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The next chapter in manufacturing evolution with automation
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The next chapter in manufacturing evolution with automation

March 30, 2024 11:31 am

In the heart of industrial evolution, Bill Gates’ axiom rings true: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” As India vaults to the forefront with nearly 5,000 industrial robots installed, this transformative embrace of automation underscores a journey where efficiency meets innovation, shaping a future of unparalleled productivity and safety.

A revolution is underway, fueled by the relentless march of technology. The rise of next-generation automation promises to redefine the very fabric of manufacturing. With over 3.5 million industrial robots already in operation worldwide and a staggering growth rate exceeding 30% year-on-year, the momentum behind automation has surged dramatically.

Welcome to the forefront of Industry 4.0, where automation is a transformative force shaping the future of production. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and computer-controlled systems, the next wave of automation is poised to revolutionise how we manufacture goods. The implications are profound, with an eye-watering projection of $267 billion in revenue by 2025 and the expectation that 50% of manufacturing tasks will be automated by then.

But what exactly does this mean for manufacturing? How will next-generation automation redefine workflows, empower workers, and drive innovation to unprecedented heights?

Purpose of automation

Determining the purpose of automation is crucial. The new opportunities it presents are significant. Automation can greatly enhance productivity by freeing up time previously spent on mundane tasks such as data analysis. With data readily available and analysis tools at hand, identifying and resolving issues becomes faster and more efficient.

Automation introduces robots and AI-driven solutions that provide real-time support on the shop floor, enabling quicker decision-making. While predictive capabilities existed in the past, advancements in automation now offer more precise predictions, whether energy consumption or product quality. Rajas Satbhai, Independent Consultant, Digital Transformation Strategy, notes, “These solutions provide precise prescriptions for optimising production recipes, reducing the time spent on data analysis and decision-making. This ultimately boosts productivity and helps minimise defects and inefficiencies on the shop floor. It even allows employees to leave work on time rather than working overtime.

Automation opens up new opportunities beyond traditional computer and electronic fields. Even those without specialised technical backgrounds can benefit from advanced solutions, provided they understand the underlying processes.

Additive manufacturing

With new technologies and products such as additive manufacturing continuing to emerge, it is challenging to keep up with the pace. This includes advancements like multi-axis machines, and robots showcased at events like IMTEX, which illustrate the need for ongoing collaboration and adaptation within both industry and academia.

S Manohar, General Manager of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA), adds, “Integrating subtractive and additive manufacturing processes on shop floors necessitates standardised communication protocols. Over time, the transportation layer for communication has evolved from older profiles to modern standards like Ethernet and 5G, which are becoming increasingly accessible. Security remains a critical concern, particularly for edge devices such as HMIs and routers, as vulnerabilities in these devices can potentially compromise entire ERP systems. Implementing protocols and communication layers to secure these devices is paramount.”

The immense influx of data generated by these systems highlights the importance of standardised data formats for analysis and visualisation. While numerous visualisation tools are available, the focus should be on deriving actionable insights from the data to drive organisational or process improvements.

Management information base

The Management Information Base (MIB) is commonly associated with IT networks, where it serves to store data from various devices. While there are parallels between MIB in IT networks and its application on the shop floor, they are not identical. In IT networks, the number of products is typically limited. On a shop floor, the range of products is diverse. In manufacturing settings, every intelligent device requires connectivity. Each device, capable of generating binary data, must be identified and integrated into the system.

Due to the diverse nature of these components, the specification for combining components in sectors like robots, sensors, and bearings can vary greatly. There may be some similarities between the concept of MIB and its application in IT networks, but there are also notable differences. In IT networks, MIB typically follows the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), whereas various protocols can be used in manufacturing settings. MIB in IT networks is protocol-dependent, unlike in manufacturing, where it’s protocol-independent and may utilise different protocols.

The deployment environments differ. IT networks are often in controlled conditions while manufacturing shop floors can be exposed to dust and require robustness.

Sustainable manufacturing

When discussing sustainable manufacturing, it is essential to understand that sustainability encompasses various factors. These factors include sustainability in product development, processes, supply chain management, and implementing the 6R principles. There is a growing emphasis on the concept of circular economy, which aligns closely with the 6R— Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair. The 6R principles focus on post-use processes, aiming to address the high levels of consumption prevalent today. The 6R principles focus on post-use processes, aiming to address the high levels of consumption prevalent today.

Dr Sumit Gupta, Professor at Amity University Noida, adds, “Automation and Industry 4.0 tools are crucial for realising the goals of circularity, particularly in efficiently recycling waste and transforming it into usable products. Automation needs to remain economically viable alongside environmental and social sustainability. These efforts may yield environmental and social benefits, but economic sustainability is equally significant. Identifying processes where automated systems can effectively achieve all three dimensions of sustainability is important.”

Due to financial constraints, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are lagging in adopting these technologies. Large-scale companies have the resources to invest in digital technologies, but SMEs face challenges in implementation. Closing this technological gap is crucial for widespread adoption and advancement in sustainable manufacturing practices. The funds provided by the Government of India for implementing technologies are insufficient. This requires pinpointing core areas where technology implementation can be most beneficial.

Modern manufacturing

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Environment plays a major role in manufacturing, with many plants now having dedicated ESG departments focusing on sustainability initiatives. Digital transformation can greatly assist in this regard. One significant area is energy optimisation projects, where automation technologies help measure consumption and establish new KPIs. This correlation between energy consumption and production practices provides valuable insights, enabling adjustments to reduce energy usage. Lower energy consumption translates to reduced reliance on coal. It is for environmental conservation, given that much of India’s power generation relies on coal.

While renewable energy technologies are not fully automated, they are expected to be integrated from the outset. This automation, including energy consumption monitoring and prediction, enhances environmental impact assessment and mitigation strategies. Predictive maintenance facilitated by automation minimises machine downtime and wear and tear, reducing wastage of materials, energy, and operational hours. By analysing patterns, automation supports sustainability and environmental improvement initiatives.

Data

To streamline the life cycle assessment process, automation and digital transformation tools such as sensors and IoT play a crucial role. This is particularly true with software like Gabi or open LC requiring extensive data at each stage of product development. Sensors capture data, which is then stored in the cloud through IoT, facilitating efficient data collection for life cycle analysis.

Automation technologies enhance process capabilities and system efficiency while reducing workforce efforts. Automation is vital in life cycle analysis, where data is captured and stored in the cloud. Leveraging various data analytics tools, particularly machine learning, allows for identifying and optimising factors contributing to emissions such as CO2 and toxic gases.

Digital platforms

A notable trend is emerging worldwide in the development of comprehensive digital platforms. These platforms integrate various layers within an organisation or factory, encompassing their entire ecosystem. While diverse approaches exist to create such platforms, some details remain proprietary. Nevertheless, investing in these platforms could significantly advance India’s technological landscape.

The growing concept of “manufacturing as a service” replaces traditional contract manufacturing. This approach demands distinct capabilities and a holistic understanding of processes, methods, and systems. The evolving technologies and manufacturing methods worldwide emphasise the importance of standardisation in driving progress.

Academia

Collaboration between industry and academia is crucial, and it seems to be more extensive in other parts of the world, like Europe, the US, and China. This collaboration is more prevalent in institutions like IITs, NITs, and triple ITs, but it needs to be deepened, including involvement from private universities. As representatives of organisations like VDMA and OPC Forum India, Manohar senses a strong desire to collaborate closely with academia to advance smart manufacturing, particularly in the context of Industry 4.0 and beyond. To bridge this gap, we must establish robust communication channels and ensure academic programs align with industry needs. Collaboration between technical and academic institutions is essential, with industry input guiding curriculum development to produce graduates with the skills required for modern manufacturing.

Sumit shares that as a professor, he is faced with the hurdle of preparing his students for the shift from traditional manufacturing to automated systems, encompassing artificial intelligence and machine learning. Moving from Industry 3.0 to 4.0 towards 5.0 adds complexity to training.

In India, the challenge is due to the large workforce entering the job market annually. Sensible planning is required to effectively employ this workforce and transition towards smart manufacturing, which includes concepts like smart sales and production.

Consumer goods such as pressure cookers must meet safety standards, and manufacturing processes must also be standardised. To boost manufacturing exports, India must focus on producing quality products, which requires proper automation and adherence to standards for consistency. Achieving the goal of reaching a 1 trillion GDP in manufacturing within the next 6-7 years demands workforce development, technological advancements, and innovative approaches to implementing automation on the shop floor. While progress is underway with certain organisations leading the charge, India must remain adaptable and open to adopting these changes.

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Dr. Sumit Gupta, Professor, Amity University Noida

“Automation drives sustainable manufacturing, from 6R principles to circular economy adoption.”

S Manohar, General Manager, German Engineering Federation (VDMA)

“Deepening collaboration between academia and industry is vital, especially in India, as automation reshapes manufacturing.”

Rajas Satbhai, Independent Consultant, Digital Transformation Strategy

“Automation’s purpose extends beyond productivity; it’s about enhancing decision-making, sustainability, and democratising benefits across diverse fields.”

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