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Robotics: Will auto component suppliers drive the market?



While auto OEMs are prime drivers of robots in India, their suppliers (tier-1, 2, 3, 4) are also investing in advanced robotic technology to maintain their competitive edge and scale new heights.
 
As market evolves, OEMs and their suppliers (tier-1, 2, 3, 4) will continue to invest in advanced robotic technology for maintaining their competitive edge in the global market and to scaling new heights.
 
Robots have become more ubiquitous in automotive manufacturing factories across the world (including India). For example, Maruti Suzuki, India’s leading vehicle maker, has deployed robots at its facilities mainly in the weld shop, the paint shop and the press shop (where automobile car bodies are shaped). The car maker uses the most advanced robots, which are smaller in size, take up less space and are 15 per cent faster than their predecessors.
 
Technological changes, addition of new features in automobiles, rising number of parts that go into each vehicle and need for higher production are factors that have necessitated automation. “Increased competition, preference for good quality products, being globally competitive along with changes in consumer behaviour, etc are forcing companies to develop new products at a faster pace than ever before. All these factors are leading to increase in automation,” opines Amit Bhingurde, COO, TAL Manufacturing Solutions Ltd, a subsidiary of Tata Motors.
 
As the market expands, automakers will have to deploy more robots to meet demands. As per the data released by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), 2,100 industrial robots were sold in India in 2014, and this number is expected to double in the next two to three years.
 
OEMs taking the lead India’s automotive sector, which is one of the largest and fastest growing in the world, accounts for 7.1 per cent of the country’s GDP, making it one of the most important sectors. “Automotive industry is a shining example of how advanced manufacturing, automation and robotics can set an industry apart. The automotive sector alone contributes more than 45 per cent to the country’s manufacturing GDP (and about 7.1 per cent to India’s GDP) and employs approximately 19 million people,” informs Abhimanyu Prabhavalkar is Vice President of Oracle’s IoT Applications Cloud Service and IoT Cloud Service Platform development organisation.
The Indian automakers are investing heavily on industrial robots, and it is expected that this market will witness steady growth in the near future with OEMs taking the lead. Komal Sharma, Analyst, Allied Market Research, elaborates, “In December, 2015, Volkswagen India accounted for more than 115 robots at its Pune plant, while Hyundai Motor India has implemented 400 robots at its factory in Chennai. Similarly, in March 2017, the Maruti Suzuki India Ltd employed robots for its manufacturing units, including welding, painting, and press shop, at Gurgaon and Manesar. These robots are deployed for the welding of the new generation of its DZire car. At its Gurgaon facility, the company carries out operations with more than 5,000 robots.” 
 
While OEMs are prime drivers, tier-1 and tier-2 suppliers are also utilising the services of the automated hands. “In India, the industries buying maximum robots are still driven by automotive sector. Last year, while most of the automotive OEMs invested less in robotics, they wanted their tier-1 and tier-2 suppliers to invest more in robotics. So ultimately, it is driven by OEMs. Tier-1 and tier 2 suppliers can be flexible because one tier-1 can supply to different OEMs. Thus, the utilisation of robots will always be there. Even if the production at a particular OEM is down, the tier-1 can still supply to other customers,” explains Pradeep Shoran, AGM-Marketing, KUKA Robotics India Pvt Ltd.
 
For example, Varroc Engineering, the Aurangabad-based tier-one supplier of automobile plastics and lights, is reportedly planning to buy industrial robots to expand production facility and business.
 
As demand for robots increases, vendors are looking to tap this opportunity and offer customised solutions to tier-1 and -2 suppliers. “Currently, we see that tier-1 players are also investing a lot in the automation and safety products and we are keen to tap this market,” opines Atul Dave, Managing Director, SICK India Pvt Ltd, one of the world’s leading producers of sensors and sensor solutions for industrial automation applications.
 
Going beyond tier 1 level 
In spite of rising demand, automation in the automobile industry in India is very low and not up to the level seen in European Countries, America and East Asia. Robot deployment is very low in India as compared to the world, if one compares robot density numbers (that is number of robots per 10000 workers). India has a robot density of approximately one compared with world average of 69. Countries like South Korea have a robot density of 539. 
 
This shows that the Indian industrial robots market is still in the developmental phase. However, the Indian government’s initiative to support growth of this market under ‘Make in India’ campaign is expected to present opportunities for various vendors operating in the market. For instance, in April 2017, TAL Manufacturing launched the country’s first manufactured industrial robot BRABO for small and medium manufacturing units in the country.
 
“Automobile industry sector deploys highest number of robots world over and in India. But in India, the highest number of robots are deployed only in OEMs (and some in tier-1 and -2 supplier), while automation is not present in facilities of tier-3 and tier-4 suppliers. However, this is likely to change with TAL BRABO in market. We are increasingly trying to create the awareness that robots are not only for big companies, but also for tier-3 and tier-4 suppliers to increase their quality and improve productivity. In order to be globally competitive, we need to catch up soon,” says Bhingurde.
 
TAL BRABO has all the features which are required to do applications like welding, sealing, vision inspection, machine tending, press tending, loading unloading, pick and place, chamfering, abrading and so on. In addition to OEMs like Tata Motors, Mahindra and Mahindra, etc, SMEs are also utilising services of TAL BRABO.
 
For example, by deploying BRABO robot, CPG Industries - which carries out machining of cylinder parts for Bajaj Auto Limited, Hero Honda, Kinetic Motors and Bajaj Tempo - was able to decrease work station space by 40 per cent. This enabled CPG Industries to put more machines in the same area. After deploying BRABO, CPG was able to improve quality and drastically bring down the material rejection rate which assisted the company in achieving the goal of zero defects and increasing its credibility as a supplier of critical engine components.
 
Many other tier-3 and tier-4 suppliers who are mostly SMEs are looking at incorporating some kind of automation in their facility. “Industrial robotics has been on a growth trajectory in double digits since last more than five years now in India. SMEs sector in India is one of the key contributors for this growth. Traditionally, industrial robots were primarily used in automotive industry and its suppliers but now more and more industry verticals in the manufacturing space have started evaluating and using the robots in their processes to meet the ever-growing requirement for productivity, quality and safety,” says Pradeep Shoran of KUKA Robotics.
 
Encouraging local manufacturing 
Globally, car manufacturers are extensively using robots in several applications such as spot welding, arc welding, painting, assembly and processing for ensuring high profit margins and less production time. “Automation in the automobile industry world over and in India has seen an upward trend. Traditionally, automobile industry has always been an early adopter of technology,” observes Bhingurde.
 
Global trends are being observed in the Indian market, majorly in the automotive and manufacturing industry. “Owing to globalisation and high rate of industrialisation, industrial robotics in India is expected to have an optimistic future. For instance, Tata Group company TAL Manufacturing Solutions operates a manufacturing plant in Pune that can develop 3,000 robots a year,” says Komal Sharma of AMR.
 
Most of the current growth of robotics in India has been witnessed in the automotive industry. Several automobile giants have established their production plants in India, providing a significant boost to industrial automation. Moreover, various American and Korean-Japanese companies opt for India to be the hub for manufacturing industrial robots. Team Indus, NavStik Autonomous Systems, GreyOrange, and others are few companies involved in the production of industrial robots in the country.
Global players consider India to possess high growth potential for robotics. It is expected that the sale of industrial robots will double in coming two to three years, due to the growing digitisation and automation. Further, the government’s goal to improve the manufacturing production and productivity under the ‘Make in India’ initiative is attracting numerous foreign players to invest in the country. “Growth in foreign direct investments and investments from venture capitalists has also made India a focal country for robotics and automation. Rapid adoption of industrial robotics is expected to be witnessed by the automotive, agriculture, ecommerce, and manufacturing sectors in India,” opines Sharma.
 
Bhingurde adds, “In India, production facilities of OEMs are automated, but automation in production facilities of tier-3 and tier-4 suppliers is negligible. We have come up with a product which will plug this gap in the market. TAL BRABO is easy to install, use and maintain. With a significantly low cost of ownership, it will spread robotics automation solution to not only the OEMs but also to production facilities of tier 3 & tier 4 suppliers in the automobile industry.”
 
Artificial intelligence
With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), automotive assembly lines are becoming more efficient, productive and cost-effective. The use of smart robotics on the shop floor has transformed vehicle production, making the manufacturing process increasingly automated. “Since the beginning of the decade, artificial intelligence (AI) has been witnessing intense penetration in the industrial robotics market. AI implementation has enabled enterprises to improve their productivity and reduce operation costs. Automotive, manufacturing, and healthcare industries utilise AI-implemented industrial robots for automation of production activities. Further, key players are investing continuously and coming up with better services to cater to the demand of end users,” points out Komal Sharma. For instance, in November 2017, Rockwell Automation invested in The Hive, a technology start-up with a focus on AI for industrial automation and robotics. This new investment would offer AI-powered applications for security and smart machines.
 
It is expected, that in coming decade, AI will play a major role in the growth of the industrial robots, due to the ongoing R&D projects and expansion of the research division of leading players.
 
Cooperating robots 
With number of robots increasing on manufacturing floor, vendors are now rolling out collaborative robots (cobots), which are intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. Compared with conventional industrial robotics, cobots are smaller, smarter, more affordable, use-friendly and flexible automatic solutions for vehicle manufacture. Cobots are gaining traction not just in developed countries, but also in emerging markets like India. Automakers, such as Bajaj Auto, have benefited from the adoption of cobots and are planning to add more to their shop floors. 
 
“The continuous on-going development of robot and control technology is enabling robotics to establish itself across a broad spectrum of different markets. Cooperating robots are playing their part to optimise production processes and make them more flexible, not just in the automotive industry. In this development, several robots work together to machine the same parts at the same time, for example, thereby reducing cycle times or they jointly handle heavy parts to share the payload. An additional new concept is focusing on improving the cooperation between robots and human operators with overlapping workspaces in order to achieve an optimal degree of automation,” says Pradeep Shoran, AGM-Marketing, KUKA Robotics India Pvt Ltd.
 
The use of industrial robots has increased steadily in recent years in India. With rise in use of cobots, vendors are also working on technologies to ensure safety their co-workers (the humans). 
 
“Automation is helping automotive industry to a great extent. Be it simple automation of powertrain line or assembly operation. Automation helps customer keep track of the movement of auto parts across the line in a real time and help them trace and track of each and every component. More and more robots and cooperation of robots with human is also made more productive and safe by safety products offering from SICK,” says Atul Dave of SICK India, which provides sensor solutions for industrial automation applications.
 
Future is here 
Industrial robotics provides assistance in completion of sophisticated tasks that demand superior accuracy and precision during their manufacturing processes. Komal Sharma explains, “For instance, Degrees of Freedom (DoF) available in the Cartesian or joint-armed robots with the attached robotic tool can yield superior welding, cutting, painting, and fine cutting of various tools and parts. Further, the surge in demand for automobile and commercial vehicles in emerging markets such as India can be easily met through industrial robotics. Thus, the indefatigable machine is expected to a witness positive growth curve, owing to high requirement from the automotive industry. And, as Asia-Pacific leads the manufacturing of automotive industry, it is expected to witness lucrative growth for the industrial robotics market.”
 
Automotive industry has always been the front runner in terms of adopting latest technologies and creates a large impact due to the massive scale at which it operates.  As market evolves, OEMs and their suppliers (tier 1, 2, 3 and 4) will continue to invest in advanced robotic technology for maintaining their competitive edge in the global market and to scaling new heights.
 
Automation in automobile industry world over and in India has seen an upward trend. Traditionally, automobile industry has always been an early adopter of technology. Amit Bhingurde, COO, TAL Manufacturing Solutions Ltd
 
Automotive industry is a shining example of how advanced manufacturing, automation and robotics can set an industry apart. Abhimanyu Prabhavalkar, VP of Oracle’s IoT Applications Cloud Service
 
The surge in demand for automobile and commercial vehicles in emerging markets such as India can be easily met through industrial robotics. Komal Sharma, Analyst, Allied Market Research
 
Last year, while most of the automotive OEMs invested less in robotics, they wanted their tier 1 & tier 2 suppliers to invest more in robotics. So ultimately, it is driven by OEMs. Pradeep Shoran, AGM-Marketing, KUKA Robotics India Pvt Ltd
 
Automation helps customer keep track of the movement of auto parts across the line in a real time and help them trace and track of each and every component. Atul Dave, Managing Director, SICK India Pvt Ltd

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