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Auto part makers bank on robots for enhancing efficiency



Automotive industry has been an early adopter of robotics for application such as welding, painting, glue dispensing, etc. With auto manufacturing processes demanding flexibility and efficiency, market for low-to-medium payload robots are likely to experience much faster growth than heavy payload robots. And presence of large number of SMEs in auto ancillary segment is only going to propel this market further, says Rakesh Rao.
 
Automotive industry has been at the forefront of adopting novel manufacturing technologies to improve productivity and quality of the product. Take the example of robots. In 1961, for the first time industrial robot was employed at a General Motors’ diecasting plant in Trenton, New Jersey. Since then robots have become omnipresent across manufacturing sector. 
 
Ajay Gurjar, Deputy COO & Head of Business Operations, Yaskawa India (Robotic Division), explains, “In today’s time, one of the key sectors contributing towards the GDP of the country is the automotive manufacturing segment that has been steadily growing in the industrial automation domain as a role model for the other industries. The body shops, paint shops, powertrain and assembly lines in automotive industry demands efficiency, flexibility and precision. Hence, many OEMs and auto component manufacturers are opting for upgraded software based technology robots in their facilities and showcasing how automation should be utilised to scale up the value chain and achieve zero-defects manufacturing with increase in productivity, reduce cycle time and produce high quality products.”
 
Rising concern for worker’s safety especially in hazardous functions like roof laser welding is also pushing automakers to adopt robots in their production line. He adds, “Robots help carmakers to reduce wastage and save costs. In the sealant application area, only the right amount of material gets used because of automation. We saw a 50 per cent reduction in material consumption when we replaced the underbody sealer application from human labour to automation.”
 
The automotive industry is well known for its intensive use of industrial robotics. Since the implantation of the first industrial robots in the 1960s, a lot of things have changed. “These days, the production lines need to be more efficient, flexible and precise. We offer robotic solutions such as machine tending (CNC machine components loading/unloading), screw driving (nut runner), sealant application, small sub assemblies, soldering, and high speed pick and place. For SMEs in auto industry, we offer machine loading/unloading, and small robot (payload capacity of 2 kg) for component pick and place,” says Madhusudhanan N S, Senior Manager - Robotics Business Development, Factory Automation & Industrial Division (FAID), Mitsubishi Electric India Pvt Ltd.
 
Rising demand for low-payload robots
Automotive is the leading user of industrial robots. “About 70 per cent of our robots go into applications for automotive industry,” discloses Niyazuddin S, Manager - Robotics Solutions, Epson India Pvt Ltd, a part of Epson (one of the leading global players in SCARA and 6-axis robots).
 
While OEMs use heavy payload robots for applications like spot welding, arc welding, etc, medium-to-low payload robots (5-20 kg) are mainly used for machine tending applications at auto component makers’ facilities. Machine tending operations are often done manually. For example, every injection moulding or CNC machine has to have one person for loading and unloading components. It is a pain point for the industry. As solution, they use gantry machines, but these are not as flexible as robots. Hence, most of them prefer to have 6-axis robots in the machine (CNC or injection moulding machine). Trends, such as this, are driving the demand for medium-to-low payload robots among the Indian automakers and their suppliers.
 
“In machine tooling, SCARA robots will not be useful as these are CNC machines where components need to have a certain degree of freedom. Here, robots that can handle payload of 5-20 kg are needed. Hence, in machine building application, 6-axis robots are mainly used. In an auto component manufacturing line, there are many pick & place applications such as transfer of components from one machine to another, or from machine to a conveyer line, etc. Here, 4-axis (SCARA) robots are apt for usage as 6-axis robot will not make for better RoI (return on investment),” explains Niyazuddin. 
 
India’s auto components market is dominated by SMEs (especially the tier 2 & 3 and suppliers to these segments). Earlier, these companies used to do many processes manually. But now they are aggressively investing in robots.System integrators also play a key role in creating awareness about robots and increase their adoption in manufacturing plants of SMEs. When a system integrator is building a production line for automakers or auto component manufacturers, they want to build this line in a short span of time and they suggest incorporation of robots to enhance efficiency and add flexibility for manufacturers. “To complete these production lines, they (system integrators) prefer robots and depending upon application, they choose SCARA or 6 axis robots. We offer one-stop-shop solution for integrating our robots in production line,” says Niyazuddin.
 
To tap this market, robot manufacturers are planning to roll out new products. “Epson is globally a leading player in 6-axis and SCARA robots and we intend to maintain this leadership position in India as well. We see a rise in number of installations of robots in India with the acceptance of SCARA robots being really good. To reach out to more customers, the company is planning to bring more economically affordable robots in India which will be easy to integrate and offer better RoI,” informs Niyazuddin.
 
Cobots: Collaborating for growth 
An automaker manufactures a wide range of models from the same plant, which demands flexibility in the production line. However, traditional heavy-payload industrial robots do not offer flexibility as they stay bolted down in a cage, dedicated to one task only. As a result, many automakers are now using collaborative robots (cobots) in their production line. “Without the need of safety cages on the shop floor, cobots can be deployed all over the manufacturing ground. These aspects, combined with the high level of precision they have in completing their tasks results in drastically reduced numbers of faulty equipment and increased productivity, ensuring that OEMs and auto component makers survive and succeed in this competitive industry,” opines Pradeep David, General Manager (South Asia), Universal Robots (UR) – one of the leading manufacturers of cobots globally. 
 
Cobots tackle typical issues 
faced by Indian auto enterprises through human robot collaboration by taking care of repetitive and strenuous manual labour, letting their human counterparts focus on work that needs strategic thinking. He adds, “As these collaborative robots are a safe, compact and lightweight technology that is easy-to-program (within a day), quick to set-up, energy efficient with the fastest payback that can be used in virtually any application, they enable this sector to enter Industry 4.0 and be at par with competitors worldwide.”
 
Cobots are considered to be more suited for SMEs as they are affordable (compared to conventional robots) and offer operational flexibility. For example, Shruti Engineers, a metal and machining MSME, was able to increase production by 75 per cent by deploying UR cobots, enabling the company to take more orders and expand its business. Similarly, cobots delivered 40 per cent growth and round-the-clock manufacturing at New Engineering Works (an automotive, metal and machining enterprise), enabling it to save land and leverage the technology’s flexibility.
 
As SMEs experience the benefits of cobots, demand is expected to rise prompting cobot suppliers 
to offer affordable solutions. “Universal Robots makes robot technology accessible for companies of all sizes with the aim that the end-user gains twice the value creation from cobots. UR’s vision is to empower automation of enterprises around the world, ranging from MSMEs and SMEs to MNCs, by giving back the control of factory automation into the hands of operators by being user-friendly through easy reprogramming while remaining affordable,” opines Pradeep David.
 
Moving towards Industry 4.0
Though the demand for robots is present, there are several hurdles in the adaptation of this technology. Availability of the right skills and proficiency in thoroughly planning the end-to-end implementation of the robotic solution are the key challenges which the OEMs and auto component makers grapple with. “For an instance, cobots work without a hard safety cell and so their speed and operation can be hampered by the unplanned movement of people or machines around them. Hence, their application and requirement need to be thought through before deciding between using a cobot or a conventional robot. Our application teams, training and service teams work closely with the customers to ensure these two concerns are taken care of from the point of conception to implementation,” observes Sameer Gandhi, MD, Omron Automation, India.
 
Upskilling employees (of auto industry) is another important aspect that needs a look in before taking a plunge into robotics. “Upskilling is the process of teaching workers new skills. With every business in the spectrum facing disruption because of automation, upskilling is the only solution to help cope. We support in this area by arranging periodical training in robots at all our major office locations. Also, we have demo setup for hands on experience to the employees to feel the robots and understand the concept,” elaborates Madhusudhanan.
 
Industries (including automotive) in India are looking to start their journey towards Industry 4.0. This is also likely to lead to rise in usage of robots in future. Agrees Madhusudhanan, “Yes, it will. The term (Industry 4.0) defines the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies including the Internet of Things (IoT), cyber-physical systems, cloud computing and cognitive computing. It fosters ‘smart factory’. In our organisation, we call it as e-F@ctory concept, and all our robots are compatible with almost all communication protocols (CC Link, PROFIBUS, PROFINET, DeviceNet, EtherCAT, etc).”
 
Expanding horizon 
Automotive industry was an early adopter of robotics for applications such as welding, painting, glue dispensing, etc. Within the industry, there are many robotic applications that are available such as autonomous intelligent vehicles and programmable logic controller (PLC) based programmable automation machines. 
 
As Indian manufacturers gear up to join the Industry 4.0 bandwagon, demand for robots and cobots is likely to experience upswing in the near future. This is prompting automation majors to expand their presence in the country. “Since we are the wardens of the South Asian market, we will continue to work towards expanding our footprint in this region. Universal Robots is aggressively driving cobot awareness and is aiming for increased sales in the Indian automotive industry, in both OEMs and SMEs. As cobots play an integral part of Industry 4.0 as one of the key levers to supplement labour in terms of productivity, quality and ergonomics, the need for cobots will soon become a top priority in Indian manufacturing,” informs Pradeep David.
 
Upskilling is the process of teaching workers new skills. With every business in the spectrum facing disruption because of automation, upskilling is the only solution to help cope.Madhusudhanan N S, Sr Manager - Robotics Business Development, FAID, Mitsubishi Electric India Pvt Ltd
 
In machine building application, 6-axis robots are mainly used. While for pick & place applications in an auto component manufacturing line, SCARA (4-axis) robots are apt for usage as 6-axis robot will not make for better RoI (return on investment).
Niyazuddin S, Manager - Robotics Solutions, Epson India Pvt Ltd
 
As collaborative robots are a safe, compact and lightweight technology with the fastest payback that can be used in virtually any application, they enable this sector to enter Industry 4.0 and be at par with competitors worldwide.
Pradeep David, GM (South Asia), Universal Robots
 
Many OEMs and auto component manufacturers are opting for upgraded software based technology robots in their facilities and showcasing how automation should be utilised to scale up the value chain and achieve zero-defects manufacturing.
Ajay Gurjar, Deputy COO & Head of Business Operations, Yaskawa India (Robotic Division)
 
Cobots’ speed and operation can be hampered by the unplanned movement of people or machines around them. Hence, their application and requirement need to be thought through before deciding between using a cobot or a conventional robot.
Sameer Gandhi, MD, Omron Automation, India

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