After three decades of growth, India is now ,globally, the third-largest economy in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). The manufacturing sector, however, has grown at a slower pace over the past 20 years. India needs to expand its industrial base, diversify its energy mix, and upgrade its electricity and urban infrastructure. At present, manufacturing is at an inflection point; crediting to developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, the huge decrease in the cost of computing and the declining cost of automation, including robots. Automation is, thus, clearly an integral part of manufacturing in India and leaders of the IT services industry have repeatedly spoken about how automation is the next big thing in their industry. The current government’s initiative “Make in India” campaign, however, is expecting to increase manufacturing output to 25 percent of GDP by 2022, with the creation of over 100 million jobs. At the same time, companies will need to engage actively with trends such as high-quality manufacturing, smart manufacturing practices and automation.
In line with this vision for the country and growing importance of manufacturing, we caught up with Sameer Gandhi, Managing Director, OMRON Automation India. OMRON is a global leader in the field of automation based on its core technology of sensing and control. Starting its operations in 1993, OMRON Automation India caters to over eight industrial segments namely packaging, automotive, material handling, digital, food & beverages, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, textile, robotics and panel building applications.
Q: How long has the automation business been around in India and how has the growth been?
A: In India, the automation business has been around for more than 20 years now. In India, our main role has been to support the manufacturing industry, including the automotive sector. For the automation business alone, we sell more than 60,000 products today, of which more than 10,000 are sold actively. This reflects the kind of bandwidth we've developed across our product line up, allowing us to serve the customer better.
A key strategy for us is the ILOR+S, wherein 'I' stands for the input side, including sensors and various other devices, which act as inputs for a system. 'L' stands for logic so we have programmable logic controller (PLCs) here. 'O' stands for output, so here we talk about drives and servo motors, which provide the output. Then we have the robo, signified by the 'R' and finally the 'S', which denotes safety. This allows us to supply to any customer a product basket tailored to his requirements. In India, we've positioned ourselves as a solution supplier, not a product supplier. In order to achieve this, we have about 25 application engineers, who'll visit a customer and analyse their requirement and suggest a solution best-suited to the unique requirements.
Q: How has the automation acceptance been in the Indian automotive sector, especially the home-grown suppliers?
A: Automation adoption varies from an industry to another but the automotive industry is fairly global in nature so automation adoption is relatively high. Having said that, there is still a lot of scope for improvement within the present state of things but that will happen only over a period of time. Sectors such as F&B and FMCG are the ones, which can benefit greatly from automation and have a lot of room for its adoption.
Q: What are the key requirements from your customers in India?
A: The big requirement for us is productivity improvement and quality improvement. As Indian suppliers and automakers continue to expand their footprint overseas, the importance of quality has grown immensely. Along with that, the other key demand is for productivity improvement.
Q: So these are going to be the key growth drivers for you over the next few years?
A: Absolutely! Also, these requirements are not limited to the automotive sector and are being demanded by other sectors too. We recently completed a project for engine inspection for a customer, I can't name. Once the engine is completely built, there are more than 30 checkpoints in the inspection process. This job was earlier done manually with no record-keeping. Hence, we provided them a solution based on one of our vision systems. The customer was now able to keep an image of each step in the inspection process for the engine. In addition, the cycle time came down from 80 seconds to just 20 seconds.
Q: What has been a standout technical area of improvement in the past few years in automation?
A: There have been many but if I have to point out one, it would be the vision systems. The technology in this space has grown immensely and improved the final result greatly. The other link to this is the traceability part, which can now be stored in the form of data. This has greatly helped many of our customers achieve more than their targeted improvements, using these solutions.
One of the trends to watch out for in the future is Internet of Things (IOT) and that will start adding another level of value for our customer.
Q: How would IOT benefit an automotive application?
A: Let's take the example of an automotive assembly line, which would typically have a few thousand sensors. Now if any sensor from these fails, the entire line could stop working, which will require manual identification and repair/ replacement, leading to non-productive time. With IOT, we're connecting a sensor in a way, wherein we're not only getting information from the sensor but also about the sensor. So we can now look into ambient conditions affecting the sensors and other deeper aspects, allowing us to predict the failure of a sensor, before it actually happens.
Q: What are the key challenges you face while deploying the automation technology?
A: The key challenge we face is related to operation and maintenance of the machines. While a customer may have bought a fully-automated machine, at times we've witnessed a lack of capability to operate that machine. So a touch-pad connected to machine can be subjected to inputs slammed from a metal pen! This requires proper education about the system which we're providing along with better focus from the customer, which will happen over a course of time.