Robotics and automation have become catalysts for the expansion of manufacturing industry in India. The integration of robotics and automation has become increasingly essential as the country endeavors to enhance its industrial capabilities and boost productivity. The utilization of these technologies brings forth numerous advantages, such as enhanced productivity, accuracy, and uniformity in manufacturing procedures. In addition, they are helping manufacturers reduce expenses related to workforce, enhance the caliber of their products, and attain greater levels of personalization. Nevertheless, they encounter various obstacles, including expensive initial investments, intricate integration processes, difficulty in managing changes, the need for customization, concerns about cyber security, and a shortage of skilled personnel to maintain and operate the robotics systems.
Industry Outlook organized a webinar on the adoption of robotics in manufacturing to understand how these challenges can be addressed to harness its potential and tap into the new opportunities it offers. On the panel, we had some esteemed guests from different industries who shared their views on the adoption of robotics in manufacturing.
The Power of Robotics in Automotive Manufacturing
Sirisha A., Head Industrial Engineering & New Product Launch, Continental Automotive India, spoke on the adoption of robotics and automation in the automotive industry.
Industry 4.0 is a buzzword now, with a lot of technologies. It comprises simulation, robotics, big data, additive manufacturing, cybersecurity, and IoT. The main purpose why one wants to implement automation should be data-based decision-making. The industry wants to improve the quality, and reduce the risk. Now, how do we go about planning for robotics and automation? One way is to look at the objective and the vision. We should see if we are in line with it when we want to implement and also identify the areas of improvement. Sometimes the question is: should we even be using a lot of automation because we want to be in par with every other industry, or is there a need based implementation? The answer is to identify opportunities of improvement and then go ahead for the implementation.
Secondly, we should prioritize the low-hanging fruits. It is certainly good to have a lot of automation done, but then how do we start? Would we start with the low-hanging fruits and also look at the ROI of it, or go for 100% automation?
The last factor would be to monitor the efficiency of improvement and then scale it up further. Thus, this is a way the planning phase of Industry 4.0 and automation can be started off with.
Integrating Robotics and Automation in Furniture Manufacturing
Zurvan H. Marolia, Senior Vice President and Head of the Manufacturing Council at Godrej & Boyce, addressed the topic of incorporating robotics and automation into the furniture manufacturing processes.
The furniture industry even today is a fragmented industry; though it has consolidated a bit over the last decade, it is still highly fragmented. And you will be surprised that still at least about 75 to 80% of the manufacturing, in terms of the products that we get, are from the unorganized sector which is a huge factor.
Largely with the carpenter base, the small operators and the very small enterprise then you have the handicraft as well, all of which comes into furniture industry. Therefore, it is a very mixed bag.
In general, the integration of automation into an existing supply chain and manufacturing system and more so where furniture is concerned, can be a disruptive process that demands significant adjustments. There are three key hurdles for the furniture industry, which I would consider to be the deciding ones and important ones which need to be addressed.
First and foremost, furniture is not a mass product, a mass production line. At the same time furniture faces competition from products that come from countries like China and other parts of the eastern part of the world, where they do mass production, supply it here in mixed containers. Therefore, they get certain price advantages since they supply similar products to a vast variety of customers not only in India but across the globe. So, they get the benefits of scale. One of the challenges of the furniture industry here is to be able to compete at that scale or show the customer value, why our goods should cost more because of certain factors such as durability and customization.
One of the areas of challenge is the volume variety ratio. The second area of challenge is when one wants to go into automation and robotics; one has to do a huge amount of modification. These are the steps in digitization now, which again becomes a major challenge when you have a very high number of SKUs (stock keeping units). It is a fact that the actual manufacturing cycle when one is making factory-made furniture is very short. Therefore, one cannot do new modification for every new product, because then the modification will take longer than the manufacturing itself. Hence, these are the challenges.
The third one is material consistency. I think the government has taken a right stand in starting to work very strongly on the BIS standards of incoming material and the standards to be maintained. However, automation requires a far more stringent level of consistency. If one has to use robotics to bending, an effortless process - sheet metal bending, the flatness of the material plays a critical role because when the robot moves the material across if the material is not flat, it will crash.
Therefore, we have to go back to the sheet metal manufacturer, and talk about stretch leveling and how they can help by giving flatter material and we work on that.
At the end of the day, we should understand what does the customer want? How do we give the customer what they want in the most cost-effective way, best quality, and value for money in the minimum time? At the same time if everybody is providing that, how do we anticipate the need of the customer? This is where big data comes in and provides the customer what he hasn't even thought of but would like to have addressing the latent needs of the customer.
Let us look at what do we need for automation. We need more standard components in order to do more volume per SKU or the volume variety ratio. We need to minimize the number of setups and the setup time in order to benefit from automation and digitization.
What does the customer want? The customer wants customized options, and products at low cost. Whether you make it by hand or using a robot, customer wants low cost and minimum lead times.
This is where the important part comes in. What the customer sees as low cost has to be gradually turned into a value buy. So, how can you provide the customer with a value for which they are willing to pay that little bit extra, and get a product which better suits their needs, than getting a low price product?
The second one is when we say the customer wants minimum lead times. What the customer really wants is not minimization of lead time, as much as predictability, which is one major thing that comes out of automation. So, one has to look at what is it that automation requires us to do. What is it that automation offers to the customer? How does it match the customer's needs? This is what we need to focus on in order to do successful automation and robotics. It's something which one cannot walk away from, but one has to recognize and go in with your eyes open. The common factor between what we offer and what the customer expects through automation is the consistency of quality, which is also something that comes out of automation because you get repeatability of the process.
How Robotics and Automation are Revolutionizing Machinery Manufacturing
Prahallada K.N., Chief Program Officer, Biesse India, explained the revolutionary impact of robotics and automation on the manufacturing of machinery.
We are integrating AI solutions into the present context of Industry 4.0 with advanced sensors. One of the main factors is material and it should be handled carefully. There is a lot of scope for automation in the furniture industry and it is identified as a sunshine industry by Ministry of Commerce. Therefore, we are assessing how well we can go with these steps in automation, as well as robotics. Specifically in reference to woodworking, we have solutions in glass working. We have a separate division called Biesse Systems that deals with wood handling equipment, automatic warehousing, loading and unloading systems primarily for the furniture and construction industries, where we guarantee production with reduced costs.
The promise to the customer was automation to address low-value operations. We have installed more than 1000 systems worldwide. We have very few installed in India in some projects here. And we have an automated machine for optimized management of panels. So it is actually possible to manage multi-size and multi-colored stacks. It is suitable for large contract manufacturers and furniture makers, and it guarantees production with reduced times and costs.
It has integrated software management of the entire system between the customers’ management system and manufacturing process. So, the integration part also taken care of. When it comes to the handling systems, we have systems that suit the requirements of the customers who are from the MSME sector as well as from medium scale enterprises and large-scale enterprises that are into furniture manufacturing, mainly modular furniture.
Overall, the webinar provided attendees with insights to assess their preparedness for incorporating robotics in the manufacturing industry. It also guided them in charting a path to overcome the challenges specific to their respective sectors.