Automation also enables companies to employ sustainable practices

  • Interviews
  • Nov 02,23
In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Sameer Gandhi, MD, OMRON Automation, India, explains how advanced technologies are enabling a shift towards smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 practices
Automation also enables companies to employ sustainable practices

Digital manufacturing has the potential to drive growth, enhance competitiveness, foster innovation, and create a sustainable and future-ready manufacturing ecosystem in the country. In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Sameer Gandhi, Managing Director, OMRON Automation, India, explains how advanced technologies are enabling a shift towards smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 practices.

How are advanced technologies like robots/cobots, AI, ML, IoT, data analytics, cloud, etc, changing the manufacturing landscape in India? 
The Indian manufacturing sector has been experiencing significant changes in recent years due to the advent of automation, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, and cloud technologies. These advancements are shaping the industry and enabling a shift towards smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 practices. 

Some of the changes happening in the Indian manufacturing sector are: 
Use of robotics: Automation has gained traction in Indian manufacturing, leading to improved productivity, efficiency, and quality. Robots are being used for repetitive tasks, while robotic arms and automated assembly lines are streamlining production processes. 
Data analytics based decision-making: With the availability of vast amounts of data, Indian manufacturers are leveraging data analytics tools and techniques to gain insights and make data-driven decisions. Advanced analytics helps in identifying patterns, optimising processes, and improving overall operational performance.
Skilling and workforce transformation: The changing manufacturing landscape requires a skilled workforce to handle advanced technologies. Companies are investing in upskilling and reskilling programs to equip employees with the necessary skills to work with automation, AI, and other emerging technologies. 
Improved product development: Advanced technologies have accelerated the product development process. Virtual prototyping, simulation, and digital twin technologies enable manufacturers to design and test products virtually, reducing time-to-market and development costs. 
Predictive maintenance: IoT-enabled sensors and AI-powered analytics are being used to enable predictive maintenance for critical machines in real time. Thereby improving efficiency, reducing costs, and minimising disruptions. 
Sustainability and energy efficiency: Manufacturers are increasingly focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency. IoT sensors and data analytics help monitor energy consumption, identify areas for optimisation, and reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing processes. 
These changes indicate a shift towards a more connected, intelligent, and efficient manufacturing ecosystem in India, fostering competitiveness and growth in the sector.

How is your company supporting the manufacturing industry’s journey towards digital manufacturing?
To cater to this need and growth opportunity, OMRON with its wide portfolio of automation solutions based on its “i-automation” concept is committed to help the manufacturing industry meet this challenge. The concept stands for “innovative-automation” which is OMRON’s global manufacturing innovation direction based on three “i’s”- “integrated”, "intelligent" and "interactive" embodying three goals: “Digital engineering transformation”, “Autonomation beyond human abilities,” and “Advanced collaboration between people and machines” respectively. 
Empowered with this, we strive to enable the makers with the right and customised automation solutions to increase productivity & quality, achieve more energy efficiency and also upskill the workforce with our training & education services so that they are able to make the most out of the new automation technologies. While our condition monitoring solutions and robotics portfolio come handy for achieving energy efficiency and productivity respectively, our i-BELT manufacturing site data utilization service streamlines the integrated management of diverse data, to bring about further improvement on productivity and quality at manufacturing floors. This also impacts attainment of carbon neutrality- one of the prime imperatives for manufacturing businesses as explained above. 

What steps is Omron taking to develop the Industry 4.0 ecosystem in India? 
We believe in creating advanced collaboration between people and machines that allows people to maximise their potential. Human dexterity and creativity are indispensable for manufacturing that responds to the diversification and personalisation of product needs. Hence, it is necessary for the evolution of manufacturing to maximise human abilities. 

OMRON aims to develop a new manufacturing ecosystem that allows people to maximise their potential and experience more growth and motivation by making superior harmonies between people and machines. For example, leaving the heavy labour and simple repetitive work to robots, machines support human proficiency & allow them to be more creative to pursue higher and better objectives. 

What are key hurdles faced by companies while adopting automation/digitalization? Any tips to make adoption hassle-free?
One of the major challenges is its adoption by the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). They have a dire need for better levels for flexibility, quality and consistency, amidst challenges like limited scope of extension or modification of the shop floor space, shortage of skilled manpower, and meagre capital infusion capabilities. 

Another hurdle for adoption of right automation solutions, especially in India, is the availability of a partner ecosystem. Many requirements are unique and need to be run like a small project. These require some mechanical additions or modifications on the customers’ existing setup. While larger organisations may be able to run some of these projects on their own, MSMEs usually do not have the required skill set to execute such projects. This is where the role of system integrators (SIs) comes into the picture. They marry the robot/cobot with the required mechanical design and implement it at customer locations. While India has many such SIs, we require a substantial increase in their number. Although, given the availability of technological skill-sets and an entrepreneurial mindset, it is only a matter of time before this ecosystem develops rapidly.

Also, India is more known for its prowess in assembly manufacturing. It means a large number of components in the value chain are imported and not really manufactured here. And now, post COVID, the makers are looking out for ways to increase in-house manufacturing through automation rather than outsource it to other countries to minimise the global supply chain risks in the future. This rise in domestic value addition has to come from the MSMEs for which they have to adopt greater measures of technology and digitization. 

What are the emerging trends in the automation and digital manufacturing space?
Some of the most promising and emerging technologies in the Indian automation and manufacturing space are data visualisation, robotics and machine vision inspection. While large amounts of data are available on the shopfloor – especially in automation systems – traditionally not much has been done to visualise and make this data actionable. To achieve this, it requires not just software to visualise, but also a complete integrated architecture to gather the data and push it to the cloud layer in real time. Such an architecture may include IO links and smart sensors, connected with PLCs that can push data directly to the ERP layer.
While the concept of robotics has become popular in the Indian manufacturing, however, the adoption pace needs to be much faster for it to make a bigger impact on Indian manufacturing productivity. We need to look beyond simple RoI calculations based on labour saving to also include quality and long-term efficiency improvements. Unlike robotics, machine vision is much more widely adopted in the Indian manufacturing sector, but more advantage can be derived especially from PC based GigE cameras besides the traditional smart cameras and linking the data to PLCs to achieve traceability across the entire supply chain.

How important will digital manufacturing be for India to become a $1 trillion manufacturing economy?
Digital manufacturing is an important enabler for India's manufacturing sector to achieve its trillion-dollar economy goal. It has the potential to drive growth, enhance competitiveness, foster innovation, and create a sustainable and future-ready manufacturing ecosystem in the country. A strong digital manufacturing ecosystem can make India an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the manufacturing sector. International companies are increasingly looking for locations with advanced manufacturing capabilities, digital infrastructure, and skilled talent. By fostering digital manufacturing, India can position itself as a preferred investment destination and attract technology collaborations and partnerships

Here are some more reasons: 
Enhancing competitiveness: By adopting digital manufacturing technologies (such as automation, AI, IoT, and data analytics), Indian companies can improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, optimise production processes, and enhance product quality, thereby increasing their competitiveness in both domestic and global markets. 
Accelerating innovation: Digital manufacturing enables faster product development cycles and facilitates innovation. Technologies like 3D printing, simulation, and virtual prototyping allow for rapid prototyping, design iterations, and testing, reducing time-to-market for new products. This enables Indian manufacturers to stay ahead of the curve and meet evolving customer demands. 
Driving productivity and efficiency: Digital manufacturing technologies streamline manufacturing processes, automate repetitive tasks, and enable real-time monitoring and control of operations. This leads to increased productivity, improved resource utilisation, and enhanced overall operational efficiency. By leveraging digital tools, Indian manufacturers can produce more with fewer resources and reduce wastage, contributing to higher profitability. 
Enabling supply chain optimisation: Digital manufacturing facilitates better supply chain management through improved visibility, traceability, and real-time data exchange. This enables manufacturers to optimise inventory levels, reduce lead times, improve demand forecasting accuracy, and enhance coordination with suppliers and customers. An optimised supply chain improves efficiency, reduces costs, and enhances customer satisfaction. 
Empowering small and medium enterprises (SMEs): Digital manufacturing can level the playing field for SMEs in India. By adopting digital technologies, SMEs can enhance their capabilities, improve product quality, and access new markets. Technologies like cloud computing enable SMEs to access advanced manufacturing tools and resources without heavy upfront investments, enabling them to compete with larger players. 

What kinds of new opportunities are you looking to tap as digital manufacturing grows in India?
Industrial automation technologies that help in making companies take data-driven predictive maintenance decisions and also become more sustainable are some of the opportunities. Both are achievable by deploying the right automation applications that help in optimising production processes, reducing waste and emissions, and improving energy efficiency. 

OMRON’s i- BELT technology enables digital transformation of the plant which supports businesses to gain valuable data-driven insights into their operations, such as identifying bottlenecks, optimising workflows, and improving overall efficiency. By streamlining operations and eliminating inefficiencies, technology helps organisations make better use of their resources and reduce waste. This technology also focuses on energy efficiency by monitoring power consumption and providing insights into optimising overall plant system configuration. By fine-tuning these parameters, the technology helps minimise energy waste. This leads to reduced energy consumption, lower operational costs, a smaller environmental footprint, proactive maintenance, and ensuring compliance with environmental standards.

Additionally, automation has the capabilities to enable companies to implement sustainable practices such as utilising renewable energy sources and further reducing their carbon footprint. 

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