If you look at the use of robots today, what would the market penetration look like in India and globally?
The automotive industry (including the tier 1, 2, 3 suppliers) is the largest user of robots in India. But when it comes to consumer goods, electronics, medical industry, etc, we are largely dependent on imports. Consequently, the use of robots in these industries is low. Globally, the use of industrial robots is spreading rapidly among non-automotive industries and into non-traditional areas (energy, farming, buildings, etc). The growth in these areas is very rapid in high-tech economies like, Korea, Singapore, USA, Western Europe, Japan and even China, which is preparing itself for the upcoming labour shortage.
What is the greatest challenge facing the global robotics industry today?
Execution, deployment and technical support are some of the greatest challenges faced by the global robotics industry today. Given the fragmented nature of the industry, skill development in robot systems deployment is the need of the hour in order to enable large-scale usage and meet user expectations.
What do you think about robot malfunctions in a factory? How frequent are the incidences and what are the possible reasons?
There are various reasons for a robot to malfunction, such as, faulty hardware/software, lack of understanding customer needs, improper maintenance, lack of skilled automation manpower, etc. For a properly designed, executed and maintained automation system, the uptime of the system should be better than 95%.
Can a robot self-diagnose a malfunction and avoid causing any damage? What role can the human play here?
Most modern robots do have self-diagnostic features. Companies deploying industrial robots should have well-trained production and maintenance teams to carry out regular checks on wear parts and conduct routine maintenance procedures to prevent catastrophic failures from occurring.
The robotics industry has undergone a huge change in terms of technology and applications. Can you highlight the latest trends?
It is becoming easier and more intuitive to program robots. Collaborative robots enable humans and robots to work together, thereby creating a safer and friendly production environment. Conventional robots mounted on Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) enable them to be deployed over a larger area.
What are some misconceptions of a robot and its use in the factory?
A popular misconception among factory owners/managers is that deploying robots in their shop-floors will instantly solve all their production issues related to quality, productivity and labour problems. However, deploying robots requires a lot of preparation – these include a clear problem statement, understanding which tasks can be automated and which cannot, budget and resource allocation and justification of the investment, an automation roadmap, setting small and achievable automation milestones, selecting the right automation partners, and persistence in the face of initial set-backs.
Do you think the increasing use of robots will affect human jobs? If all the repetitive tasks become automated, what happens to the low-end jobs?
Robots will take away labour-intensive, repetitive and unsafe jobs. This will enable human resources to be employed in more productive and value-added activities. The robot industry will create opportunities for automation system designers, technicians, programmers, maintenance crews, integrators, sales and service personnel. This will require large scale re-skilling, including investment in training. Embracing and preparing for the robotics revolution would be the most prudent approach in order to propel India into the group of high-technology manufacturing nations.