Robots are just the tip of the iceberg
Published by : Industrial Automation
Sameer Gandhi, MD, OMRON Automation India.
Is the Indian manufacturing industry now more amenable for deployment of robots, especially in view of the Covid pandemic?
Despite being forced to face unprecedented challenges owing to Covid, I believe, the manufacturing industry surely has an opportunity during this adversity to realise the true potential of industrial automation. This reboot and reset triggered by Covid is turning to be the right opportunity for them to think in this direction. The recent ripples do indicate a rise in affinity towards deployment of robots.
The manufacturers are being inundated with detailed guidelines to ensure the safety of their employees. The deployment of workers while following the intricated social distancing rules is not an easy task and requires a smarter planning and balance of manpower around the shop floor. Cobots (collaborative robots) and AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots), two of the most user friendly and progressive offerings of an industrial automation portfolio, are proving to be of great utility in not only reducing the manpower density on the floor but also in bringing higher levels of efficiency. Complying with all safety requirements, they don’t need fence for many applications and thus can work easily along with human beings maneuvering through the existing arrangement at the shop floor. Moreover, they are smart, scalable and flexible making themselves eligible for multiple operations which are repeatable in nature like pattern recognition, object positioning, barcode identification, etc. It takes only few minutes to teach a cobot a complete pick and place application using vision and a simple graphic-based user interface!
The material handling team, especially, must deliberate on Autonomous Mobile Robots’ inclusion as it can save them precious resources owing to the numerous features such as self-mapping, self-navigation, fleet management, short and easy installation and no facility modification.
Moreover, to produce products which are expected to be consistent and high in quality, increased output, and decreased costs, robots are just the tip of the iceberg, a part of the whole end-to-end chain. Manufacturers, with prudent introduction and integration of other automation solutions along with robots, can achieve global standards in quality, consistency, reliability and hygiene.
The automobile industry in India, globally competitive, is also leading in use of robots. Is it possible to replicate this success in other sectors?
Yes, it is possible. In fact industries like FMCG, food and beverage, infrastructure are already showing greater adoption rates along with the continued consumption in the automotive sector. Manufactures in all these industries understand that robots are a very important part of the whole end-to-end automation solution chain. With prudent introduction and integration of other automation solutions along with robots, they can achieve global standards in quality, consistency, reliability and hygiene.
How is OMRON doing with its portfolio of robots in the Indian market? What are the leading segments?
OMRON is one of few players in India known for having a sturdy and multidimensional robotics portfolio seamlessly integrated with the vision systems. OMRON’s robotic solutions – Cobots, Scara robots, Articulated robots and Parallel robots along with the vision system synchronise movement, facilitate part movement, and enable assembly of very intricate designs with speed and precision delivering numerous benefits such as increase uptime and throughput, high levels of safety and optimisation of space and energy consumption. Also, OMRON Mobile Robots (AMRs) are adding a lot of value to many ancillary industries by creating collaboration between human beings and machines to increase productivity in varied operations.
There is a lot of interest in collaborative robots, yet this has not translated in sales. What is the OMRON experience here?
Surrounded with the excitement being created in the robot space as one of the key indicators of being-in-sync-with-Industry 4.0, there is clearly no lack of intention and curiosity in the manufacturing industry, however it’s not getting translated into sales appropriately because of the continuous dilemma of making the right choice between a cobot and a traditional industrial robot. A cobot is not an alternative for an industrial-bot and vice versa. Both come with their own applications defined by their own capabilities. Hence, the choice between a cobot and a robot needs to be made based on the application at hand and the work environment.
Also, most of the times, a cobot is more expensive than an industrial robot. And while it is true that Industrial Robots require more paraphernalia (like fencing, safety scanners, etc.), which adds to the overall cost, many cobot applications also require interfacing of some safety devices to be able to perform optimally. Hence, one needs to look at the total cost of implementation and not just the cost of devices.
How can SMEs approach the deployment of robots given the high costs and limited resources?
Bigger manufacturers in the arena of industries like automotive, secondary packaging, FMCG, consumer electronics have made considerable progress in adopting them (both robots and cobots) however the path remains little perplexing for the SMEs. They have a dire need for better levels for flexibility, quality, and consistency amidst challenges like little or no scope of extension or modification of the shop floor space, shortage of skilled manpower and most importantly meagre capital infusion capabilities.
One of the key requisites for expanding the deployment of robots in the SME segment is the availability of a partner eco system. Most robot/cobot requirements are unique and need to be run like a small project. These require some mechanical additions or modifications on the customers’ existing setup. While larger organisations may be able to run some of these projects on their own, the MSME sector usually doesn’t have the required skill sets to execute such projects. This is where the role of system integrators (SIs) comes into the picture. They marry the robot/cobot with the required mechanical design and implement it at customer locations. While India has many such SIs, we require a substantial increase in their number. Although, given the technological skill set availability and an entrepreneurial mindset, it is only a matter of time before this eco system also develops rapidly.
Many companies are now considering Robots-as-a-Service model, so will this work in India, especially for SMEs?
India being a complex and large market, makes it possible for many models to be able to be tried. This kind of a ‘Robots-as-a-Service’ model (or a leasing model) has been tried out in many industries before and has had a mixed success. One needs to wait and see how this’ll work for the robotics industry.