Future of manufacturing: Robotics reshaping the assembly line

  • Articles
  • Nov 28,23
Indian manufacturing sector has advanced considerably with increasing adoption of automation and robotics. The increasing applications of robotic devices and systems necessitate a diverse set of knowledge and skills among robotics professionals, writes Sumit Kumar.
Future of manufacturing: Robotics reshaping the assembly line

Indian manufacturing sector is poised for a transformative revolution driven by the rapid advancements in automation and robotics. This technological paradigm shift is set to reshape the assembly line, enhance productivity, improve quality control, and create a more sustainable and competitive manufacturing landscape, paving the way for an Atmanirbhar Bharat.

India has advanced considerably in the realm of robotics, emphasising the exploration and utilisation of state-of-the-art technologies to foster innovation for sustainable and inclusive economic development. This progress is highlighted by a notable 16 per cent increase in robotics installations in India since 2016, reaching 4,945 units in 2021. This achievement positions India as the 10th highest globally in terms of annual installations of industrial robots. The current inventory of operational stock has reached an unprecedented peak, surpassing 33,200 units as of 2021, doubling since 2016 levels.

While India has made it to the top 10, China ranked first in terms of annual installations of industrial robots with 268,200 units in 2022 followed by Japan and USA. China now installs more industrial robots per year than the rest of the world taken together.

Benefits of automation and robotics
Automation and robotics are the cornerstones of the Industry 4.0 revolution, bringing about a paradigm shift in manufacturing processes. Automation involves the use of technology to control and execute tasks without human intervention, while robotics focuses on the development and application of robots to perform complex tasks with precision and efficiency.

The adoption of automation and robotics in manufacturing offers a plethora of benefits, including:
Enhanced productivity: Automation and robotics can significantly increase productivity by automating repetitive and labour-intensive tasks, allowing human workers to focus on more strategic and value-added activities.
Improved quality control: Robots can perform tasks with greater accuracy and consistency, reducing the risk of human error and ensuring consistent product quality.
Reduced production costs: Automation and robotics can lower production costs by streamlining operations, minimizing material waste, and reducing labor expenses.
Increased safety: Robots can handle dangerous or hazardous tasks, reducing the risk of workplace injuries and accidents.
Enhanced flexibility: Robots can be easily reprogrammed and adapted to new tasks, providing greater flexibility in manufacturing processes.

Several Indian companies have successfully implemented automation and robotics in their manufacturing processes, reaping significant benefits. For instance, Tata Motors, one of India's leading automobile manufacturers, was one of the first auto majors to introduce advanced robotics in its manufacturing processes (named TAL BRABO) and has extensively deployed robots in its production plants in India and abroad, resulting in increased productivity, improved quality, and reduced costs. Similarly, Mahindra & Mahindra has started applying Gen AI for Robot Maintenance with implementation covering various manufacturing processes including welding, painting, and assembly operations, achieving enhanced efficiency and precision.

Government initiatives to promote automation
The Indian government has recognised the transformative potential of automation and robotics and has taken several initiatives to promote their adoption in the manufacturing sector. These initiatives include:
The recently released Draft National Strategy on Robotics aims to position India as a global leader in robotics to actualise its transformative potential. It also builds upon Make in India 2.0 which has identified robotics as one of the 27 sub-sectors to further enhance India’s integration in the global value chain. It further aims to enhance the research and development capabilities of the robotics ecosystem in India by improving the availability of funding, converging efforts with CoEs for AI and Cyber Physical Systems, establishing platforms for global partnerships, attracting and retaining skilled talent
The Skill India Mission focuses on skill development and training to equip the workforce with the necessary skills for operating and maintaining automated and robotic systems.

Shortage of skilled workforce: Restricting robotics adoption
As robotic automation furthers the benchmarks of technological aptitude required, there is an emergent need for the development of a skilled workforce across the innovation lifecycle with a focus on providing training and education in robotics and related fields. This will help to ensure that India has the talent and expertise needed to compete in the global robotics market.

Insufficient skilled human resources: The existing initiatives for capacity building fall short of supporting the widespread adoption of robotics in India, necessitating more targeted efforts to address ecosystem challenges. An eminent obstacle in robotics manufacturing lies in the intricate integration of multiple components and subsystems. Robots typically comprise numerous individual parts requiring precise and coordinated assembly. This demands a high level of engineering expertise and meticulous attention to detail to ensure the final product aligns with required specifications and performance standards. The growth of the Indian robotics ecosystem is hindered by a lack of technical proficiency and skilled resources. Specifically, the scarcity of engineers and technicians with the requisite skills to design, develop, and maintain robots poses a significant challenge. Additionally, the shortage of skilled personnel specialized in robot maintenance and servicing impedes the translation of core and applied research into viable commercial propositions. 

Absence of multidisciplinary collaboration: Advancements in robotic technology increasingly demand interdisciplinary collaboration. Modern robots incorporate emerging technologies such as 5G, AR/VR, IoT, and AI to enhance their functionalities. This interdisciplinary nature underscores the imperative for collaboration among government stakeholders, industry, academia, startups, and other relevant entities. However, the current ecosystem lacks robust mechanisms for such multidisciplinary collaboration, both domestically and with global experts. 

Key government initiatives
Government has taken some important initiatives such as:

FutureSkills Prime: The Indian government, facilitated by MeitY, is spearheading a transformative skilling ecosystem aimed at enhancing the nation's digital talent. This initiative involves the establishment of a robust online platform to promote remote and self-paced learning in emerging technologies. FutureSkills Prime endeavors to provide subsidized access to certified courses in 10 identified emerging technologies, including AI, Blockchain, Robotics, Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing, IoT, Virtual Reality, 3D Printing, Big Data & Analytics, and Web 3.0.

Atal Innovation Mission: With the vision of 'Cultivating one Million children in India as Neoteric Innovators,' the Atal Innovation Mission is setting up Atal Tinkering Laboratories (ATLs) in schools nationwide. These ATLs feature dedicated innovation workspaces equipped with Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kits covering emerging technologies such as robotics, IoT, and more. The aim is to provide students with hands-on exposure to these cutting-edge technologies.

E-Yantra: E-Yantra, a robotics outreach program funded by the Ministry of Education and hosted at IIT Bombay, seeks to tap into the potential of young engineers. The program aims to leverage their talent to address challenges using technology in various domains, including agriculture, manufacturing, defense, home automation, smart-city maintenance, and service industries.

Solutions to address the workforce shortage
The increasing applications of robotic devices and systems necessitate a diverse set of knowledge and skills among robotics professionals. It is crucial to not only identify but also promote job opportunities in emerging robotics fields, which have the potential to absorb a significant portion of the workforce at risk of displacement due to automation. In addressing the skill gap within the Indian robotics industry, particularly in foundational skills like the repair and maintenance of robots, upskilling and reskilling initiatives are imperative.

To advance this cause, as proposed in the Draft National Strategy on Robotics, the Sector Skill Council can establish National Occupation Standards and Qualification Packs, validated by the industry and aligned with the National Skills Qualification Framework, for identified job roles in robotics. A key intervention to enhance skill training is the introduction of apprenticeship programs. These programs can incentivise workers through subsidised training and certification for specific job roles, providing both technical expertise and regulatory qualifications. Collaborating with the industry to design these programs would facilitate experiential learning, with implementation through various training institutions such as ITIs, Polytechnics, and other government or privately funded training infrastructure.

Given the interdisciplinary nature of robotics, upgrading the infrastructure of these institutions becomes crucial to ensure effective practical training. This comprehensive approach aims to not only address the skills gap in the industry but also create a pathway for individuals to gain hands-on experience and qualifications through apprenticeships in the evolving field of robotics.

About the author:
Sumit Kumar is the Chief Business Officer of TeamLease Degree Apprenticeship (India’s first and largest degree apprenticeship programme). He has work experience of over 24 years in HR services helping organisations build future ready workforce by leveraging experiential learning; and education/ employability sectors.

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