'India a major growth driver for robotics'

'India a major growth driver for robotics'
Rising cost of labour and reducing cost of electronics and robotics, in terms of installation and maintainence, is expected to cause a shift in the capital intensity ratio in manufacturing, across the globe. During his visit to India, Hongwei Zhang — subject group leader in electrical, electronic and control engineering, and principal lecturer in control systems at the Sheffield Hallam University, South Yorkshire, England — in an interaction with Mamta Bhardwaj of Deccan Herald, lent his expertise on how India is set to have robotics play its role against the backdrop of ‘Make in India’.

How has the role of robotics   evolved in manufacturing?

The use of robotics and automation in manufacturing is not a new innovation. Many aspects of production line processes have been automated, or partially automated for decades. What we are seeing now, is a new breed of highly-sophisticated robotics, which is fundamentally changing the operations and processes of factories across the globe.

In markets which operate globally, such as the automobile industry, competition to adopt automation — which promises to both, reduce costs and increase productivity — is a lucrative prospect. This trend is only expected to accelerate over the coming years. In fact, recent estimates predict that the industrial control and factory automation market is expected to reach over $200 billion by 2020. The global robot market is increasing at a rate of 8 per cent per year, and is set to achieve annual sales in the range of $55-68 billion by 2020. Asia is set to see the biggest increase in growth, and this is expected to be driven primarily by growth in India and China.

Could you exemplify the kind of impact it has had?

One of the major success stories is the Tesla Motors automobile manufacturing plant in California, where high levels of automation are incorporated into the production process. Tesla is having to innovate its operations to break into a crowded marketplace with some huge and established competitors. Automation and use of technology is not only bringing efficiencies to the production process, but it has become an integral part of the company’s identity and brand.

What are the challenges to adopting robotics in manufacturing?

Implementing any major change to a manufacturing process is always likely to be expensive. The initial setup of adopting robotics inevitably involves a costly design  and testing process to ensure automation can meet the quality required in the end product. There might also be the requirement to train a workforce to operate the new technology.
All technology carries some risk of shutdown, whether that is through power outages or equipment failure. To negate this risk, businesses may need to invest further into skilled engineers, specialists and analysts to monitor, maintain and improve the automated systems.

What is it then that promotes it?

It is not surprising that manufacturing is moving rapidly towards automation as the benefits are difficult to dismiss. Higher quality and increased productivity at a lower operating cost. It is difficult to see how manufacturers of mass products not adopting new technology could compete.

Automated processes give manufacturing businesses access to a huge amount of information about their production processes; including how fast every stage of the process is and instant alerts if any aspect is not operating at full capacity. This information can be analysed to seek out even greater efficiencies so there is a continual process of improvement.

What kind of impact will it have on human resource employment?

The advancement of robotics is certainly good news for skilled engineers, particularly those with a strong understanding or postgraduate specialism in automation, control and robotics engineering. In 2014, the European Union launched a major robotics research project, SPARC, which is expected to create 2,40,000 jobs. Career opportunities as a result in growth in robotics and automation could also include engineering design and development, engineering research, engineering consultancy and engineering management.

When will Indian manufacturing see greater participation from robotics and how?

Greater participation from robotics is almost inevitable. The ‘Make In India’ intiative looks likely to stimulate growth in manufacturing, and specifically in the automobile industry. It remains to be seen whether manufacturers are able to maintain their market share when, globally, competitors are making the efficiencies which automation brings.

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