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COLLABORATIVE ROBOTS Cobots helping ‘Make in India’

Apr 17, 2020

Bajaj Auto – one of the leading two-wheeler manufacturing companies in India – was rapidly expanding its production capabilities due to the growing scale of multiple models and the wide-ranging number of vehicles supplied in the market. The key was to find a standardised automation solution that could provide the productivity and reliability that the company’s workers could capitalise on. Another company, New Engineering Works – an SME – was looking for a space-saving, flexible automation solution that would enable them to manufacture round the clock and keep up with the increasing demand for their auto components. This article discusses the experience of these two companies with cobots from Universal Robots. The first case study looks at how Bajaj Auto standardised quality and empowered its workforce by deploying cobots on the assembly line to handle strenuous tasks. The second case study discusses how collaborative robots from Universal Robots handle CNC machine tending at New Engineering Works and led it to delivering 40% growth and the ability to manufacture 24/7.

Case Study I

The Indian manufacturer, Bajaj Auto, is the world’s third largest motorcycle manufacturer and the second largest manufacturer of two-wheelers in India. In their mission to uphold the very highest levels of quality, the company boldly deployed the very first collaborative robots (cobots) in India in the year 2010. Today, Bajaj Auto’s plant in Chakan, Maharashtra, has approximately 150 cobots in the assembly line.

Collaborative robots, unlike robots, are created to share a common space and work alongside employees to increase productivity. Pioneered by Universal Robots, cobots have advanced safety features, including a protective stop that is enabled when an object obstructs its path, making it safe to work alongside humans, without the need for any cumbersome caging or fencing. This is unlike their industrial robot predecessors, which have the potential to harm humans.

Looking for standardised automation solution

While standardisation of models was a key tenet of Bajaj’s success in the market, it was rapidly expanding its production capabilities due to the growing scale of multiple models and the wide-ranging number of vehicles supplied in the market. The key then was to find a standardised automation solution that could be horizontally deployed and could provide the productivity, flexibility and reliability that Bajaj’s workers could capitalise upon. The leadership team at Bajaj also wanted to empower the company’s female staff, which comprised 50% of their workforce. The research, passion and innovation of the team led them to collaborative robots from Universal Robots, a Danish cobot manufacturer with the world’s largest cobot market share.

After three months of extensive testing of Universal Robots’ cobots at its facilities, Bajaj deployed UR cobots as a standardised solution for all its functional requirements. Several processes, such as bolt tightening, material handling and machine tending were handled by cobots and Bajaj employees, working side-by-side on the assembly line. The Bajaj team even engineered new decal applications, which are now patented by Bajaj, which is yet another testament to the ease of use of this niche technology.

Commenting on the benefits of human-robot collaboration for the company, Vikas Sawhney, Vice President – Engineering, Bajaj Auto, said, “Two-wheeler assembly lines are highly labour-intensive, spatially challenged and they have physically taxing movements that require high-end precision. While trying to automate these lines, one of the basic requirements was standardisation. The key benefits of Universal Robots’ products, such as their compactness, low payback period, flexibility, light weight, cost-effectiveness, accuracy and their safety, is what ultimately convinced Bajaj Auto about the suitability of Universal Robots for its standardised offerings.”

Handling cobots with ease

Along with the reduction in ergonomic risks and a significant increase in the productivity and overall proficiency of the company, cobots also offered zero annual maintenance costs, reduced power consumption and retention of IP within the company, which organically drove the growth of the organisation forward. Additionally, the once strenuous tasks handled by many women at Bajaj Auto are now handled with ease as employees are trained in handling the cobots themselves.

Rameshwari, an assembly line operator at Bajaj Auto, commented on her experience of working with cobots and said, “Thanks to the high-quality output I achieve with the cobots, I feel very proud of my accomplishments. Operating this advanced technology is very interesting and easy, and all the physically challenging parts are taken care of by it. The other female staff and I enjoy working with these cobots.”

Best progress doesn’t need to make noise

Bajaj Auto continues pioneering the automotive industry with the cobot technology, which has even been implemented in the assembly line of the company’s very first electric scooter, the Bajaj Chetak. Their advanced ‘Silent Factory’ started operating towards the end of 2019 and quietly implements human-robot collaboration with cobots to illustrate that the best progress doesn’t need to make any noise.

Case Study II

New Engineering Works, an SME, was started in 1996. It has been in the manufacturing of hydraulic, pneumatic, engine and brake components for commercial vehicles. Aside from numerous medium-scale companies, the company also manufactures components for some of India’s largest automotive giants, including Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland and Brakes India.

New Engineering Works experienced a continuous increase in demand for hydraulic, pneumatic and engine components for commercial vehicles and realised the need to automate repetitive production tasks. The company, however, had limited space and did not want large machines with limited output occupying their shop floor. It was looking for an agile, automation solution that would facilitate the addition of a third eight-hour shift, thereby enabling them to manufacture round the clock.

That’s when the company installed its first cobot by Universal Robots in 2016 and has purchased seven cobots within a span of 18 months. The company has a small and large components division with collaborative robots being perfect for the small components division.

Hassle-free and easy to use

Each of the cobots fit perfectly between two CNC machines, occupying limited space on the shop floor, while facilitating the tending of 12 CNC machines at a time. They are as easy as using a smartphone – hassle-free and easy to program & set up. The workers have learnt to operate UR cobots with no prior training.

Skyrocketing productivity

New Engineering Works has also seen a 40% growth in production since the deployment of cobots in their manufacturing plant. The manufacturer is now able to run 24/7, thanks to cobots enabling a third eight-hour shift, thereby skyrocketing their productivity. The cobots work side-by-side with humans on the shop floor, enabling safe and efficient production. The installation of cobots has led to the automation of processes and reduced the cost per component.

“Investing in cobots does not mean I am letting go off my workforce; rather, I am training them to deliver more meaningful work, like quality checks, handle Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs) and inspection,” said Binod Kumar Agarwal, Managing Partner, New Engineering Works, who can now explore more business opportunities. He encourages more SMEs to include cobots in their manufacturing processes. “Cobots open up a lot more opportunities, are affordable for the small-scale industry and deliver a great ROI,” he added.

“Being an SME, land is a valuable asset for us. Traditional industrial robots with their required fencing take up a lot of space on the shop floor. UR cobots fit between two machines in the factory and we can just plug-and-play as required. We have used the cobots for a year and a half now and it has been a great experience. There is no better robot in the country than UR cobots for our small components division,” asserted Divesh Debuka, Management Representative, New Engineering Works.

Challenges solved & key values

Some of the automation challenges solved by using the cobots by Universal Robots were reduced cost per component and allowing workers to focus on more skilled work, with no loss of jobs. The key value drivers New Engineering Works experienced was flexibility and space-saving, with no fencing requirements. Plus, it had the benefit of quick ROI, plug-and-play and led to encouragement of job satisfaction and higher skilled labour, as workers are now taught more meaningful tasks.

Courtesy: Universal Robots

Image Gallery

  • The once strenuous tasks handled by many women at Bajaj Auto are now handled with ease

    The once strenuous tasks handled by many women at Bajaj Auto are now handled with ease

  • The workers at New Engineering Works have learnt to operate UR cobots with no prior training

    The workers at New Engineering Works have learnt to operate UR cobots with no prior training

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