SMEs Contributing Most to Industrial Automation Growth in India: Universal Robots
Industrial automation is on the rise in India, marking a significant increase in the adoption of human-machine collaborative tools. Universal Robots (UR), which offers its popular collaborative robots, or cobots in the manufacturing and factory automation space, has been the biggest benefactor of this in India. However, according to Pradeep David, general manager (South Asia) of Universal Robots, it is not the large companies that have been the biggest growth contributors in recent times. In contrast, it is actually the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are fuelling this growth.
Speaking to News18 recently, David stated, "In the past three years, we’ve grown in usage and implementation exponentially. When we first came in, our primary businesses were with the larger companies — for them, they don't really have a choice but use automation in the manufacturing process. But today, I can go as far as saying that industrial automation is growing exponentially in India because SMEs are adopting new tech."
David further claimed that the SME-boosted growth of industrial automation has made UR's cobots the fastest growing entity in all of industrial automation today. He said, "The cobots business has been expanding by nearly 65-70 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), and is expected to continue at that pace for the next five years. There is no segment in India around automation that is growing so dynamically."
David notes that the International Organisation for Standardisation's acknowledgement and certification of collaborative industrial robot systems and the work environment has contributed significantly to the rise of this segment across the world, and across various engineering businesses spread all over India. The ISO/TS 15066 paper, published in 2016, lays down the safety requirements of these tools. This allowed UR to sell its products in India, since the requirement of any industrial equipment in Indian regulations is to comply with ISO certification norms.
Two of the most important areas that David touched upon are the aspect of whether these SMEs are ready to implement advanced technologies such as AI and ML, and whether the infusion of automation in small enterprises may lead to eradication of manual jobs. Touching upon the former, David stated, "One of our objectives is to reduce compulsory usage of advanced, smart tech in industries. So, we offer systems that offer fixed locations for components in businesses such as machining. In simpler words, if a part can be placed at a fixed place from where the cobot can make use of it, it is easier to do so." He further added, "One of the biggest problems that SMEs face is that they do not wish to rely on external engineering companies and pay every time they want to make a change. So we teach the SME and operators to program the robots themselves."
However, if any company does wish to implement technologies such as visual processing, David said that the cobots are compliant with it. "One of our partners, Wipro, showed our cobots with AI at IMTEX Bangalore in January. They had arranged parts randomly around the floor, and the objective of the cobots was to pick up these parts for machining or drilling purposes. Since the cobots didn’t know the orientation of the parts, there had to be a camera which spots the parts, informs the robot of its orientation. The robot then uses its devices to pick up the parts and feed it into the system," he said.
Touching upon the aspect of jobs, David said, "I’m a firm believer that robots take jobs is a misnomer. We’ve gotten examples time and again to show this. If you look at countries such as Korea and Singapore, you’ll see that they are the highest adapters of robots in manufacturing, and have the lowest scales of unemployment. Using a cobot here increases productivity, which in turn contributes to segments that see a rise in human employment. This helps businesses become mature, where human resources with higher value aspects get hired. We have an example here with Auro Labs, where the manpower in the company increased from 100 to 700 after our cobots were put in place."
While industrial automation is expected to make this sector grow for years to come, David is bullish about expanding to other sectors as well. "There are far greater use cases of our cobots. We are just entering the food industry now, where cobots are making omelettes (video). In Paris, we’ve supplied a cafeteria where the entire process of making a pizza is automated (video). Then we have M Social Hotel in Singapore, where the sanitising and home hygiene services are taken care of by robots," he concluded.
While this may indeed hold true, the implications of rising automation levels in Indian SMEs is massive. Giving the slowdown in many foreign heavyweight economies, India is poised to take advantage of increase in engineering accuracy, efficiency and potency. The use of robots even in small vendors selling engineering components or engraving services can lead to shifting of manufacturing plants and batch assembly lines in multiple sectors of technology. This, in turn, would contribute to India also becoming a manufacturing hub for enterprise services, while retaining the consumer-oriented businesses that already have a strong footing in the country.