‘In India, our focus is primarily on the SME sector’
Excerpts from an e-interview with Pradeep David, General Manager, Universal Robots – South Asia.
Use of Robotics In various Industries.
UR has a direct presence in the Indian market for two years now. How has the company fared during this period?
Universal Robots is the leading manufacturers of advanced user-friendly and light industrial collaborative robotic arms (cobots) from Denmark. We entered the Indian market in February 2016 and since then have been successful in deploying 400 cobots majorly in the automotive industry and its ancillaries, followed by FMCG, electronics, and R&D centres.
We have been doubling every year for the last 2 years. The multi-fold growth is attributed to high RoI rates and low price of collaborative robots leading to growing attraction from SMEs, and increasing investments in automation by industries to support Industry 4.0.
What is the UR range of robots available in terms of types and payload capacities?
Universal Robots has pioneered the concept of cobots and has deployed them globally in a wide range of industries ranging from automotive, packaging, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, metal working, and manufacturing. We manufacture 3 robotic arms, namely, UR3, UR5 and UR10 which have a payload capacity of 3 kg, 5 kg and 10 kg respectively. With the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) set to grow, they are eager to adopt this technology.
Are UR products truly universal in the sense of applications in any type of task or are there limitations?
The Universal Robots’ robotic arms can automate virtually anything; from assembly to painting, picking and placing screw driving, labelling, packing, polishing, gluing, dispensing, deburring, grinding welding, palletizing, machine tending and injection moulding and whatever other tasks you can think of and thus can be implemented virtually in any industry, by any operator without special robotic training. The fact that the robot can be used as an extension of the human arm, The collaborative robots can also be incorporated in all manufacturing processes.
What are the segments that are best suited for application of cobots?
Cobots these days are creating tremendous advancements in industrial processes by offering variety of applications (depending on the industry) like pick & place, injection moulding, CNC, packaging, assembly, polishing, machine trending, gluing as well as dispensing and welding in the safest, economical and highly flexible way possible. With a very user-friendly interface, the robot can be hand-guided and reproduce the same path for multiple manipulations.
Are Indian companies still wary about automation technologies and robots at workplaces? Is RoI a factor?
Industrial robots are usually preferred in large manufacturing plants for activities like assembly line, dispensing, welding and even processing. For years manufacturers have been wary of implementing such robots simply because of safety concerns and as they are space consuming, heavy and expensive, especially considering the fact that they require a safety cage or enclosure to avoid any contact while co-working with humans. Human and robot system interaction in industrial settings is now possible due to ISO/TS 15066, a new ISO technical specification for collaborative robot system safety. The certification legitimises these robot systems or Cobots and ensures that they are properly safeguarded to work alongside the workforce.
Cobots are also typically less expensive than any industrial robot. Often, companies can see a RoI that is strong enough to have a payback within a year. The cost of deploying a collaborative robot will be minimal due to the ease of use, flexibility, small footprint, easy programming and the ability for you to update and maintain the technology in-house.
Collaborative robot technology can be set up easily, programmed, reprogrammed and integrated into a business by virtually anyone, which means you don’t have to employ specially trained engineers or technicians to integrate and maintain the robot, thus saving money and time on recruitment and training processes.
Job losses is often a reason cited against robots, but the industry also faces skills shortage – is there some contradiction here?
India is a labour intensive country and at present, a number of industries are facing labour problems hence our bigger goal is to encourage human robot collaboration in manufacturing. It helps in dealing with the labour problems on one hand, and on the other hand, it offers higher productivity and precision in the manufacturing process.
One of the biggest advantages collaborative robots bring to the workplace is their ability to take over more repetitive and mundane tasks in order to free up employees for more engaging activities. This was evident in the case of Aurolab, an SME, who handle eye care systems, the company associated with Aravind Eye Care Systems, Tamil Nadu. Through use of superior and innovative human-robot collaborative technology, the production improved from 150 to 10,000 Intra Ocular Lenses (IOL) per day. Aurolab have seen a 15% increase in the annual product output. This was a unique scenario where the increase in use of automated machinery that works alongside the employees, has added to the manpower and now, they have made their mark in the international market and export to over 130 countries. The automated machinery has increased affordability, helping people regain vision at lower cost, and has considerably reduced the power consumption and quality problems.
While large companies are now more open to adopt automation and have the budgets, SMEs are still wary. What is your message to them?
Universal Robots works towards making robotic technologies accessible to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and we are also the first mover in the small robot space. In India, our focus is primarily on the SME sector as they have a wider scope to expand and the opportunities are better in the SME sector specifically in tier 2 cities such as Surat, Aurangabad, Jaipur, Indore, and Coimbatore. One of the key challenges here is the availability of capital and the willingness to invest in automotive processes.
According to the PwC survey of manufacturers, 59% of SMEs have invested heavily in automation and robotics technology. For every industry, automating the last 20% of a production line is the most expensive part and human robot collaboration (HRC) is necessary to make automation affordable for SMEs. Cobots create tremendous advancements in industrial processes as they can be programmed by operators adding tremendous flexibility to meet human problem solving needs. They give SMEs’ the opportunity to grow in measured steps so that they can maintain competitiveness in a global landscape without taking on undesirable risks.
How compatible are UR robots with the concepts of Industry 4.0? How will this impact manufacturing practices?
Cobots are an integral part of Industry 4.0. Over the past few decades, automation has become a necessity in manufacturing industry due to global competition. This has helped in efficient manufacturing processes and in mass-production of goods.
According to the McKinsey Digital Compass maps, Industry 4.0 levers to the 8 main value drivers and labour is one of them where Human-Robot collaboration plays an important role. Labour is an important cost driver in most industries, improving labour productivity can drive significant value. This approach is particularly appealing to the Indian manufacturing industry because labour-intensive conditions and the collaborative robots together can help the Indian market achieve the best of both worlds by making precise use of this distinctive technology.
For example, Bajaj Auto Ltd saw a gradual rise in the productivity and efficiency in their production. It also increased the productivity of their employees along with their product quality after associating themselves with Universal Robots. They have deployed over 150 cobots since 2010 and are now the 3rd largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. They are of the view that the added benefits of the cobots are easy use, very low annual maintenance and higher energy efficiency.
What is your estimate about the Indian market for collaborative robots in the near future?
According to the market research report, the collaborative robots market is expected to be worth USD 4.28 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 56.94% between 2017 and 2023.
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