The government's focus on manufacturing will give a boost to the automation industry. With automakers setting up plants that will supply cars to national and international customers, automation will play a dominant role in maximising productivity and enhancing efficiency.
India is becoming a manufacturing hub for automobiles. Almost all the global automakers are present in India and it is the age of cut-throat competition. Car manufacturers are caught between the consumers increased demand for high quality products, greater variety and the government's requirement for low carbon emissions and better safety in the manufacturing process. Earlier humans used to do repetitive tasks in the assembly line leading to less productivity and more errors. With the advent of industrial robots these jobs were done at a faster pace and with more precision than ever before. The automation industry was worth 12,000 crore in 2013, it is growing at an average of 12 per cent per year and according to Frost & Sullivan, the market will hit USD 2000 million by 2016. The major players in the automation sector are ABB Ltd, Siemens Ltd, Honeywell India, Larsen & Toubro, GE India and Rockwell automation.
The competition and focus on local manufacturing has captivated car makers, who are making a beeline for setting up plants in India. These plants will also produce cars to satiate demand for customers across the globe, in addition to local demand. Traditionally, Japanese have been much ahead of the curve in terms of factory automation with their plants having a high level of robots that do a variety of jobs such as installation of seats, instrument panels, tyres, body panels, glass attachments, door fitment and mounting of suspension systems. These facilities are at a continuous (fully automated) level and their productivity is much higher when compared with the semi-automated plants that we have here in India. Almost half of the industrial robots are found in Japan among them 50 per cent are in the automotive industry. This figure of 50 per cent though has dropped down from 90 per cent some years earlier, this goes to show that automation is expanding its presence to all other forms of industry.
Robots are the most integral component of the automotive factory and are found in body and paint shop sections. These are also the most dangerous places for humans to work in. Robots are installed in these areas to work under hazardous conditions. They are not only able to work but are also much more efficient and flexible, leading to increase in productivity and enhanced quality. Paint shop is notorious for the toxic nature of its fumes. Here, the robots work without any issues applying the precise amount of paint with an even, uniform coat leaving a better finish with minimum wastage. The body shop is where the stamping, cutting and bending of sheet metal takes place. This job was done by manual labour in the past. The whole exercise was time consuming and contained many errors. The introduction of robots in this sphere has cut down job times drastically and has also ensured that job is completed free from errors.
There are a significant amount of robots found in plants of OEMs but off late there is a growing trend of robots being ordered for tier suppliers. Pradeep Shoran is the Assistant General Manager of KUKA Robotics India, he says that the automotive industry, including their suppliers, are the biggest consumer of industrial robots in India. He also stated that there is a growing need for flexibility in the production lines, "The profile of the industry is changing constantly, placing new demands on robot manufacturers. It is not possible for auto OEMs to have dedicated production lines for every new model that they come up with. Therefore they require manufacturers like us to be flexible and modular to accommodate their requirements." Omron is another leading player in this segment. Its Managing Director Sameer Gandhi says that flexibility cannot be achieved without an integrated automated approach, elaborating further he states, "It is not possible to have a good flexible manufacturing system without automation." According to Sameer integration is just as important, "From integration stems another requirement which is of zero-error performance. Without an integrated approach, reducing error rates to the ppm level demanded is almost impossible."
The initial cost of investment for procurement of these robots might be high but the Return Of Investment (ROI) is fairly quick. The average time for recovery of investment is usually one year. Besides, robots bring a high degree of reliability, quality and speed in to the manufacturing process. Not to mention, they don't tire and can work for endless hours without demanding wage or rest. India is turning in to a major producer of cars that will be exported to various countries. Nearly all manufacturers present in the country today have said that they will focus on manufacturing and exports of 'Made in India' cars. In light of these events, it is safe to assume that the automation industry will play a pivotal role as these plants will increasingly rely on robots and automation processes to ensure maximum production and minimum downtime in a cost efficient manner.