Automation in Indian Industries – Some Solutions
After talking about opportunities and challenges, Rahul Dhinakaran suggests some solutions in this concluding part on automation in the Indian industries.
Solutions in automation
In the previous article we had discussed the Opportunities and Challenges for Automation in Indian Industries. As a follow up this article would be about how some automation solutions have to evolve to suit the Indian market.
Almost all medium to large size manufacturing industries are divided based on the assembly lines in the shop floor. Every division will have its own supervisor in the designation of an assistant manager. It is this assistant manager who is entrusted with the task of bringing automation solutions to the division he/she is assigned to.
The whole activity would go as follows:
- Study the whole division material flow
- Conduct detailed time studies of each process
- Break down each process and study the worker’s operation
- Identify the most time consuming processes, and
- Bring in automation vendors, ask them to study the processes, suggest solutions depending upon RoI.
The solution providers would invariably be system integrators of Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Parker or robotic vendors of ABB, etc.
Invariably the automation requirement would be a pick and place set-up or loading unloading or inspection set-up. After the solution providers study the requirements, they would be providing a solution based on readily available solutions their parent companies have in their portfolio. Depending on the management approval these would be implemented whether in phases or immediately.
There is a good 60% chance (percentage based on my limited experience, could be lower or higher) that these solutions are rejected by the management due to RoI not being less than 3 years. If a solution gets dropped very rarely does that process get another solution, it usually stays the way it is.
Now, this is where, I believe, one more step, studying whether a process really requires an automation solution, in the Automation Requirement Study by the assistant manager would do wonders. In the previous article I had written about how the whole set-up of a shop floor needs to adjust to incorporate an automation solution. Ironically, if the whole shop floor is adjusted to enable smooth material flow then expensive automation can wholly be avoided.
Let us take the example of a hydraulic cylinder assembly in an agricultural equipment manufacturing company. Instead of simply providing a couple of pick and place machines, the material input from the stores to the output of finished product was studied and depending upon the management acceptable RoI a solution was presented and implemented.
The solution started with custom designed Material Input Trolleys, which when locked to the first sub-assembly process would enable smooth, fatigue free movement of material from trolley to work bench. The work benches were designed so that material movement between each sub-assembly process would require next to zero effort from the worker.
The reason of coming up with such solutions instead of hard core automation solutions is because of the uniqueness of the Indian automation requirements. Automation in Indian industries is not usually a simple plug and play job. RoI is one of the main factors. Very rarely does a management agree for RoIs more than 3 years, except in the case of robots where RoI calculation is different. Considering the labour costs of assembly line workers in India the cost of machinery to replace 1 or 2 workers (usually small scale automation involves replacing a maximum of 3 assembly line workers) is very low. The solution providers are usually American or European (that 90% of their products are manufactured in China or Taiwan is another matter). The costs of the solutions rarely match the RoI requirements.
For automation to succeed in India, the solutions have to evolve according to the requirements of the local market. What works in the US or Europe rarely works here. Replacing workers with automation solutions is also frowned upon simply because of the unemployment it causes. Instead of replacing workers the solutions, especially to markets like India, should work together with the assembly line worker and improve his productivity and output quality which is anyway to main reason for automation in industries.
(Rahul Dhinakaran, Automation Machinery Design Consultant, helps industries design and build pick and place robots, gantry robotic systems, pneumatic presses/fixtures, hydraulic systems, etc. Rahul works under the banner Kalki Technologies of which he is the founder, designing and building machines since 2004. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Image1: The 3D model of the re-designed workspace.
Image2: The process flow.