SMEs should leverage user-friendly tech like cobots to propel their business”

  • Interviews
  • Nov 02,23
An industry pioneer since 30 years, Anuj Bihani, Director of Alstrut India Pvt Ltd, has been a catalyst for many companies in introducing numerous technologies to them. Alstrut is focused on providing automation solution to various industries in manufacturing sector. In a partnership with Denmark-based Universal Robot, the company has leveraged the robotics and automation for the SMEs and other manufactures in India. In this interview with Ayushi Khandelwal, he shares insights on the importance
SMEs should leverage user-friendly tech like cobots to propel their business”

Kindly brief us about your company. How is your company serving the industry (your customers) in its journey towards “digital manufacturing”?
Alstrut, headquartered in Chennai, is an Indian company specialising in automation and material handling solutions for various manufacturing sectors. Our expertise spans diverse verticals, including automobiles, auto components, electrical, electronics, FMCG, food, and pharmaceuticals. We offer comprehensive turnkey automation solutions and have established a successful seven-year partnership with Denmark-based Universal Robots, a leading collaborative robot manufacturer. In India, we have emerged as a prominent collaborative robot provider.

Our primary objective is to assist Indian manufacturers in effectively implementing automation solutions and collaborative robotic technologies. We strive to simplify the deployment process, making it more accessible and seamless. By doing so, we aim to contribute significantly to the growth of the Indian manufacturing industry.

How has the manufacturing sector evolved over the years with respect to digital manufacturing?
Over the years, there has been a huge transition happened in the automation sector. I vividly recall the early days of my journey, where our efforts involved meeting customers and explaining basic concepts such as sensors. Selling even these fundamental products used to be time-consuming. However, as time passed, we observed a rapid adoption of technology among customers. Advanced technologies like vision systems, vision centers, and laser marking emerged, and we are currently in the process of integrating them with collaborative robots.

Initially, every new technology faced some skepticism. However, as people became more familiar with these advancements, their apprehensions started to fade away. We have played a pioneering role in introducing numerous technologies to India. Witnessing the transformation from customers initially questioning the feasibility of these innovations to them making decisions and implementing these technologies in their workplaces has been truly remarkable.

How do you see the current status of the Indian manufacturing sector?
Digital manufacturing encompasses technologies like IoT, AI, and automation, among others. These innovations are more widely embraced in developed nations such as the United States, Germany, and Japan, owing to their well-established manufacturing infrastructure. In India, there have been significant initiatives like "Make in India" aimed at promoting digital manufacturing. There are quite a few companies in automobile, oil and gas, pharmaceutical etc, which have taken the leap on Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing, enabling them to compete effectively in the global market.

With India emerging as a major sourcing hub for engineering goods, how important will it be for Indian companies to adopt digital/automated solutions for manufacturing?
I think it is going to be extremely important, and companies are realising this. They are making strides towards this way to be able to compete at the global level. The adoption of digital manufacturing is imperative for enhancing efficiency, reducing costs, and improving product quality. Companies today need to stay agile and adapt to evolving trends. Digital manufacturing is going to give both, analytics and flexibility for people to be able to adapt to this change.

In the current landscape, the focus has shifted beyond traditional metrics such as efficiency, productivity, and cost reduction. Post-Covid, new parameters such as sustainability, resilience, and adaptability to uncertain situations have gained prominence. For instance, companies that previously relied heavily on a labour force are now investing in automation to ensure continuous operation, even in the absence of human workers. This transformation is reshaping the business landscape, emphasizing the importance of digital manufacturing for analytics and flexibility, enabling businesses to navigate these changes effectively.

There a blurring line between hardware and software in the engineering space because of the automation? How would you comment on that?
I think there are two perspectives on this. One is from the vendors's perspective who acquires these technologies for their respective companies, and the second from the users' perspective. From the user's point of view, there is a continuous need for them to have a comprehensive understanding of products across the entire spectrum, encompassing both hardware and software. It is crucial for users to witness how these two elements that how the hardware and software handshake together and can give them the desired results. But from vendors point of view, we can classify them on different kinds of companies. Some may be substantial multinational corporations that have a presence in both hardware and software domains. Meanwhile, there are likely smaller companies that remain predominantly hardware-focused. They have got a play in both areas and there is space for both types of vendors to co-exist, probably collaborating with each other to be able to add value for customers. It is not possible for the hardware part of automation to be completely eliminated. It is going to be there and software is going to constantly add value to the hardware that's being installed.

Are there low-cost entry routes into digitalisation for SMEs and MSMEs? 
I think low cost and high costs are just a matter of perception for each person. What matters more, in my opinion, is the willingness to explore and embrace the world of robotics and automation while taking a crucial step forward to understand and experience this realm. The concept of low or high costs becomes irrelevant as long as individuals can reap returns on their investments. However, one can never ascertain these returns without actively participating in the field. The real question to ponder is whether one is ready for this technological revolution today or if the need will arise in the future, say, after three years. In my estimation, the demand for such technologies will become ubiquitous in the next few years. Moreover, in the ongoing debate between larger corporations with substantial capital and smaller enterprises, I would say that being small has got a very different kind of advantages. A large company has bureaucratic hurdles often hinder the seamless deployment of technology on the required scale. Conversely, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have the advantage of a more streamlined decision-making process. The owners of these businesses play a pivotal role in making decisions, without the complexities of extensive management layers. The driving forces behind automation differ for SMEs, and I believe they should leverage user-friendly technologies like collaborative robots to propel their businesses forward.

How is your company supporting the needs of SMEs?
Collaborative robotics, although a relatively new technology, has been in India for 6-7 years. It is designed for easy adoption by SMEs, and we have a proven track record in this regard.
We are the gold distributor of Universal Robots in India and have distributed over 300-350 cobots in the past six years. Interestingly, a large portion of these cobots has been deployed in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) rather than large companies. The reason behind this trend lies in the challenges faced by larger companies, especially those dealing with extensive ERP systems. Implementing such technologies demands substantial infrastructure and time investment. Companies have to consider factors like server setup, infrastructure requirements, payment for technicians and software engineers for necessary modifications. This complexity often deters companies from taking the leap into advanced technologies. SMEs, however, tend to opt for smaller, manageable solutions where risks are lower even if they face failures.

On a very similar note, collaborative robots are user-friendly, akin to smartphones. They are intuitive and easy to program, allowing users to adapt quickly without extensive technical knowledge. This simplicity enables businesses to swiftly redeploy the cobots for various applications without external assistance.

We actively support our customers by providing comprehensive training sessions. Through our training setup, we ensure that our customers gain confidence in handling the technology independently. We also offer demonstrations to familiarise them with the concept and its applications. These efforts contribute to preparing businesses for embracing collaborative robotics technology effectively.

What are your future growth plans?
Definitely we are looking at growing but, growth for me is not just about the revenue but also about making a difference. We are constantly trying to see how can we take our technology to manufacturing companies and help them improve their processes. Two years back, we set up a separate entity named Impaqt Robotics which is a product company mainly focusing on providing our customers a support in integrating robots with their operations. I take a lot of pride in the company and the way we are working on accelerating the deployment of robots. It is a one-of-its-kind in India and we also won the Red Dot Design Award and Red Dot Innovative Product Award in 2023 for our in-house designed and manufactured products, pneumagiQ PQ180 and pneumagiQ PQ90 respectively.

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