Human mind has always been stimulated by automation and artificial intelligence (AI). In today’s age, what is needed is not the denial of their existence and relevance, but the need to acknowledge the harmony. The manufacturing sector in India is expected to contribute 25% of GDP by 2020 and reach $1 trillion by 2025. It will demand higher productivity, better efficiency, reliability, perfection, uniformity, flexibility, customised solutions and, above all, matching global standards—directly associated with choosing the right technology, i.e. high level of industrial automation. Clearly, automation is key to the growth of the manufacturing sector and the way to scale up the value chain in a progressive manner.
Automation offers opportunities that can help the industry catalyse market requirements, reduce manufacturing downtime, improve efficiency of machines and increase productivity. In order to attain error-free results and considering the current ecosystem, it is inevitable for manufacturers to lean towards one-stop automation solutions.
With the transition towards Industry 4.0, also known as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), there is an opportunity for man and machine to constantly communicate and complement each other’s performance. A connected shop-floor based on a sturdy Industry 4.0 framework is enabled with transparent and real-time data analysis and so is a lot more competitive, efficient and flexible.
An example of the utility of a high-end and connected automation solution is India’s automotive industry, which is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. It relies heavily on well-automated ecosystem to assemble multiple complex components seamlessly with constant checking and precision at every step.
A challenge the automotive industry faces is ‘recall’, which can happen due to a defect in a single component—causing huge setbacks to the credibility of a brand and even safety of the users. To tackle recalls, automation solutions like ‘traceability’ can help manufacturers to a great extent.
Another challenge is optimising costs, which can be done effectively through ‘flexible manufacturing’—this solution can tell how manufacturing sites need to step up with facilities that allow not only to produce in large quantities, but also to produce based on varying customer requirements with the right standards and precision.
Companies also need to establish the right chord between machines and men. This can give rise to new skill development, particularly for shop-floor workers, and lead to their effective utilisation.
The ongoing conversation around automation in general and robots in particular has depicted robots as the reason for job losses. Robots are not living beings, but are the creation of man, and are programmed to do a particular task. Operating robots requires a skilled workforce, which is an opportunity of job creation, but with more advanced skill-sets.
The future of automation demands that workers do not lose their creativity by executing time-consuming, repetitive or potentially unsafe jobs that are best performed by a machine. We are of the view that by getting machines to do repetitive tasks, man is freed to do ‘fulfilling’ work.
As per a recent McKinsey report, automation’s boost to global productivity is expected to be 0.8-1.4% annually over decades. The technologies are being adopted in almost all industries and countries, but the speed and strength will vary as it depends on various technical and economic factors. For example, machines need to simulate the full range of human performance capabilities and have to be economically viable when compared to wage levels. This is very much applicable to India (and to an extent to China) because of its large workforce and heavy reliance on predictable physical activities needing considerable upfront capital investment for automation.
So, for an emerging economy like India, automation may take time to become viable, but whatever is the time frame, it will have a significant impact on the workforce. This is unlikely to result in unemployment, rather it will open new avenues of growth in multiple industries and in ways that may be difficult to imagine today. When computerisation/IT was introduced in Indian banks in the 1980s, there was a widespread fear that employees would lose their jobs. Not only did this fear prove unfounded (no job losses), on the contrary the productivity improvements brought about by computerisation had a positive spin-off in attracting private players to the banking sector and generating more employment. Gradually, new avenues were created and we all evolved to a brighter future.
The coexistence of the man and machine is the solution for tomorrow. Automation is needed for increased output and decreased costs, and also to remain competitive and produce goods that are consistent and of high-quality.
Automation and productivity-raising measures are necessary to sustain economic development. The countries that have already touched high levels of manufacturing will need even higher levels of investment, whereas the Indian industry has the opportunity to leapfrog this ‘automation curve’ to take full advantage of automation technologies available today. Our aspiration should not only be to make in India, but also to make world-class in India, and automation is key to achieving that.
The author, Sameer Gandhi is MD, Omron Automation, India