The manufacturing landscape all over the world is changing rapidly. More and more, we have connected products—products that are connected in a network. Ranging from mobile phones to equipment connected on company wide networks, these products talk to each other, often on a real-time basis. We also have connected organisations. This refers to manufacturing plants of the same company that are connected to each other. All this results in improving productivity and adding value in the complete chain from supplier to manufacturing to customer. Thus, we have a connected industry.
Given this dynamic, the work is changing, and so are the workers and business models. At the heart of all this change is automation. Consistency of production, safety, elimination of tedious work, appropriate use of human skills, amongst other factors, are the need of the day. These vital requirements need to be balanced with return on investment. In the case of China, it grew on the basis of labour arbitrage. However, India’s growth story cannot follow the same path. It will have to be on the basis of technology arbitrage and here, we have a head start with a pool of highly trained software professionals.
Apart from this, it is also important to adopt strategies that will allow enterprises to go for automation. Each organisation may have its own specific needs, which need to be identified. Based on this, their own unique roadmap to automation needs to be framed for implementation. This may include the technology of machine tending using collaborative robots or cobots by SME companies, which can be an appropriate solution for the sector. Retrofitting a current press line to improve productivity without investing in a new one can also be beneficial.
Assembly automation is another aspect, which can showcase how volumes and varieties can be handled through semi-automation or a full-scale automation, as needed. Practical examples of in-process inspection, smart sensing, cobots, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, as enabling technologies, would also play a larger role in manufacturing. Thus, it is important to explore their appropriateness in the Indian context. Digitalisation is a vital ingredient in manufacturing, and the way to implement it also needs to be considered.
Hence, to be in the right direction in this journey of digitalisation, it is important to ponder upon the key question: Where should one begin their journey of digitalisation? There is no single formula to it and each company truly has its own unique roadmap. For example, if in a company, energy is a key cost ingredient, then automation in its monitoring and effective usage could be the entry point in automation.
Thus, appropriate automation is a cost-effective solution and large and small companies need to consider these options. The enabling technologies are creating a level playing field and every company must automate and move on to the next level or perish in the long run.