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A smart makeover

A smart makeover

July 31, 2023 1:41 pm

India’s manufacturing industry is experiencing a profound transformation with the widespread adoption of smart automation. Backed by venture capital and 5G-enabled IoT technologies, Indian startups are leading the charge, reaping benefits such as enhanced product quality, reduced labour costs, and increased efficiency. Automation Industry experts shared their views on emerging opportunities, automation and Cobots, skilled workforce, quality control, cybersecurity and data connectivity, and government initiatives offering industry growth support. 

”The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” —Bill Gates

The Indian manufacturing industry is wholeheartedly embracing smart automation in its production processes. With a focus on tailored automation technologies, companies are witnessing many benefits, from elevated product quality to streamlined designs and increased efficiency. The adoption of smart automation has granted them a competitive edge, enabling faster time-to-market and reduced labour costs while also minimising human errors and maintenance expenses. Leading the charge are Indian startups, incorporating smart automation at their core, backed by the support of venture capital firms and multinational companies. The widespread reach of the 5G network is further propelling the integration of IoT-based technologies in the country’s manufacturing sector. Research reports show that AI-based automation is steadily contributing to India’s manufacturing sector’s Gross Value Addition (GVA) with an approximate 5 per cent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), promising a future of boundless possibilities.

Smart Automation

According to Mr Niraj Shah, Owner Arihant Satiate, utilising all available nine pillars of automation in product design is crucial for optimal outcomes. Incorporating AR/VR alongside laser cutting can improve decision-making and productivity. 3D printers, combined with laser cutting technology, have the potential to advance gear manufacturing, especially in robotics. Smart technology can be applied to all nine pillars, ensuring the creation of superior products when used effectively. It’s essential to harness the potential of each pillar to achieve the best possible results.

Battery Management Systems (BMS)

Battery voltage can balance voltage between battery connections, bypass the batteries, and control the voltage through automation, IoT, and software. Mr Shankar Balakrishnan, President-Elect – ISA Banglore, added, “BMS (Battery Management Systems) is utilised to monitor individual cells or batteries for factors like current, temperature, density, and terminal voltages. If a particular cell or battery is found to be failing, the BMS activates specific relays to remove it from the circuit. The series-parallel circuit can also be reconfigured to maintain terminal voltage and power output, even at a reduced rate (e.g., 10%, 20%, or 40%). The BMS communicates this information through IoT and other methods.”

A reliable Battery Management System (BMS) is essential for enhancing safety in electrical power storage systems, particularly those utilising lithium-ion and advanced batteries. With proper BMS implementation, the risk of incidents like explosions and fires associated with these batteries can be significantly reduced or avoided altogether. This ensures the secure and trouble-free operation of energy storage systems.

Adopting automation for lighting in an industry can lead to significant cost savings when considering business improvements. Utilising solar or PIR sensors might involve an initial investment of around $25,000 to $30,000, but it can result in a considerable 10% to 20% reduction in electricity bills. This return on investment is especially beneficial for SMEs and medium-sized enterprises. Implementing automation, whether partially or fully, can yield substantial benefits and should be a focus for smaller and medium-sized businesses.

Igniting ROI

“The automation systems offered to businesses vary depending on their size and specific needs. Each system is not a standardised module that fits all scenarios. Instead, it is essential to understand the individual business processes and identify pain points that can be addressed through automation,” added Mr Ravichandran Duraiswamy, Sr. Manager – Product Management, Messer Cutting Systems India Pvt Ltd. The approach is highly configurable, tailoring modules to meet specific requirements and enhance productivity while reducing additional costs like labour or equipment. It’s crucial to analyse and adapt automation solutions based on each business and process’s distinct characteristics and needs.

Mr Shankar says, “Understanding the process thoroughly is crucial for any successful automation project. Without a clear understanding, there is a high risk of encountering significant issues. Proper documentation is essential, and a detailed comprehension of the process sequencing is necessary to ensure success. Equally important is involving and gaining the confidence of the existing workforce, as automation projects can be perceived as threats to job security. Neglecting this aspect and inadequate process understanding greatly increase the chances of failure, as per past experiences.”

The key to a successful investment in automation is fully understanding the process and determining its suitability for implementation with the available technologies. It all begins with a comprehensive understanding of the process in question. Identifying pain points and areas of inefficiency is essential before implementing automation. Some may believe that humans are more efficient, but automation excels in repetitive tasks and brings planning and intelligence to the system. Even businesses with sufficient labour can benefit from automation as it streamlines processes and highlights pain points and idle time. With a systematic approach, automation helps eliminate wastage, enhances productivity, and leads to a high return on investment (ROI).

An example of everyday automation is using Fast Tags at toll gates. Initially, people were sceptical about it, but it has become widely accepted and appreciated. With Fast Tags, the toll process is much faster and more automated. Instead of manual collection and token issuance, the system automatically deducts the toll amount from the user’s bank account, providing instant feedback, and the gate opens smoothly. Once people became accustomed to it, they realised the convenience and benefits of automation.

Cobots for SMEs

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered us into a new era, driving the demand for Cobots and robots to replace workforce in industries. During the pandemic, businesses sought solutions to reduce human contact and automate processes. This shift towards automation has been significant and transformative, leading to changes and adaptations in various sectors.

Collaborative robots, or cobots, have revolutionised small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in manufacturing and production. They bring improved safety, increased efficiency, reduced maintenance efforts, optimised space utilisation, and cost-effective automation solutions. SMEs now have a competitive edge with enhanced output and streamlined operations, as traditional robot confinement in cages is no longer necessary. Cobots have lightened the workload for human operators, leading to increased productivity and decreased maintenance requirements. Their ability to work alongside human workers makes them a valuable tool for SMEs to thrive in the competitive business environment.

RPA technology

The effective design and execution of RPA processes can be achieved through careful consideration and simulation. Utilising advanced simulations and universal integration as the foundation, industries can analyse and optimise their production with AR and VR technologies. This approach allows for well-executed automation implementation, offering valuable benefits to various sectors worldwide. Variable automation, consultancy, and simulations are now accessible in multiple domains. 

Citing an example, Mr Ravi noticed that initially, people were sceptical about using high-power machines like 30 and 40 kilowatts in 2020. However, there is a shift, and more advocates encourage their use due to increased productivity, improved quality, and lower production costs. While India has slowly adopted high-power machines, countries like China and the US have already embraced them. In the coming year, 40-50 kilowatt machines will likely become more prevalent as India catches up with the trend.

Upskilling

To maximise the return on investment, it is essential to prioritise upskilling the existing workforce. Ensuring that experienced workers and fresh college graduates possess the right skills is vital for a smooth transition from traditional to automated manufacturing processes. This upskilling and reskilling focus applies to MSMEs and larger industries in India.

When upgrading from manual machines to PLC-controlled systems, there is a need for PLC programmers. The existing workforce may lack PLC knowledge, but this can be addressed through upskilling or hiring experienced individuals. It is crucial to ensure a harmonious mix of both experienced and younger workers without creating a sense of threat or blame. Achieving this balance may be challenging, but it is essential and achievable.

Mr. Niraj added that modern technologies had made significant advancements, allowing PLCs to be controlled through mobile devices, making them more user-friendly. Upscaling and reskilling efforts are more effective when the user interface is easy to navigate. Many industries now offer PLCs and HMIs with mobile control options, utilising intuitive designs and graphical interfaces. Users can input parameters and see simulated outputs on the screen. Technological advancements are inherent, and we must keep upgrading ourselves and our environment. The technology curve has shifted from spatial skills in the 90s to mobile and cloud computing recently, emphasising the need to develop user-friendly mobile apps and interfaces.

Automation is the future for India’s competitiveness. Mr. Shankar emphasised that automation is essential to excel in manufacturing on a larger scale. It is crucial to focus on the younger generation and implement trade-oriented education from schools to colleges and diploma courses. The Skill India program is progressing, but industry participation is vital to enhance its effectiveness. Emphasising skill-based learning will greatly benefit the automation industries in the long run. Embracing change and adopting automation is essential in the current landscape. To stay competitive and efficient, we must wholeheartedly embrace automation and continually upgrade our skills and processes.

Learning Centers

Including industry-oriented subjects in the curriculum is crucial to upskill students and prepare them for the workforce. Many students need to gain knowledge of practical applications like thermography and plasma technology upon graduation. Establishing Learning Centers and involving industry professionals in curriculum planning can bridge this gap. Mr Ravi shared an instance where Messer Cutting set up a Learning Center in Odisha with a two-year syllabus and trained lecturers to impart relevant industry knowledge. This approach ensures that graduates are well-equipped with up-to-date skills and are aware of the latest technologies used in the industry. Industry professionals’ involvement in the curriculum planning committee is essential to enhance upskilling efforts and train the workforce effectively.

India is a growing automation market, and although there may be some initial hesitancy regarding ROI, people gradually understand and appreciate the advantages of automation. As businesses witness firsthand benefits, acceptance and adoption of automation on a larger scale are expected to increase naturally.

Er Niraj Shah, Owner, Arihant Satiate.
“The technology curve has shifted from spatial skills in the 90s to mobile and cloud computing in recent times, emphasising the need to develop user-friendly mobile apps and interfaces.”

Ravichandran Duraiswamy, Sr. Manager – Product Management, Messer Cutting Systems India Pvt Ltd
“It is crucial to include industry-oriented subjects in the curriculum to upskill students and prepare them for the workforce.”

Shankar Balakrishnan, Consultant, President-Elect – ISA Banglore
“The key to a successful investment in automation lies in fully understanding the process and determining its suitability for implementation with the available technologies.”

Anup Wadhwa, Director, Automation Industry Association
“A cultural shift is needed to create a connected work environment that seamlessly integrates humans, materials, and machines, with a digital Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) at its core.”

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