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Automotive Product Finder Magazine | Advantage robotics: The auto OEM’s perspective
Advantage robotics: The auto OEM’s perspective
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Today, there are several areas or tasks that are automated or handled by robots at auto manufacturing units in India. Deploying robots and cobots is strategically very important for OEMs as they increase productivity while meeting evolving manufacturing needs of carmakers, says Rakesh Rao.
In 1990s, automobile buyer had limited option of brands to choose from. With OEMs today launching large number of vehicles every year, the customer is spoilt for choice. However, making those choices available in the market, by maintaining quality and keeping manufacturing cost under check is not an easy task for automakers. It is here that automation and robots play a big role.
“Automation and robots offer automakers the flexibility to take on various activities for meeting the two critical aspects of automotive manufacturing, ie seasonality and multi-model production,” opines Vikas Sawhney, GM, Engineering (Robotics and Automation), Bajaj Auto.
Flexible to meet the demand
Demand for automotives (motorcycles) is seasonal. Hence, building a plant or a production line to meet the varying vehicle demand is a challenge. For example, if the capacity is high, then during lean season it will lead to under utilisation of the capacity. On the other hand, if the capacity is low, then the OEM will fail to meet the requirement of vehicles when the demand is high (especially during festive seasons), thus losing market share to its competitors. “By automating we do not have to worry about manpower aspect and the company has the discretion to run at much lower cost as it does not have to set up additional lines. Also, there is a huge rise in productivity,” explains Sawhney.
Segmentation in the automotive industry has become so sharp that every company has to have 10-15 models (unlike in older days, when 1 or 2 models would be available in that segment). At the same time, lifespan of new models have also shortened. In such a case, automation is needed to handle production of a gamut of brands. Sawhney elaborates, “If a company sets up different lines for different models (which are going to survive only for 3-4 years), then the sunk cost (money which is already spent by the company) will be very high. Automation offers flexibility in the production. Incorporating robots helps in making standard machines flexible so that changeover time between two models is very low.”
Integral to production
Robots are now becoming integral part of auto manufacturing in India with many companies employing them in their production line especially in the body shop and paint shop. For example, the Volkswagen Pune plant’s body shop started with 76 robots in 2009 and as of 2019, the company has increased it to 118 robots. The additional robots have primarily been employed in operations which are critical to quality. This helped Volkswagen to reduce rework and thus improve overall efficiency. “Robots not only help us to keep up the DNA of Volkswagen design and quality but also help to improve the efficiency and productivity of our manufacturing processes,” says a spokesperson of Volkswagen India Pvt Ltd.
There are certain welding processes that are complex and take time. “Adding manpower would increase the bottleneck. Therefore, we have increased automation at this stage to solve the bottleneck issue. Even in paint shop, automation has helped us in reducing the quantity of paint and other materials used. As robots use defined quantities against the manual work which may involve some errors. This has not only improved efficiency but also helped us in reducing environmental impact through lesser use of chemicals,” adds Volkswagen India’s spokesperson.
By increasing productivity and decreasing downtime, robots help automakers improve efficiency. Harihar P, Senior VP – Manufacturing and Project Planning, Ashok Leyland Ltd (which started the implementation of robots in 2007 in axle arm & beam machining areas in Ennore plant), elaborates, “Ashok Leyland Ltd (ALL) believes in smart and intelligent use of automation and robotics. We have displayed this through prudent expansion of capacity with minimal investment, using robots. Robots help us achieve efficiencies which have a positive impact on our overall cost of manufacturing.”
In the paint shop, robots have helped ALL achieve uniform paint quality across the component along with superior aesthetics which is in line with the car industry, considered the benchmark of paint job. In the weld shop, robotic spot welding on the main line has enhanced weld ergonomics, uniform spot pitch and overall quality. The robotic roller hemming for door hemming process has enhanced the flexibility for future changes. “Robotic servo MFDC guns in robotic stations has helped us in achieving good quality spots in aesthetic areas. Robotic stations, designed with modular grippers, has enabled in ease of handling of panels/assys and helped us avoid handling damages,” says Harihar. In the near future, Ashok Leyland will implement the use of automation for productivity enhancements; to enable mistake proofing; where the tasks are repetitive & can be automated; for operational accuracy and precision; environment which is not suitable for human operations; and conditions where human ergonomic factors are not met.
Finding a right balance
As manufacturing processes undergo changes by adopting automated solutions, automakers are training their employees to take full advantage of robots and other modern manufacturing technologies. “To take full advantage of any technology, it has to be kept well according to its standard operating procedure and should be optimised time to time for further output. And this also applies to the operators working on it,” says Volkswagen India’s spokesperson.
With decades of experience across plants around the globe, Volkswagen has mastered the art of keeping its people up to date to take care of the latest technologies in automation. At Volkswagen India, even before the plant operations started in 2009, the company sent its employees from production and maintenance departments to several other Volkswagen plants across Europe and China to learn the new technologies and get trained on the shop floor. This made them capable in handling the automated lines in India by themselves with least external support.
Going further, Volkswagen India established its own in-house academy that is equipped with latest series of robots and automation (PLC) technologies through which all shop floor automation related trainings are handled within the company with trainers having rich application and domain knowledge. Besides, Volkswagen India has established a Dual Apprenticeship Programme for Mechatronics wherein young workforce is trained in latest technologies in automobile manufacturing over a period of three and half years. While some fear that humans may lose their jobs with rise in robot usage, experts believe humans will be still needed to do specialised work for which robots may be not be suitable. According to Ashok Leyland’s Harihar, robots and cobots have been and will continue to be part of auto manufacturing process. “Key is to find the balance of where robots are more effective and where humans can contribute better,” he concludes.
Personality :- Robots and cobots have been and will continue to be part of auto manufacturing process. Key is to find the balance of where robots are more effective and where humans can contribute better. Harihar P, Senior VP – Manufacturing and Project Planning, Ashok Leyland Ltd
Personality :- Automation and robots offer automakers the flexibility to take on various activities for meet the two critical aspects of automotive manufacturing, ie seasonality and multi-model production. Vikas Sawhney, GM, Engineering (Robotics and Automation), Bajaj Auto
Robotics And Automation
Robotic Servo MFDC Gun
Ashok Leyland Ltd
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