“Accelerate Use of Industrial Automation” [Apr 2012]

The more you delay the more you are distanced from the industrial developments. Milind Kulkarni, Head-Business Development (factory automation) at Siemens highlights the dark spots and opportunities across automation industry in India
It is a famous saying that, “Invention of wheel is the biggest revolution for industry”. Yes off course, but in the context of automation industry, invention of logic circuits is the foundation of automation industry! This was laid may be 50 years back from now.
Since then the pace at which automation technology has been evolved is really stupendous. In India too manufacturing industry had a test of automation and beginning of era of automation (relevant to today’s context) quite a few decades back.
Today we are talking about ‘Automatic Launching of Satellite Vehicle’ and further projecting our own satellites in a successful manner! Indeed this is a big and revolutionary thing and topic of national pride for all of us. However, the question remains whether this degree of sophistication of automation has reached across all the industry segments adequately? The answer unfortunately is not ‘yes’ clearly.
I would like to segregate the automation implementation in two categories, first obviously is industrial domain but the other one which is being neglected is automation in household, in day to day life. In simple things like lighting and control for optimum energy utilisation, traffic signal controls, street light, park light control and may more like this. Degree of automation here is minuscule as compared to very size of our nation, barring metro cities and few ‘A’ class city, we seldom come across any efforts in automating such simple tasks for the holistic and important cause of energy saving!
In this article, we shall focus more on industrial automation.
Increase focus on SMEsMajority of manufacturing segments in Indian industry is witnessing plenty of investments since last decade. However, it won’t be wrong if we say that we are still in elementary stage of automation implementation particularly when we look at small and medium scale enterprise (SMEs) around.
There are some challenges which are required to be addressed fast to motivate one and all for going ahead with investments in automation.
One of the main challenges is mindset of people from SMEs. Despite the fact that they are convinced for the benefits of automation; they still think of doing this at latter stage. This is in fact delaying their ‘Time to Market’ although initial product costing appears on lower side; they face following issues due to absence or inadequacy in automation:• Lack of flexibility in the manufacturing set up• Lack of international quality of the product/s manufactured• Unable to meet the quantity demands due to lesser through put.
Appoint ‘good’ automation consultant The growth in automation across India is primarily driven by large scale manufacturers, EPCs/ OEMs who are targeting international customers, mid-scale manufacturers and OEMs having tie up with global players.
However, it is seen off late that the Indian manufacturers who are catering to Indian market are also gradually shifting to automation but no one in this league is going for full blown automation. They usually prefer step-by-step approach. It is seen that many of the manufacturers are going for automation in ‘piece meals’. Therefore, time to time they end up buying solution which is cost wise lowest at the time of purchase. This usually happens because they lack in terms of future plans for automation.
The result is when it comes to complete integration; non uniform automation concept becomes the bottleneck. So the manufacturer ends paying unnecessary extra money to remove this bottleneck and go to the next level of automation. This can be resolved easily by involving good automation consultant before investments for automation are planned.
Understand intangible benefits wellAnother interesting observation is lack of confidence while taking investment decisions about ROI because most of the time it is seen that one tends to conclude only on the basis of tangible benefit. Return on investments is although a critical point considered while making decisions, it is important for the investor consulting with an automation expert who can clearly separate out tangible and intangible benefits. The investor should understand the intangible part well enough which can motivate him to take appropriate investment decision.
Adopt automation & remain competitiveDue to the globalisation, stiff competitions are being witnessed by the Indian manufacturers from the manufacturers across the globe and consumers are making natural choice to the best products.
The fact that price is not the only decisive factor anymore; it will be good for every Indian manufacturer to venture with high degree of automation to be successful in the competitive world.
Today, many Indian manufacturers, who became leaders in their own domain within the country, have adopted proper state-of-the-art automation timely. It is also important to note that it is good to invest in the initial stage for automation solution that is future proof like scalable, adaptable and flexible. This will allow the manufacturing companies to rip the benefits and fruits of the little higher investments; but for a much longer time period. Therefore from the costs that are going to be incurred, the industry must look for the ‘total cost of ownership’.
Integrate IT with automationAnother major lacuna is lack of IT integration with automation. Barring a few big corporate houses; it is rarely seen that a manufacturing company choose this way. It is understood that initial invests for such an enterprise can be really high but to remain in the league of state-of-the-art manufacturing setups one must make his existing automation such a way that it is ready for IT integration. Later on it will help in striding next step of Plant-IT integration.
ConclusionThe growth of automation business from all the key automation suppliers/ manufacturers in last decade is a clear indicator that we are on the right track but the only issue is not everyone is running at the same pace. It is needless to say that the overall growth rates are naturally hampered due to the ‘slow runners’. Various industrial forums like ARC, AIA are taking efforts along with the automation suppliers to spread the technology by selling the concepts and benefits which will help saving the industry from commoditising of automation components.  The degree of automation not only defines the pace of the growth for the manufacturing setup but also sets a direction and dimensions of the growth. Sooner or later it is imperative that all manufacturers will have to go for complete automation right up to IT integration. The question is whether one participates in the same proactively or barely gets dragged due to pressure from the industry. Early birds who get inside the pool of automation users league proactively surely can fetch more benefits just because they are there amongst the first runners.
It is for sure that in the next decade, automation in India will grow at least three times of what it has grown in last decade.

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