The adoption pace of robotics needs to be much faster for it to make a bigger impact
Published on : Sunday 05-03-2023
Sameer Gandhi, Managing Director, OMRON Automation India.
Which are the three new technologies which would be interesting for factories to acquire and adopt? Why would it be attractive?
The three most interesting technologies from the viewpoint of impact and lack of adoption in Indian manufacturing are – data visualisation, robotics and machine vision inspection. While large amounts of data are available on the shopfloor – especially in automation systems – traditionally not much has been done to visualise and make this data actionable. To achieve this it requires not just software to visualise, but also a complete integrated architecture to gather the data and push it to the cloud layer in real time. Such architecture may include IO links and smart sensors, connected with PLCs that can push data directly to the ERP layer. While the concept of robotics has become popular in Indian manufacturing, however, the adoption pace needs to be much faster for it to make a bigger impact on Indian manufacturing productivity. We need to look beyond simple RoI calculations based on labour saving to also include quality and long-term efficiency improvements. Unlike robotics, machine vision is much more widely adopted in the Indian manufacturing sector, but more advantage can be derived especially from PC based GigE cameras besides the traditional smart cameras and linking the data to PLCs to achieve traceability across the entire supply chain
Are there any factories where this IIoT movement will take longer to reach? What can be the reasons for this? What needs to be done to accelerate their journey?
In India, bigger manufacturers in the arena of industries like automotive, secondary packaging, FMCG, consumer electronics have made considerable progress in adopting IIoT based automation solutions and applications however the path remains little perplexing for the SMEs. They have a dire need for better levels for flexibility, quality, consistency however the 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 act as hindrances.
One of the key requisites for expanding the penetration of advanced automation in the country’s manufacturing sector is to strengthen the availability of a partner ecosystem. Most automation 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, many of the MSME sector organisations usually don’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 technology 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.
There are two work areas – bringing raw materials into the factory, and movement of work-in-progress inside the factory – where there is much scope for automation. Which technologies are relevant in this area for different types of factories?
Yes, logistics movement on the shop floor is becoming more and more critical especially as manufacturers look for more flexibility in their operations. Flexible manufacturing implies that material movement – whether raw or in-progress – will be non-linear as the selection of which machine requires what material is dictated by varying demand. This is where AMRs are a perfect technology. These can move goods to manufacturing cells in real time based on what the cell requires thus eliminating production bottlenecks and inventory build-up. And since AMRs are natural feature navigation enabled, they require zero or minimal guidance. Built-in safety features enable these to work in a collaborative mode with the humans and other moving obstacles on the shop floor. Additionally, fleet management software guides multiple AMRs to work as a team to fulfil the changing needs on the shopfloor.
Inspection and quality is a very important topic. It is no longer just good enough to execute these functions rigorously, now it is a necessity to show off that it is being done. In other words customers might wish to view that inspection and quality check are being executed.
Yes, I agree. It’s very important. Without a sturdy inspection and quality set up, consumers can end up receiving defective or counterfeit products and companies might face the daunting task of recalling products causing disruptions, loss of future sales and to their integrity and brand credibility besides the possibility of fines. Impeccable quality control in production reduces costs and ensures a very high level of customer satisfaction. Hence, it’s important to highlight this to the customers but at the same time it’s much more important to ensure that the manufacturers have the right capabilities to get visibility into factors affecting product, packaging or labelling quality. Traceability and serialisation based on machine vision is increasingly becoming a part of the industrial automation solutions automating inspection and rendering smartness to industrial processes so that manufactures gain more integrity, speed, highest levels of performance and flexibility with minimal integration effort.
Robots are going to be a presence in the factory. But importantly, which functions are going to get robotised? For instance, would cleaning the shopfloor be an application to use a mobile robot?
OMRON believes in creating the best harmonious relationship between people and machines at the shop floor. The robots are supposed to bring in ingenuity and creativity by taking care of repetitive and hazardous activities so that the employees are able to climb up the skills ladder to focus more on higher-level tasks demanding more complex skills. For example OMRON mobile robots (AMRs) have been used for a variety of applications including for UV sanitation of hospitals, delivering hospital supplies, besides the traditional material movement on the shopfloor. Here are some other functions that are being robotised:
Pick & Place: Simple activities like picking and placing in a matrix or palletising, but also complex ones like identifying randomly oriented objects and placing in precise matrices. The robots deliver precision, and speed to the applications leading to greater levels of productivity and quality.
Goods Movement: Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) have an important and greater role to play here.
Quality Inspection & Precision: especially for the tasks which require a very high level of precision where makers do not wish to depend on manual intervention. Handling naked food like chocolates, cookies, sea food, etc., also fall under this category.
Flexible manufacturing: utilising AMRs and cobotsas one of the solutions in the material handling segment owing to their close harmonious communication interface with human beings creating oneness on the floor by working together. By replacing fixed conveyors and by actualising the shift from a conventional ‘hard-tooled cell’ to a progressive ‘flexible integrated cell’, they are bringing in greater flexibility to the shop floors resulting in improved productivity and efficiency.
(The views expressed in interviews are personal, not necessarily of the organisations represented)