With demand for automation products in India increasing, bigger business opportunities are brewing

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Today, automation is being used at many levels in almost every industry in India. In the Indian electronics industry, there is a good market for sensors, PLCs and PACs, but very little demand for robots. The use of proximity sensors is set to witness growth every year due to the rising sophistication in manufacturing processes

By EB Bureau

Friday, September 14, 2012: Globalisation has led to many fundamental changes in how industry leaders set their business objectives. These cover improvement in plant or machinery utilisation, yield, product quality, availability, safety, and delivery performance—all of which strongly influence their capital investments in automation. Therefore, the adoption of automation control options like programmable logic controllers (PLC), PLC based programmable automation controllers (PAC) and other automation equipment in the manufacturing process has been increasing across all industrial segments in India as companies face the pressures to raise productivity, lower product costs, reduce plant operating expenses and increase the returns on investment.

According to IMS Research, a leading supplier of market research for the electronics industry worldwide, the global industrial automation market is predicted to reach more than US$ 200 billion by 2015. Although Asia is the largest consumer of industrial automation products, and the report predicts that the relative strength of its economy in 2012 will lead to spending of about US$ 64 billion, India lags behind considerably when compared to other Asian countries. China and Korea have a well developed market for industrial automation.

Demand for automation

Even though it’s being adopted at a very slow pace, automation is today being used at some level or the other in almost every industry in India. In the Indian electronics industry, there is a good market for sensors, PLCs and PACs. The use of proximity sensors is set to witness growth every year due to the rising sophistication in manufacturing processes. However, the Indian electronics industry hasn’t widely adopted the use of robotics in its production processes.

Informs Raj Singh Rathee, managing director, KUKA Robotics (India) Pvt Ltd, “In the Indian electronics industry, the use of robots is not at the level it is in other countries, even in Asia. In India, only pick and place machines that are fully automated, are widely used. The solar sector has a few companies like Moser Baer that use automation. Another area which requires automation is silicon wafer handling, which is an important part of the solar industry but even here, automation has not been adopted in India. Our major customers in the electronics industry are in medical electronics, in silicon wafer handling, and in flat panel handling.”

Abhay Tandon, CEO, Technics

In India, the power and automobile sectors use automation in their processes the most. Smart sensing devices with connectivity to smart inputs/outputs and device information, PLCs, computers for control systems, sensors that bring data to the main system, and automation software are some types of industrial automation in use in India, leading to improvements in productivity and asset maintenance.

Says Ben Tucker, lead sales applications engineer, Digi m2m Solutions India Pvt Ltd, “There are many specific areas where automation is in demand, ranging from assembly, quality assurance, inventory, logistics, remote access and diagnostics. Solutions like wireless machine to machine (M2M), remote device management service monitoring, logistics and tracking, cellular enablement, as well as the more conventional Ethernet and serial connectivity methods, are in demand.”

Shares Abhay Tandon, CEO, Technics, a distributor of sub-station automation products, “PC-based automation

Anup Wadhwa, director, Automation Industry Association of India

control solutions are in much demand in the power sector. These help in monitoring, collecting, storing and transmitting energy meter data and sub-station data to the central server. Therefore, human intervention is reduced to a great extent and this ensures a reduction of aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses during power transmission.”

According to some industry experts, the automation industry in India has had phenomenal growth over the last decade and is poised to do much better in the future. The advantages of getting automated are so many that industries no longer think of it as a burden but are now readily going in for the transformation.

The competition in the automotive industry has also been a boon for the automation industry. With international companies focusing on India, every player is competing with the best in the world, and is hence either considering automated manufacturing or has already adopted it, say experts.

The Indian market for sensors also looks brighter owing to new and expanding applications, coupled with the shift

Ben Tucker, lead sales applications engineer, Digi M2M Solutions India Pvt Ltd

to enhanced automation processes and controls.

Proximity sensors find application in almost every industry due to the importance of feedback.

Advancements in automation

There have been a lot of advances in the areas of embedded computing, information technology and communication. Based on these developments, industrial automation companies have come up with product lines that are capable of fast processing, that are compact in nature and open in architecture.

Today, machines run by themselves. Technically, these can be operated and controlled by anybody from anywhere. They can even be managed by other machines, through M2M communication and peer level synchronisation. They can be controlled by intelligent sensors and other measurement devices. Some intelligent systems are even programmed to automatically detect faults and fix them.

Raj Singh Rathee, managing director, KUKA Robotics (India) Pvt Ltd

A fully automated factory offers lots of advantages including a high speed of production, zero defects, low production and rejection costs, better finish and accuracy. Such a factory could be monitored and controlled remotely. Remote controlled automation also offers several advantages like lower operating and maintenance costs, accurate production data, better planning, and easy diagnosis of breakdowns and failures.

A part of the industrial automation world is now moving from rack mounted PLCs to more generic PC based platforms. With a PC based solution, you can integrate PLC control, motion control, supervisory control and data acquisition requirements on a single high performance controller platform. The need to connect multiple devices seamlessly to exchange control data, the increasing use of robots in manufacturing, and the constantly widening dimensions of industrial automation have led to a great demand for PC based automation and industrial PCs. Today, factories are becoming networked, wirelessly. Almost all industrial automation equipment are becoming smart, acting as standalone units without any dependence on PCs.

India has great potential

The Indian automation industry has bright prospects as Indian markets are slowly feeling the need for industrial automation. With the government’s thrust towards boosting the electronics manufacturing industry and the solar industry, manufacturing will pick up in both the sectors, leading to a rise in automated plants. Second, the growing awareness among Indian consumers will lead the process and manufacturing industry to adopt the right mix of technologies, leading to a considerable proportion of automation in the process.

Many MNCs as well as domestic companies that have realised the importance of automation are investing heavily to bring in the latest manufacturing technologies. Says Ben Tucker, “Some segments within the Indian economy have been quite aggressive in addressing automation, while others have not. The movement to compete on the global stage based on domestic hardware manufacturing is growing rapidly, and we think that the opportunities in India are significant both for the domestic as well as the international market.”

India, being one of the world’s fastest growing economies, is now looking at improving the quality of its products while making them cost effective by adopting the latest technology. The positive side of the picture is that even the medium and small units are realising the need for automation. They are now feeling the pressure of consumer demand for quality products and new technologies.

Explains Raj Singh Rathee, “Big companies in India that produce higher volumes do not have world class manufacturing facilities that are comparable to what their counterparts in other countries operate. As long as we do not have manufacturing taking place in India, there will be no growth. And automation will be restricted to the assembling processes in the electronics industry. So we need a government policy that favours manufacturing and the development of a sustainable system.”

Another challenge faced by the automation industry in India is a dearth of talent that has a good understanding of manufacturing strategy and production lines. Says Anup Wadhwa, director, Automation Industry Association of India (AIA), “Automation is a way to convert strategies into flawless execution. Among the early adopters, we find customers and suppliers blaming each other for what is not working. Mature companies, however, think through their processes at a much deeper level. They work concurrently on several areas, minimising the risk of breakdowns and non-conformances. That ensures proper attention is paid to develop an automation system strategy and to select hardware and software components. Therefore, it is a challenge to attract a lot more talent and find ways to nurture and grow it.”

Types of automation Products

In recent years, the manufacturing field has witnessed the development of major automation alternatives.

Information technology (IT) automation: This encompasses a broad spectrum of computer technologies used to create, store, retrieve and disseminate information.

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM): This refers to the use of computers in the different functions of production planning and control. CAM includes the use of numerically controlled machines, robots and other automated systems in manufacturing.

Numerically controlled (NC) equipment: NC machines are programmed versions of machine tools that execute operations in sequence, on parts or products. Individual machines may have their own computers for the purpose; such tools are commonly referred to as computerised numerical controlled (CNC) machines. In other cases, many machines may share the same computer; these are called direct numerical controlled machines.

Robots: This type of automated equipment can execute different tasks that are normally handled by a human operator.

Flexible manufacturing systems (FMS): A flexible manufacturing system combines NC machines, industrial robots, and other types of industrial automation into one automation system. A FMS would typically produce similar products and parts but still be flexible enough to change parts or processes.

Computer integrated manufacturing (CIM): A CIM system is one in which many manufacturing functions are linked through an integrated computer network. These manufacturing or related functions include production planning and control, shop floor control, quality control, etc.

PC based and PLC based automation platforms

There are two basic automation control platforms available from automation vendors today—PLCs and PC based controllers. A PLC or programmable controller is a digital computer used for automating electromechanical processes, such as the control of machinery on factory assembly lines, amusement rides or lighting fixtures. PLCs come in a wide variety of hardware options and are the most established automation control option in the market today. In contrast, PC based controllers use a software controller installed on an industrial computer. This allows users to integrate high level computer programming or other PC functionality with automation system control.

Today, a PLC is distinguished by a large number of scalable technology functions such as counting, measuring, positioning, closed loop control or CAM control. With a graduated selection, which extends from entry level PLCs to high performance models, there is a suitable solution for every task.

PC based automation solutions allow users to install a software controller on an industrial computer, enabling the integration of high level computer code and PC functionality. These are most effective in situations where the process in question needs closer integration between automation control and high level PC programs or other PC functionality, such as what is required in a power sub-station.

Increase in robot installations expected by 2014

India is one of the fastest growing economies among the Asian emerging markets. Yet, the number of robotic units installed is still low. India is still considered a low wage country and using automation in the production process is not often economical. This may be the reason why robotic installations remain low. But wages are increasing and, as a consequence, the demand for goods will increase as well.

In 2010, robot sales increased by 114 per cent to 776 units. But the rate of robot installations in India has not been able to gain much momentum. Between 2006 and 2008, it seemed that the level of automation would increase in India, but the global financial crisis put a halt to that. In 2010, sales increased but did not reach the peak level of 2007. Motor vehicle suppliers have announced huge investment plans for their production sites in the coming years. Also, other industries have tried to increase capacity, productivity and quality to serve the huge consumer market. However, so far, these plans have not led to a substantial increase in robotic installations.

Source: International Federation of Robotics (IFR) 

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine

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