Robotics Outlook Brightens in India

Many American, Korean and even Japanese firms are using the country as a hub for production of industrial robots, alongside domestic companies.

A recent exhibition organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi witnessed the launch of a number of new robots. ABB, Panasonic, Kuka, Precision Automation & Robotics India (PARI), Motoman Motherson Robotics, Hi-Tech Robotics Systemz and Fanuc were among the 11 exhibitors at the expo, eyeing the Indian market where companies are increasingly focusing on automation. Dr. Surinder Kapur, chairman of CII Innovation Mission, said, “It is heartening to see that of the 11 robotics companies at the Robo Expo, five are Indian companies.” It is the small steps being taken by the Indian companies that will ensure that they are able to retain their rightful place in the global manufacturing industry, he added.  

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already talked about the need to increase activities in the Indian robotics space. “We plan to go in for precision guided munitions as well as unmanned vehicle technologies in the 11th and 12th Plan period,” he said recently. Indian companies such as PARI are already involved in about five defense-related projects and more small companies will also benefit. 

Faster growth 

Rajive Kaul, past president, CII, highlighting the increasing importance of the robotics and automation industry, said, “According to industry estimates from 2008 onward, the world market for industrial robots is projected to rise by a yearly average of 4.2 percent, going to 139,300 units in 2010.” In India, the industry is expected to grow at two to two-and-one-half times the global average, said Kaul. 

Even as the yearly supply of industrial robots in 2005-06 declined in many Asian countries, it grew in India. The shipment and operational stock of multi-purpose industrial robots in India is expected to touch 4,500 units by 2010 from 540 units in 2005. The numbers are still far less than other countries, but considering India's late entry, the potential seems tremendous. 

Dr. V. Krishnamurthy, chairman, National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) said, “Personal safety and enhanced productivity are becoming increasingly important for the manufacturing sector. These require enhanced effort in the area of robotics and automation.” V. Govindarajan, member secretary, NMCC said that robot applications are possible in a range of areas, including entertainment, sports, productivity improvement and industrial use.  

The application of robotics and artificial intelligence technologies in India is quite new. Initially, companies were apprehensive about using robots in manufacturing or any other industry. But now, as India is becoming an international manufacturing hub, domestic players are realizing the advantage of robotics and automation. At present, the growth in India is much faster than in Japan or other Asian countries, says sources at PARI. The Pune-based company is introducing its “Golfing Robot,” which, it says, can play golf with 97 percent accuracy. 

Tranter, a Swedish company with U.S. headquarters in Wichita Falls, Texas that manufactures gasketed and welded-plate heat exchangers, has replaced manpower with robots that it acquired from PARI, one of India’s biggest robotics firms. PARI’s robots now take care of the entire production process—from pouring milk to boiling, condensing and placing it in the conveyer. “The company used to spend about five minutes on every unit; now it spends only a minute. You can imagine the cost savings,” says PARI Director Mukund Kelkar.  

Going global 

PARI claims its industrial robots are used by global companies including Caterpillar, Hitachi, Bosch, Emerson Power, American Axle, Honeywell and Indian subsidiaries of multi-national companies (MNCs) such as Samsung, Philips, LG, Suzuki, Renault, Ford, Honda and Hyundai.  

“Our robots at Tata Motors were installed for welding and pressing automation when Indica was launched, but became useful also during the production of Indica V2 and the Indigo,” says Mangesh Kale, who co-founded the company. PARI has recently joined hands with Valient, a Canadian company, to increase its share in North America. According to sources in the finance department of the company, “Opportunities inside and outside India, in the field of robotics, are tremendous. So in the near future, we may see Indian companies become billion dollar firms.” 

Sectors such fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) are increasingly embracing these technologies, but automobile firms account for the biggest share of the market. “Robots can cut cost, maximize efficiency, productivity and safety, and can also overcome the problem of manpower shortages. The demand in medical equipment, FMCG and entertainment is on the rise. Tata Motors’ order for 300 robots for one of its project is the biggest order for us,” says Raj Singh Rathee, managing director, Kuka Robotics India, which has a German parent.  

“Kuka is the only robotics company in the world supplying robots to the entertainment and medical sector. We are also the only company with the highest number of robots variants, going up to 280. Our robot named Titan offers the highest payload, up to 1,000 kilograms and has figured in the Guinness Book of World Records,” he added. Kuka is one of the largest suppliers of industrial robots in the world. 

Clean your home 

Ahmedabad-based Grid Bots is in the process of launching Robograd, a robot that can be used to clean homes and keep an eye on intruders, says the company's co-founder and technical officer, 26-year old Pulkit Gaur. “Robograd will not have a torso. It may get one eventually. We believe that if robots are made to look like humans, consumers mistake them for toys and won't take them seriously,” he explains.  

His robot, priced at $250, will roll out across India in about a month. The company is hoping that the robot will also find an international market, due to its price and utility. But the bulk of India's robotics business is industrial, and that's growing because companies across the world want to reduce costs. 

Hi Tech Robotic Systemz Ltd has introduced three new products—Robot Vision, the fault detector for 100 percent quality assurance; Intellicart, with vision based localization technology; and the human-eyed robot called Neel. “Neel is capable of doing obstacle avoidance through stereo vision and also recognizing human faces. It can also interact with humans through speech,” said Deep Kapuria, Managing Director, Hi Tech Robotics. 

The human-eyed robot will cater to nursing and household use. “It is targeted at both the Indian as well as overseas market,” he said. The cost of Neel is $7,500-plus, and we are looking at volumes of around 100 a month coming from both the domestic market and exports, says Kapuria. The company has also launched the Advance Driver Assistive System (ADAS), which would help enhance road safety; Intellicart for material handling, which integrates patented VBL technology; and Robotic Vision, which is a vision sensor that can be integrated into any robotic arm for quality inspection of manufacturing components. 

Says Vaishali Singh, director of Uttarakhand-based J Robotics Technologies, “Apart from consumer and industry robots, there are special robots for educational use. More opportunities for companies will create a need formore skilled manpower. So our business will go up.” J Robotics is in the final stages of discussion with a Singapore-based institute for supplying robotics solutions. 

ABB Ltd. Robotics Division has launched two systems for India. “These include ‘Flex Arc,’ a modular manufacturing welding cell, and a small painter called IRB 52 to cater to general industry,” stated Anil Chaudhry, assistant vice president and head, Sales Robot Automation, ABB. 

Turnkey 

Working with Kuka, Rhythmsoft Robotics & Automation Pvt Ltd, a fast growing company from Nashik, has made its mark in robotic automation by successfully completing turnkey business information warehousing projects “Xenon” and “Phoenix” for Tata Motors. “By the end of the first quarter of 2008, we will showcase our strength in tandem press line automation and complete two turnkey press automation projects,” stated Pritish Chandratre, managing director, Rhythmsoft.
 

Motoman Motherson Robotics Ltd. has introduced Dual Arm 13 Axis Robots. This Robot can bring automation one step closer to human performance. “If the demand for robotics in volume terms grows in India, we may consider manufacturing these high-tech industrial robots in India,” said Ken Imamura, President, Motoman Motherson. To date, the company has managed to sell 700 of its so-called Motoman roboits. “We plan to sell 100 Motoman units in India in 2008-09,” said Imamura. Clients of Motoman Motherson Robotics include Tata and Maruti Suzuki, among others. 

Indicating that India is lagging behind when it comes to automation, Rajive Kaul, chairman CII apex Council of Trade Fairs, said, “The country will see a growth of around 10 percent from the existing 3 percent in automation in times to come.” He said that the around 140,000 robots will be produced globally by 2010. India will see installation of 20,000. Further, he added that the China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, as well as India, are witnessing much higher growth compared to the other parts of the world. There is also great demand for robots in countries including Italy, Sweden and Germany. 

Robot vendors are also seeing a change in pricing, which, they say, will further strengthen the demand for robots. “The cost of a robot has come down, though the decrease is not very steep. But more than pricing, it's the requirement and benefits that are driving demands for such products,” says an industry source. 

Cutting Edge technologies in Robotics will contribute to lead Indian Industry into the domain of innovation, setting them ahead in the race for safety, quality and efficiency, say market observers. Robots can maximize productivity, quality, safety, reduce labor costs and overcome the increasing shortage of skilled labor in automobile manufacturing industries. 

Moon robots 

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is examining the possibility of establishing a robotic or unmanned mission on the moon and also plans to establish the first “human colony” on the moon. Named, Chandrayaan I and II, the basic objective of the project is to examine whether a robotic station can function as a stopover to refuel reusable spacecraft for various planetary missions, and, eventually, create a self-sustaining environment to support a human colony on the moon. Chandrayaan II is being planned for some time between 2013 and 2014. 

About the Author
Uday Lal Pai, udaylalpai@gmail.com is a freelance journalist based in India.

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