Will Robotics replace manual labour in the car/bike manufacturing industry?

The MD of Rockwell Automation sheds some light on the new normal as well as how Robotics enhances the quality of products and how much it helps the ground staff.

By: and February 10, 2021 1:10 PM

Having a robot, programming it and then assigning it some tasks is stuff that American movies are full of. But, did you know that an automotive factory has more of these robots, in a different format, for carrying out manufacturing duties? There are companies that deal in automation of tasks and accordingly design robots, their circuits and so-called “brains”. With the increasing number of robots, the chances of an error happening is far lesser and there is also the thing about lower fatigue that only a machine will have. The lingering question then is, will robots eventually replace human beings in the car or bike manufacturing industry? Will the livelihoods of many be at stake because of robots? Well, the answer lies right below.

Just like computers (mini-robots) have been assigned to help us function better on a day-to-day basis, there are also these robots that help in the auto industry. To drive in that screw to perfection, handle heavy sheet metal and so on. Express Drives spoke to well-known Robotics firm, Rockwell Automation about this. Dilip Sawhney, the MD of the company said that

The aim of Automation is not to reduce manpower, but to improve process as well as plant efficiency. In the long run the workers freed-up from the mundane repeated tasks could be reskilled and redeployed to other functions and thus making better utilization of human resources. In times of COVID-19, when social distancing is almost a norm, automation could indeed be a saviour since it can allow for remote and autonomous operation. Automation when connected to a plant wide network can enable Internet of Things on the shop floor. A connected plant is essential to harness the true power of the cyber-physical systems created through sensorization & automation. Data generated through plant connectivity gives companies the ability to keep real-time track of productivity & quality and may offer mitigating actions to the line supervisors and plant executives. Data analytics can offer gateway to predicting various outcomes from quality of the part being produced to the next machine breakdown.

We also checked with Dilip on the automakers in India that use their services as well as the kind of robotic intervention in these plants. Dilip mentioned that his company has a huge share in the industry today. “We have a good installed base on both automation as well as digitalisation solutions at Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles, Daimler India, Royal Enfield and Fiat to name a few. In addition, we have a good installed base even in the Tier 1 segment with references such as Bharat Forge, National Engineering Industry (NEI), Magna Cosma, Lear Corp, Faurecia, Napino, Webasto to name a few. All these customers have adopted the complete Connected Enterprise vision of Rockwell Automation.”, added Dilip.

He also gave the example of Mahindra and Mahindra. The automaker’s, Dilip says, Chakan plant is of the largest automotive manufacturing plants in the country. This plant uses the power of Automation and Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to its fullest potential to produce hundreds of vehicle variants with great precision & maintaining a high level of vehicle quality.

The components Rockwell uses for this automation and robotics is almost entirely localised. The company uses its engineering centres in Noida, Pune and Bangalore for designing as well as developing its products. Assembly, testing as well as panel building are conducted at its Sahibabad facility. For the aftersales segment, there is the remanufacturing centre in Noida.

On being asked how exactly do Robotics ease the workflow in an auto factory, we were told that

The automotive industry isn’t new to the world of robotics. Robots are key to improving productivity in this challenging environment. Since the 1960s, manufacturers have spearheaded the utilization of industrial robots, but now, they are beginning to embrace an entire new generation of robotics – robots that are capable of performing advanced and complex tasks - this includes collaborative robots (cobots), exoskeletons, and other advanced technologies, which have become a game-changer on the automotive factory floor, especially on the assembly side where things are still quite human-intensive. As a pioneer in this space, we have partnered with FANUC America, the leading producer of CNCs, Robots and ROBOMACHINES, with the primary aim of collaborating on several new initiatives to help customers optimize their manufacturing production and realize unprecedented productivity gains. Working with FANUC, we can help customers gain access to the data that previously was either unavailable or trapped in their operations. This data is drawn, contextualised and delivered with actionable information related to asset health, performance and energy usage. All of this will ultimately lead to operational workflow simplification in our customers’ manufacturing facilities.

The future of the auto industry might definitely be robot-filled and with a higher level of automation. We as a nation will end up having more factories with robots that churn out products with precision. Rockwell, it seems, sees itself growing in this process as well. The company concurred by saying

The future of the Indian automobile industry lies in digital transformation, and as pioneers, we see ourselves aiding our clients achieve their business goals through collaborative efforts. Before the pandemic, the auto industry was already in a state of transition, experiencing a significant change resulting from increased demand for electric vehicles, a move towards personalisation, and the development of self-driving cars. Automakers must still satisfy these needs, only now they must do so in the ‘new normal’, a world clouded by a tremendous amount of uncertainty. In addition to the uncertainty, automakers are expected to face a high level of complexity in the coming years and we are very well suited to help them overcome this complexity and become competitive. Moreover, staying productive and agile to keep up with fluctuating market demands, while adjusting operations to the new reality will be crucial. Covid-19 accelerated this inevitable transformation and the changes are here to stay.

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