week. The rider, companies have to give Hirebotics a 30-day written notice if they fire any robot.