Robots with AI and ML are being explored to optimise operations
Published by : Industrial Automation
Mihir Punjabi, Director – AI EI Solutions Architect.
What are the factors contributing to the low robot density in India in general?
I think the Indian industry is inherently driven by 2 philosophies – ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ – ‘Jugaad’ to solve real-life problems; and ‘Money matters’ – Continuous cost- benefit analysis.
Extending the above, low robot density can largely be attributed to:
Accessibility at affordable costs – Most robots are imported and bring along a set of tax implications, thereby making it an expensive affair to break-even.
Ecosystem support – For any equipment, serviceability and operational support directly impact the sales. When I was purchasing my 1st vehicle, my dad’s advice was – “Go for Maruti! Maruti accessories and service is available everywhere in India, even in remote locations!”
Skilled operators – The operators need to be reskilled to breathe automation and manage, operate and triage robots.
Digital Engineering – Industries have been talking about going digital for a while, but adoption has been slow like any other disruptive change.
Few options to overcome these could be:
1. Leverage and promote ‘Make in India’; revise import tax structure.
2. Focussed effort to build an effective ecosystem.
3. Operator reskilling and inclusion in student academia.
4. Digitisation is already getting a boost due to the pandemic with requirements like automation, remote operations, auto-diagnostics, etc.
I strongly believe that the clock is ticking real fast here, and, soon it will become a must-have for everyone to exist and remain competitive.
What are the segments besides automotive that can use more robots?
Well, this reminds me of the various sci-fi movies and their vivid imagination of robots! Though all segments could use robots, I think some important ones would be:
1. Manufacturing – Activities like product assembly, quality inspection, hazardous mining operations are already being automated. Robots can handle mundane, repetitive and dangerous tasks. Combined with Artificial intelligence, automation can be elevated to achieve the nirvana state of ‘lights-out manufacturing’.
2. Warehouse & ecommerce deliveries – Many warehouses have deployed robots to autonomously move packages. Some firms have experimented with the idea of drones delivering packages to customers (Amazon, Domino’s).
3. Healthcare – Intelligent systems can assist doctors with screening and initial diagnosis. This would enable the doctor to attend more patients locally and remotely, which can create a huge impact, given the shortage of healthcare professionals.
In addition, segments like Public services (24x7 robots to support surveillance, sanitation, etc.), Military defence and Consumer experiences (airports, malls, hotels, restaurants, etc.), can benefit from robots.
Will the rapidly changing geopolitical scenario help India scale up manufacturing and lead to greater use of robots?
The current scenario has suddenly raised the demand of not only ‘scaling up’ (scale within one factory) but also ‘scaling out’ (scaling across various factories) the manufacturing capabilities.
I believe high productivity with quality will be the key decision factor in the current scenario. We should capitalise the current opportunity by incorporating two key aspects – digital and intelligent automation.
Essential manufacturing units (food, medicines, etc.), could be enabled to run 24x7 by:–
1. Leveraging robots and intelligent automation,
2. Supporting remote monitoring and control,
3. Providing configurability to seamlessly switch between product lines.
This will allow the skilled personnel to focus on key tasks.
To enable this, an entire intelligent industry ecosystem will be needed with components like:
1. Intelligent maintenance system to monitor, predict, diagnose and auto-heal equipment health.
2. Intelligent operation system to monitor, adapt and autonomously manufacture best quality products.
Are Cobots with their greater appeal bridging the gap?
This reminds me of the Macintosh launch where it said ‘hello’ to the world. There are talks that Steve Jobs did this to position computers as a personal equipment for humans to leverage it in their day-to-day activities. Drawing analogies, the idea of robots collaborating seamlessly with humans is going to position robots in a much acceptable way!
The success will highly depend upon how seamless this collaboration can be and the value that it brings. To facilitate this, attempts are being made to impart human-like senses to cobots so that they can interact in the most natural form of human communication – voice, vision and text.
Taking an example of the seamless collaboration between smartphone and humans that already exists today, attempts are being made to take it to the next level by making it more intelligent and personalised – smartphone has started listening, talking, watching, reading, recommending and so on. I don’t think I need to highlight on the appeal of smartphones!
Hence, it is all about making the robots collaborate as ‘humanly’ as possible and ensuring that they bring ‘value-sense’.
In the aftermath of Covid-19, many startups have drafted robots as frontline warriors,especially service robots. How can this trend be channelised more effectively?
Robots should be positioned carefully for use cases where they can effectively assist humans and provide value by solving real-life problems. They should not be oversold as a single remedy for all problems.
Success of this proposition depends primarily on 3 factors:
1. Effectiveness - Robots provide value and solve ground problems efficiently.
2. Economics – They are affordable with a clear and quick break-even plan.
3. Ecosystem – They are available easily including spare parts and servicing.
If I can go back to early days of automobiles in India, ambassador and fiat were the ‘de facto’ vehicles. Then, Maruti came along, understood the demand and market, proved relevant value, built a strong ecosystem and rest was history!
Will the growing use of AI and ML provide the much needed boost for wider use of robots?
AI and ML have been around for a while, but they have become the buzz now since the resources needed to support AI and ML have become commonly available. This has resulted in increased interest for intelligent and smart robots and data-based insights.
‘Edge Intelligence’ is something that I have been evangelising for almost 3+ years now, and, I strongly believe that the future is all about collaborative edge intelligence, where intelligent entities – humans and robots – would actively collaborate with each other to solve complicated real-world problems!
A simple example being a human verbally asking a robot to transport a heavy item from one place to another, and then, the robot coordinates with other robots/humans to collaboratively lift and transport it. In terms of technology, all this will be powered by a combination of reinforcement learning and swarm intelligence.
In the context of Manufacturing, robots with AI and ML are being explored to optimise operations, achieve precise calibration and motion control. Effectiveness of a robot will rely on its intelligence, smartness and ability to learn. Thus, AI and ML will accelerate the
adoption of robots – everyone wants intelligent and smart devices! Don’t we?
How relevant is RPA in manufacturing? Globally, several companies are now increasingly using RPA for back office activities related. Is this gaining traction?
RPA, also known as ‘software robotics’, is gaining a lot of traction across industries. RPA is very effective for repetitive tasks and workflow automation. I believe an automation journey will consist of the following phases:
Rule-based Automation ? Cognitive Automation ? Augmented Intelligence ? Autonomous
I would classify RPA as Cognitive Automation. Combining RPA with AI can take automation to the next level (e.g., FAQ chatbot vs digital assistants like Alexa/Google/Siri). Several manufacturing units have already leveraged RPA for various use cases like order fulfilment, PO/invoice management, BOM, inventory, etc. RPA combined with AI could provide the much-needed acceleration to automate the manufacturing and assembly line processes.
How do you see automation transforming the future?
We are in an interesting and exciting revolutionary phase! All mundane and repetitive tasks will soon be taken over by automation. This will improve the efficiency, decrease errors and free up humans to focus on important things.
With assistance from automation and AI, humans will attempt to solve problems that were seemingly impossible to solve earlier. A simple example is Google’s AlphaGo where an AI could master the complicated game! The biggest beneficiary seems to be the healthcare segment, which will be good for mankind.
In Industry 4.0, we are talking of intelligent automation that will predict things before they happen and help prevent disruptions/losses, and, all this in an autonomous mode! Intelligent Industry is the future!
Imagine a factory of the future where various robots learn and collaborate to autonomously optimise processes and manufacture goods. They automatically adapt to environment conditions, raw material quality, manufacturing equipment condition and all other dependant factors to ensure good quality product!
Our sci-fi movies are soon going to be realities, and we are fortunate to be part of this new and exciting era!
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Mihir Punjabi is a solutions architect and a techno-business strategist who is passionate about solving customer’s business problems. A thought leader who has presented at various industry forums, Mihir is an Edge Intelligence and AI evangelist, currently responsible for AI solutions across Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Services group along with supporting AI solutions across Capgemini. The views expressed are personal.
#August 2020 Magazine Cover Story
ROBOTS IN MANUFACTURING Globally, AI powered robots with autonomous learning capabilities are transforming the manufacturing landscape. The word robot has a Slavic root, the meaning associated with labour, and that is how it has come to be relevant, the most common justification for the use of a robot being it takes the drudgery out of monotonous, repetitive tasks, often also difficult or dangerous for human workers. The first modern robot was patented by George Devol, an American inventor in 1954, but it was put in use by General Motors only in the early 60s, so the history of the modern robot is just about 6 decades. To read the full cover story Please click here