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TRENDS IN ROBOTICS INDUSTRY Rise of the robots

Jun 20, 2022

With India’s automotive, electronics and white goods sectors witnessing phenomenal growth in recent years, the demand for industrial robots is also soaring. Both international and domestic automotive manufacturers use robots these days for a range of activities on the shop floor, especially repetitive and monotonous tasks. Increasingly, other industries are following suit. The Cover Story brings to light the promising robotics industry and the future it holds.

Robots and art? Why not? ABB Robotics has collaborated with two world-renowned artists, eight-year-old Indian child prodigy Advait Kolarkar and Dubai-based digital design collective Illusorr, to create the world’s first robot-painted art car. ABB’s award-winning PixelPaint technology has, without human intervention, perfectly recreated Advait’s swirling, monochromatic design as well as Illusorr’s tri-colour geometrical patterns. Equipped with 1,000 nozzles in printer head, ABB’s IRB 5,500 paint robots were able to complete highly complex artworks in less than 30 minutes.

The PixelPaint technology demonstrates unprecedented precision and speed, capturing intricate, elaborate detail that would be impossible to achieve by hand. Sami Atiya, President – Robotics and Discrete Automation Business area, ABB, said, “ABB’s PixelPaint technology is more than an evolution – it is a revolution. It’s a shining example of how robotic automation and our RobotStudio® software can not only pave the way for more sustainable manufacturing but can also perfectly replicate delicate pieces of art that celebrate the originality and beauty of the human spirit. At a time when consumers want more customised products, PixelPaint is a game-changer and allows any design to be replicated in a manner that is both sustainable and affordable.”

ABB’s ground-breaking PixelPaint technology reimagines the paint application process and reflects the growing demand for sustainable personalisation in automotive industry, particularly in exterior paint. Multi-coloured car painting has traditionally been a laborious and costly process involving multiple stages of masking & unmasking, but ABB’s technology allows for a detailed, colourful, and exact replication of any design. Carefully controlled, the paint can quickly be applied in a single application. This breakthrough in the automation of the paint process opens the door to specialised and personalised designs to the automotive market.

Industrial applications

While the use of robots in creating artistic expressions may be new, their application in industry is of course widely acknowledged. One may recall here an incident from the year 2017 when a power plant in Gujarat saved millions of rupees using a start-up’s robot. Power generation at the Tata plant had come to a halt after a hammer fell into a high-pressure steam pipe. A start-up was called to pull out the hammer using one of its robots. The operation cost the plant around ₹16 lakhs. The expenditure would have spiked to the tune of ₹5 crore had the engineers at the plant decided to retrieve the hammer themselves.

The start-up, Gridbots Technologies, was set up by entrepreneurs Pulkit Gaur and Govind Godara. The duo made modifications to the robot at their office in Ahmedabad and spent a whole day rehearsing their plan of action, before heading out to Mundra. “As soon as we reached there, we realised a serious modification was required in the robot’s gripper to pull out the hammer from a depth of 15 metres. What made work difficult was the 90 degree curvature of the pipeline. However, we could locate the hammer within 30 minutes of commencing the operation,” Gaur had then said. Of course robots have come a long way since then and the latest developments in this field would be on show at Automatica 2022 to be held in Munich from June 21-24. One of the leading companies in this sector, KUKA Robotics would be displaying a wide range from new robots to digital twins.

“This year, Automatica is the driving force for industrial production after the crisis triggered by the pandemic,” said Wilfried Eberhardt, Chief Marketing Officer, KUKA Robotics. “Automation, robotics and digitisation are the growth drivers of our time – and KUKA Robotics is an ideal partner for their implementation,” he added. The trade fair audience will get exclusive insights into the new operating system iiQKA.OS and the digital iiQKA Ecosystem. The new operating system is the future way to work with KUKA robots: intuitive, fast and powerful. The Cobot LBR iisy is the first of its kind to run on the basis of the new operating system and can thus be configured and programmed within minutes. The automation specialist is thus also expanding its portfolio in the field of lightweight robotics.

“With the complete system of hardware and software, KUKA Robotics is lowering the entry threshold for robotics, especially for smaller and medium-sized companies – and opening up great automation potential, even for beginners. Intelligent connected production is essential for fast-growing markets. KUKA Robotics meets the enormous demand for automation with suitable products and its own portfolios for sectors such as the electronics and consumer goods industries, as well as automation solutions for electro-mobility. At Automatica, interested visitors can get to know the new small robot series, such as the ultra-compact KR SCARA and the hygienic robot KR DELTA, which will be presented in a cell by the first KUKA Robotics’ system partner Koch Robotersysteme,” a press note states.

KUKA Robotics is placing a special focus on digital transformation, paving the way to ‘digital factory’ – to be experienced in presentations during the trade fair. Visitors will learn which solutions KUKA Robotics offers for today’s production requirements. This already starts with the planning of new systems. The simulation software KUKA.Sim, for example, makes it possible to program robotic applications offline, commission them virtually, save time and work more efficiently. For this purpose, KUKA.Sim creates a digital twin – an image of the subsequent production process – for maximum planning reliability. The digital twin maps the production process and ensures planning reliability before commissioning.

A symbiotic relationship

In addition to hardware, software is also becoming increasingly important, including the AI-based KUKA AIVI master controller. It is revolutionising intra-logistics, where it ensures the optimal flow of materials to the production line and the perfect utilisation of automated guided vehicle systems. All this goes to show that Industry 4.0 definitely has created more room for robotics. There were less than 100 robots made annually for industries in India about 15 years ago, and now 5,000 to 6,000 robots are built every year. Yet, India is still around 5-6 years behind China in automation, which implies the scope that lies ahead. Consider for example the Pune-based Cybernetik Technologies, an automation and robotics firm.

It was recently reported that the company has worked with Green Mountain Firewood, which supplies synthetic logs, primarily in the US market. It integrated a cooling tunnel in the processing line to help eliminate bottlenecks, while also automating key processes, such as bag-packing and palletising, to produce over 4,000 logs an hour, far more than earlier. They also work with players across segments in India, such as BASF, Sanofi, Bayer, and automobile and automotive component leaders such as Bajaj Auto and Bharat Forge, to help automate key processes, and keep employees safe.

Research is the key

Another major investment area is research and development for providing solutions related to Industry 4.0. Laboratories for this purpose are being set up in collaboration with industries, educational institutions & the government. One such is the Centre for Industry 4. 0 based in Pune. It regularly holds engagement and capacity-building sessions with both small and large players. It works with industries to help them adopt new manufacturing technologies. Their most recent session was with a number of start-ups in sensing technology space. The domestic manufacturing sector spent about $5.5-6.5 billion on Industry 4.0 solutions in 2020-21, accounting for half of all technology spending by Indian manufacturers, states a report on the Industry 4.0 scenario of the Indian industry, published by NASSCOM and Capgemini.

Much of that investment was by the automotive, electronics and electricals, chemicals and pharmaceutical segments. For instance, power and automation solutions major ABB has implemented its Industry 4. 0 solutions at some of its own factories in India, and is doing the same for customers like JSW and Sterling and Wilson. For Ola’s new massive factory in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, ABB robots built in Bengaluru are used on the painting and welding lines and for the battery and motor assembly lines. The automation solution ensures remote digital connectivity and monitoring of the robots. Interestingly, India was the 11th largest market among the world’s 15 largest industrial robot installation markets, outpacing Singapore, Canada, Thailand and the Czech Republic, prior to the pandemic.

Robots take the lead

India’s robotic start-up ecosystem has been seeing a lot of traction. For example, in July 2019, US global aerospace and defence company Lockheed Martin signed a MoU with a Kochi-based robotic start-up to develop robots to test the avionics display of their fighter jets, including the F-21. The robotic Indian start-up Sastra Robotics, which builds innovative robotic platforms for product testing and review in the manufacturing industry, will be mentored by this US giant and probably become their supplier in the near future. Last year, the Walmart-owned Flipkart, announced that for the first time they have deployed 100 robots to help sort out packages according to their location at one of its delivery hubs in Bengaluru.

The robots were able to process over 4,500 packages in an hour, helping the e-commerce firm to streamline its supply chain. German automotive component maker, Bosch’s Bidadi plant has cobots or collaborative robots, working alongside humans. As robots gain ground in India steadily, many deeptech robotic start-ups are emerging on the Indian start-up landscape. Indian start-ups, which are growing at 12-15% with a cumulative valuation of $56-62 billion, are seeing a surge in deep tech start-ups, says a NASSCOM study. There are 30+ robotic start-ups in multiple fields such as health technology, automotive, industrial manufacturing, financial technology, consumer robotics and defence.

The innovations are varied: there is weed spraying robotic solutions for small cotton farmers from a Bengaluru-based agritech and robotics platform start-up Tartan Sense; robots for waterless cleaning of solar panels from Nocca Robotics; a manual scavenger robot called Bandicoot by Genrobotic Innovations; robots to entertain kids like Miko from Mumbai-based creator Emotix and humanoid robots to greet visitors at banks, restaurants and technology events in India by Bengaluru-based Invento Robotics. A big success story has been that of Grey Orange, which designs and manufactures AI-powered robots for flexible automation in fulfilment centres. This company started by BITS Pilani graduates Samay Kohli and Akash Gupta in 2011, deploys its advanced robots in fulfilment centres across India, Japan, Europe, Latin America and the US and has carved a niche for itself in the global warehouse automation and robotics circuit.

Market forecast

According to a report published by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), the Indian market for industrial robots is expected to double over the next three to four years. The primary reason for using robots in India is to get consistent quality that is ensured by the repetitive accuracy of the robot. Another reason is flexible manufacturing of multiple product models and the need to ramp up production significantly to meet market demands. Most of the industrial robots that are bought by companies are used for a variety of operations, including welding, paint finishing and material handling operations. Considering the tremendous potential for growth in India, ABB set up a robotics application centre for body-in-white (BIW) systems in Bengaluru. The centre has been set up to locally design, engineer and deliver BIW lines in India for automobile OEMs. KUKA Robotics has also established a presence in Gurugram in national capital region. Japanese automation and robots major Fanuc also has a strong presence across India, providing technical support for factory automation, and marketing its robots and industrial automation products. Globally, the industrial robotics market was worth around $41.7 billion in 2021 and is estimated to grow to about $81.4 billion by 2028, with a compound annual growth rate of approximately 11.8% over the forecast period.

Catching investors’ interest

Investors are banking on these start-ups since they anticipate momentum to pick up in this sector due to India’s large and promising engineering and technology talent pool. Robotics requires talent in multiple streams like computer science with electrical and mechanical engineering. Experts say that software such as AI, natural language processing and computer vision that provide differentiation drives the industry. When it comes to data analytics, AI & Machine Learning, India has a lot to offer, industry experts point out. Of course, there are challenges too such as the lack of a hardware ecosystem, financial incentives, critical human resources and willingness to deploy robots.

Image Gallery

  • Globally, the industrial robotics market is estimated to grow to about $81.4 billion by 2028

  • Creating the world’s first robot-painted art car

  • Research and development for providing robotic solutions related to Industry 4.0 is now gaining momentum

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