Demand for automation in India to rise due to COVID 19 pandemic

VDMA India organised a virtual panel discussion to understand the readiness of Indian manufacturers to adopt automation. By monitoring only two variables (temperature and vibration), MSMEs can reduce maintenance cost by 45% throughout the life of the machine.
Demand for automation in India to rise due to COVID 19 pandemic
In the recent past months, COVID 19 has presented serious challenges for both human and business. From the business perspective, the manufacturing industry is one of the most severely impacted. These unprecedented circumstances could provide an opportunity to the manufacturing sector to increase automation post COVID 19 as the sector faces challenges like absence of labour and adoption of social distancing practices. Impact will be more profound on the MSME (micro, small, and medium enterprises) segment. Thus, COVID 19 crisis has certainly acted as catalyst to the transition to automation in the Indian manufacturing sector. 

“COVID 19 pandemic is being compared to a Black Swan effect. Black Swan events are extremely rare and highly improbable. They share two strong characteristics of unpredictable and having a massive impact,” said S Manohar, Regional Head, VDMA India - the Indian arm of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) - while moderating a webinar on ‘Role of automation in manufacturing: Impact of COVID 19’. 

The webinar was organised by VDMA India in association with Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. Panellists for the webinar included Prof Dr Amaresh Chakrabarti, Senior Prof and Chairman, Centre for Product Design and Manufacturing - IISC, Bangalore; Bipin Jirge, Managing Director, ifm electronic India Pvt Ltd; Ravi Agarwal, Managing Director, Pepperl & Fuchs Factory Automation Pvt Ltd; Jitendrakumar Kataria, Managing Director, Beckhoff Automation Pvt Ltd; and Pradip David, General Manager South Asia, Universal Robots (India) Pvt Ltd. 

Human-automation collaboration is must
India is a country with an advantage of large labour force; rise of non-availability of labour has forced the industry to accelerate adoption of automation in manufacturing. A poll was conducted during the webinar to analyse the level of automation undertaken in shop floor or on the product application before commenced of the session. The majority of the audience found 37 per cent at a moderate level of automation, 33 per cent of participants felt low level of automation and 19 per cent implemented a high level of automation, and followed by 11 per cent of audience, who are yet to undertaken in their shop floor.  

Automation on a large scale in the industry helps to avoid human errors in the shop floor. But, manufacturing’s biggest source of innovation and intelligence will always be people. Speaking on how India can achieve productivity by balancing automation and people in manufacturing, Prof Amaresh Chakrabarti said, “Though the automation will be able to perform a critical work but it will always lag the human intelligence. Organisation have to think about more collaboration of human intelligence and automation.” He quoted with an example of Italian Car Company, where they manufacture very efficient car with fully automation but it requires a craftsmanship skill which is fulfilled by the human. Therefore, with human and automation collaboration organization can achieve the goal of producing better quality product.  

The touchless automation involves moving components without touching it. This solution allows manipulating components of any material, in a delicate way that was impossible until today. Pradeep David of Universal Robots mentioned that the Indian manufacturer should sympathise on touch free automation by focusing on robots. Amalgamation of this technology is the right fit for enterprises. 

Emphasising on the adoption of robots, he said that the robotic market has been growing rapidly with an increase of 45 per cent CAGR. However, it still lags behind the world average. Pradeep David elaborated, “China has implemented 140 robots per 10,000 people and the Indian manufacturers have implement 4 robots per 10,000 people. Thus, we need to adopt cutting edge technologies to become a reliable source to world.”  

The technology solutions like IIoT, AR/VR, ADV, Digital Twins are the leading tools in smart manufacturing. Ravi Agarwal informed, “India is diverse country, with a wide spectrum of applications. The quality and supply chain will be the goals of the enterprise in the coming future and this can be achieved by focusing on smart manufacturing. The technologies like Digital Twins are now being used to manage the performance, and effectiveness.”

Explaining the benefits of predictive maintenance and remote diagnostics through connected machines, Bipin Jirge said, “Life of the machine can be increased by 10 per cent through continuously monitoring the machines. By monitoring only two variables - ‘temperature’ and ‘vibration’, the MSMEs can effectively reduce maintenance activities/cost by 45 per cent throughout the life of the machine.”
 
The manufacturing industry is increasingly moving towards an era of smart manufacturing where shop floor and the supply chain are progressively getting interconnected. With respect to data security challenges for implementing Digitalization in manufacturing, Jitendra Kataria said, “Beckhoff Automation has been continuously following VDMA security policies as mentioned in the on OPC UA guidelines bought out by VDMA to keep a safeguard from security breach. The security vulnerabilities have always been changing with times, hence we need a security policies and tools right from design phase to manufacturing.”

High investment a challenge 
High initial investment is the most important reason for MSMEs’ reluctancy to adopt automation. Other factors inadequate skills, complex technology and no tangible gains or RoI are others reasons for the MSME sector being hesitant/reluctant to investment in automation. 

On the importance of Industry 4.0 for India, Prof Chakraborty said, “Industry 4.0 is not a milestone; it’s a journey. Indian manufacturers need to take a challenge of producing a quality product by connectivity of machines with an Industry 4.0 technology. If a manufacturer wants to produce 10 times cheap products then they need to invest in technology which could decode the faults and fixed it within the constraint time.  It is an opportunity for the Indian manufacturer to come up with an innovative solution by leveraging IT services.”

While adoption of automation machines and solutions is important, it is equally critical to follow right standards. Speaking on the OPC UA standard and its relevance to India, Jitendra Kataria, said, “OPC UA is a part of Industry 4.0 which requires a digitalization and connectivity. It enables an industry to integrate its products and its production by information and communication technology. OPC UA is not a competition, its open service-based architecture, where you can have a connectivity of machines with different manufacturer.” VDMA is closely working with German Institutions for establishing the OPC UA platform and also the VDMA guideline shows how companies can successfully introduce Industry 4.0 communication with OPC UA.  

Stressing on the importance of organisational culture and skills improvement required for automation, Bipin Jirge said, “Learning about automation in a manufacturing should be incorporated from top management to the working level group. The developing of a culture is not short term because it goes through a several challenges and difficulties therefore a well-developed culture can help an organization to undergo transformation for building automation in a manufacturing.”

Speaking on new paradigm of leadership requirement in a digital factory, Ravi Agarwal, “Leaders should find out challenges and problems that are being faced by an organisation instead of changing the culture of the enterprise. The organisations should adopt technologies that are impactful and where changes are required. The proper application of right technology is the ladder to the future. Hence, leadership should be leading from the front in adopting technologies to change the organisations.”

New business models are emerging due to automation and digitalization on shop floor. Pradeep David suggested that companies should focus on the partial automation where 80 per cent of a work can be done by the robots and rest 20 per cent by humans. This can help organisations to drop their cost of manufacturing. He pointed out that companies need to adopt flexible automation, where an organisation can implement collaborative robots (cobots), which are quick to install. Manufacturer can move their robots based on their requirements on their production line. 

There is a need for democratization of robots, which means a machine for every manufacturer. Pradeep David quoted with an example of small manufacturer from Kolhapur, where they have adopted robots with 10 work force and employees are able to change programs of the robots as per their requirements at the factory. 

Also, cobots have helped in the women empowerment in the shop floor. For example, at Bajaj Auto women can perform heavy work with the help of cobots.  
 
Cost effectiveness 
In a poll conducted during the webinar to understand the drivers of automation in mechanical engineering industry post COVID scenario, majority of the participants (35 per cent) felt that cost effectiveness will be the main growth driver, followed by factors like predicting productivity (26 per cent), labour shortage (25 per cent) and consistent quality (15 per cent).

Potential of automation market varies from country to country, however developing country like India offers huge growth opportunities for vendors who are eyeing robust growth. Manohar said, “The fact that 81 percent of the world’s automatable manufacturing hours and 49 percent of automatable labour value reside in developing countries means that an upswing in automation in the developing world could have significant global impact. Considering that 48 percent of the automatable manufacturing hours in the developing world exits in India alone, we see potential for major automation-driven disruption in India.” Although how long that could take will depend, in part, on the speed with which the costs of automation solutions fall to below wage levels in India.  

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