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ROBOTICS & HANDLING The role of automation & robotics in the automotive industry

Nov 7, 2019

Automation is taking over industries and the automotive industry is no stranger to it. The auto industry is introducing more advanced robots and bringing about other progressive technologies. Collaborative robots, robotic arms and IoT are already generating a huge part of automobiles. The Viewpoint section discusses the latest trends in automation in the automotive sector, the role of digitalisation in the industry and how to handle the ever-changing requirements of customers.

Digitalisation today, is converting industries to become more transparent - Rajesh Kumar Sharma, Head - Information & Communication Technology, Fiat India Automobiles

Trends in automation are a very generic term. However, industries, and especially, automotive industries, are certainly trying to become a benchmark for others. They are visualising and converting their plants into a world-class manufacturing unit for their own organisational need. And for all this, digitalisation of their environment, dash boarding to capture results & applying analytical tools to get meaningful insight for decision-making are some trends which have become very common today.

Digitalisation today, is converting industries to become more transparent, more visual and more organised. With data that is getting generated due to digitalisation, things are becoming easier and simpler. Analytics of the highest order is being experienced, giving deep insight of the issue & better understanding of the root cause. By working in this environment, skill is certainly going up through mutual participation and paving better and healthy working conditions.

Today, the need of any business is to do things in an optimum way so that everything will be fast and quickly adaptable. Not only more things are being manufactured from the same line, now, but a great amount of variations have cropped up. The need to meet the market demand is on the higher side, which includes open orders & made to orders. If manufacturers don’t change themselves under such a scenario, it will create a big problem for their business. This is where flexibility comes into the picture; manufacturing lines, today, need to be so flexible that come what may, the product is made as per the market requirement & customers’ expectation. And in all this, automation has a very big role to play. With this role of automation, the strategy has to be long & clear. Organisations need to understand what their target is and activities need to be broken to meet the long-term target. Choosing the right partner who can design the automation requirement also has got a big role to play. So, the simple approach towards automation should get reflected in the business plan in a phased manner.

With automation solutions, more jobs on the shop floor are safer - Ninad Deshpande, Head of Marketing & Corporate Communication, India, B&R Industrial Automation

Conveyor systems have been prevalent in the automotive industry for decades. Improving machine and line availability and reducing downtimes is essential in giving rise to predictive maintenance and condition-based maintenance practices. Manufacturing various variants on a single line has been in practice in many automotive manufacturing sites for some years now, owing to various scalable, modular automation solutions. However, today, consumers are demanding personalised components in vehicles, which are adding a focus on such manufacturing practices to be adopted by tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers. In both the areas, automation solutions, such as, linear track systems as a replacement of conveyors, makes the dream of batch size-1 production a reality as economical as mass production and benefit from quick time to market. Further, solutions can enhance quality and reduce rejection and wastage by adding inspection systems in line.

A clear understanding of requirements at all levels and entities involved, awareness of available technologies and existing gaps in existing processes are the building blocks while developing a strategy towards technology adoptions. Moreover, a roadmap for implementation and a systematic approach towards implementation of these next generation automation solutions paves the path for a successful implementation. An ideal strategy for every site and factory is unique and there is no guideline for such technology adoptions. It is very important that an organisation identifies the gaps in its existing processes and implements the solutions which help in filling these gaps in order to reap benefits from technology.

With digitisation and automation solutions, more jobs on the shop floor are safer, with machines having a reduced footprint. With human robots collaboration and cobots, the boundaries between humans and robots have diminished. The working environments would definitely see a further upward shift. Change being the only constant, reskilling of work force will surely play a vital role. There would be existing jobs, which might be expected to become obsolete. At all levels, there would be a definite need for work force upgradation, training and reskilling.

Organisations need to develop the necessary mindset towards digitalisation - Pravin Saraf, President, Endurance Technologies

The latest trends in automation are robotic collaboration, machine vision, Additive Manufacturing, etc. Today, the manufacturing industry is facing a challenge when it comes to reducing product life cycle, high number of variants and bringing down time to market. With all these premises, the customer expects high product quality and lower cost. One of the solutions to this is automation; automation in design, sample manufacturing, product inspection and validation in development phase ensures that the product is introduced in the market in the shortest time with high quality. While doing automation, the industry should define the scope for automation and define a team for automation implementation. It should also select the automation tool, which is important, but not the solution to everything.

While selecting the tool, different topics need to be considered, like what is the pain area, is the tool familiar for the resources and is it addressing the pain area. One should implement automation with a dedicated team and continue with the same team till the automation is stabilised and the desired results are achieved.

Plus, the use of digitalisation is helping automation even further; the nature of the job and roles are changing and many new dimensions are getting added into it. The pattern of work is also changing, which needs a new set of competence in the organisation. Organisations need to focus on developing the necessary mindset and skill sets towards digitalisation. Many organisations start the training program from top management and then move towards the lower level of management. Digitalisation is improving the transparency, accuracy and helping with decision making. In fact, in many cases, the decision making can be automated with the help of digitalisation.

Digitalisation has started shifting from the wish list to the need list - Sachinkumar Gorlewar, Chief Robotics Officer, Griffyn Robotech

Automation has been a boon to the automotive industries to take over the dull, dirty and dangerous work and get the consistent quality with an increased production rate. Today, the operators’ morale is very high on getting an opportunity to work on advanced automation technologies, and hence, they are now capable of responding to any market change. Since the last few years, new product in every quarter has been the key to having a competitive edge in the automotive market. This induces lots of load on existing manufacturing facilities. Robot-based automation solutions have the capability to adopt the upcoming products’ manufacturing with minor changes into gripper and feeding system. Besides, the strategy should be automation based around articulate robots instead of SPMs.

Robotics and automation have the largest market share in the automotive industry in India and many applications, like painting, welding, machine tending and gluing are automated. Considering the increasing volume of automation and minimal human intervention, it becomes necessary to inspect the output coming out from the automation cell. A new trend is various inspection technologies loaded with machine learning and deep learning, along with robotics and automation. This will make the production line more robust to quality parameters over a period.

What’s more, digitalisation is coming in a big way. Almost every company has developed a roadmap to enter Industry 4.0. Implementation of digitisation will help companies to surface out the hidden losses into production system. Optimisation of hidden losses will require enhancing the skill of the operators and will have a very positive impact on the working environment of the company. As it turns out, digitalisation has started shifting from the ‘wish list’ to the ‘need list’.

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  • Rajesh Kumar Sharma

    Head - Information & Communication Technology

    Fiat India Automobiles

  • Ninad Deshpande

    Head of Marketing & Corporate Communication, India

    B&R Industrial Automation

  • Pravin Saraf

    President

    Endurance Technologies

  • Sachinkumar Gorlewar

    Chief Robotics Officer

    Griffyn Robotech

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