“Manufacturing strategy derives automation strategy”
What would be the key trends vis-à-vis market requirements that will drive automation & robotic technology in the years to come?
There are quite a few interesting developments happening now in
manufacturing, especially in the discrete parts manufacturing. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I feel that we may be in the fourth stage of manufacturing development. In the upcoming fourth stage, we may see the end of mass manufacturing and the rise of custom manufacturing again. Small batch sizes will be designed to a large extent by the customers themselves. For example, Local Motors, a US-based company, allows their customers to design their own cars with a kind of user-friendly software,where you can choose components, colours, materials and features. The next trends are, of course, by now very well hyped that are Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Big Data and cyber physical systems.
How do you make sure that you are prepared with the right technology and strategy to ensure the success of the automation project?
The automation strategy derived from the manufacturing strategy will dictate what technology should be used. If one decides to go for newer technology, then first a small pilot project should be implemented and assessed first before making any larger investments. The people deployed on the project have to be technically competent, well-trained and committed to meeting the set targets. Lastly, there should be a ‘buy-in’ secured from the manufacturing people, as their active participation will be an important factor in the successful implementation of the automation project.
What would be your recommendations on drawing a full roadmap for automation as a strategy in the long term?
It will be largely dictated by the manufacturing strategy. Do the customers want integrated small agile factories or is it one large factory? What parameters of safety, quality and hygiene are to be met? How integrated will the manufacturing be, in the entire supply chain of the company? Answering these questions will then lead to formulating the automation strategy.
What are in general the challenges posed by manufacturers while leveraging automation? How do you address them?
There has to be a good reason for manufacturers to embrace automation. Automation has to offer a great value add, such as improved quality, less waste, more visibility from the business side, flexible throughput and so on. When presented with such value addition, most manufacturing managements will happily embrace it. Automation is a force multiplier on many levels; it is not just to save labour cost, which may be an incidental side benefit. Lastly, the role of safety and security has to be considered while implementing new automation technology.
Do you think the factories in India are future ready? Are they equipped enough to adapt to advanced technologies in the existing supply chain? What would be the first step going forward in this direction?
Indian factories range from 18th century technology to 21st century hi-tech factories. So, some factories are future-ready, while others are not. The good news is that those factories that operate with the latest technology here, are as good if not better than in any developed country. There is an opportunity for older factories to implement the latest automation technologies, at a fraction of the cost that it would have been done, say, a decade ago. So, this is a huge opportunity for these factories to upgrade themselves and reap benefits. The first step would be to decide a manufacturing strategy.