How do you oversee the evolution of the welding industry in India in terms of technology upgradation, automation and communication technologies?
I would like to place the welding industry in India in two buckets—one, the users and other, the manufacturers. User segment has taken a big leap and is probably moving parallel to global users in adopting the technology. The users have moved forward from simple manual arc welding and gas brazing to the use of automation & robotics to carry out welding using continuous wires and MIG welding. The use of welding power source has advanced from analogue machines to invertor-based welding machines.
The welding products and process manufacturing units in India have not been able to keep the pace with the technology and there are still gaps in variety and the sizes of solid wires produced in India. There is also gap in the welding power source used or demanded by the customers and what is manufactured in India. This leaves no choice with the customers other than to use imported products by either directly importing it or buying from local offices of global manufacturers or through their authorised agents. To turn this around, there need to be a strong research and manufacturing approach in our country.
How do you define the concept of ‘Intelligentised Welding’? What role do advanced concepts such as Industry 4.0, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence play in welding technology?
The trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies is called Industry 4.0 and its adaption creates smart factory. In welding operation, the important aspect is controlling parameters like arc gap, speed and weaving. Now, the welding power source can be programmed to follow set parameters to carry out the welding automatically by connecting the power source to robots. As per the latest development, welding power source can be programmed to think on its own and decide on arc gap. The machine program can be controlled remotely from any location in the world using internet. Such welding operations carried out using the digital enablers often called intelligent welding.
Can you highlight the major challenges and opportunities witnessed in the Indian welding sector?
Indian welding industry will have a strong growth owing to expected growth in infrastructure, auto, defence and capital goods segment. This will govern the growth in consumables, power source and automated welding. The biggest challenge will be for the welding product and welding power source manufacturers to compete with the products and process imported from China, Korea and Europe. I am afraid that unless the manufacturing segment in India prepares themselves for meeting the demand of customer by technology, quality and price, they may lose out on huge opportunities in future.
What is your take on the growing implementation of robotic welding in recent years over manual welding?
The awareness regarding robotic welding is steadily growing in India. The MNCs who have set up manufacturing units in India have adapted to robotic welding as it is done in their parent country. The big corporates where welding is carried out as repetitive operation have also adopted robotic welding generally. Most of the MSME segments have still not adopted robotic welding owing to high initial investment and ROI issues. Construction industry which forms a big segment of on-site welding has not gone for robotic welding and to a large extent, not even considered it. The future will see the transformation in MSME segment and that will change the scenario of robotic welding in India at a very fast pace.
How important is skilling and re-skilling the workforce that is engaged in the welding sector and related operations? Can you point out the initiatives taken by the GOI as well as the industry to address this issue?
Welding, per say, has progressed beyond manual welding where the skill required was steady hand and controlling the speed, feed and weaving. Currently, the power source in combination with robots are programmed to take care of these aspects. This will necessitate developing the skill of setting the parameters on the machine and understanding the programing of machines in addition to the basic concept of welding.
GOI has taken steps and empowered the universities and the ITIs to take steps and redesign the curriculum. The aids are provided to help procure capital equipment. The government is also providing help and subsidiary to private organisations to set up training institutes as per the guidelines provided. Many of the manufacturers have also taken initiatives in providing training to improve the skills of welders in line with job requirements.
What are the parameters required for the welding industry to be future-ready?
Important areas to become future-ready will be technology, quality, skill and safety. The step which needs to be taken immediately is creating a connect between research institutes and the manufacturers to commercialise the successful development done by research bodies and to jointly work out future research areas and provide necessary funding for the same. It is a pleasure to see the youngsters work on robots and display their work in various technological fairs and forums, but it is a matter of concern that we still import most of the robots. Government may look into and create a scenario for the MNC, who are presently operating here on the basis of import and sell, to manufacture robots and advanced welding power sources in India itself.
It will be worthwhile to start paid internships for the ITI welders just after their course completion, making it mandatory for industry to support this initiative. To sum up, there has to be systematic interactions between the users, manufacturers and the researchers to take joint steps rather than operating in silos.
How do you foresee the future of the welding industry in India?
I see growth in consumption and the latest technologies being available to Indian customers. I also see the consolidation taking place and India getting aligned with global leaders of welding products and process manufacturers. The biggest lag I foresee is in the research area and India may remain dependent on the technologies developed abroad. The skill availability will see a gap but may not pose a big challenge as users and manufacturers are gearing up fast on re-skilling.