The automation sector in India shows promise and is estimated to touch $2 billion by the year 2023. While representatives from the industry take the initiative to give us intel from within the market, Kanish Aggarwal, Chief Operating Officer, Agua Wireless Systems, asserts that the automation industry continues to grow. He says: “The sector is growing at the rate of 11.6 per cent. For a long time now, manufacturers in metro cities have relied on Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) systems.” These systems, he adds, have been ruggedised and adapted for use in various manufacturing processes, assembly lines, robotic devices and other activity involving reliability control in programming and processes. Talking briefly on technology, Aggarwal says that technology is very often supported by IoT-enabled automation of mundane, error-prone processes that help boost the overall efficiency of a system. Speaking about the Internet, Aggarwal says: “CISCO also estimates that by the year 2030, 500 billion devices will be added to the Internet and these will enable consumers to monitor, analyse and control processes.”
Decoding tectonic shifts within the industry
Technology is essential, but certain shifts are influencing the automation market. Abhimanyu Raja, Co-Founder, Janyu Technologies, sees a striking demand for modernisation within the automation sector. He says: “We see a need-based internal demand steered towards modernisation, and this demand is usually brought on by the customers. We also see a demand where we need to match international standards.” The trends, he believes, are fuelled by the need for the automation and robotics sector to be exporters of products. But to be exporters, he asserts, consistency in quality is a must. Raja is certain that if we as an industry are unable to deliver on quality and be consistent in our production, we are bound to fall back on orders, as a result, the customer will eventually import. “As a manufacturer, I need to understand that I must produce by delivering on my products with quality that is consistent,” he reiterates.
Also, the industry today functions on a percentile defect basis while internationally the industry functions on parts per million (PPM) defect levels. “If we don’t travel the path, then we become extinct. Today another challenge is the role of capital costs in robotics and automation. The industry also is bound to timelines, and we depend on multinational companies – hence, we have not grown up. Also, our operator literacy levels are completely different and the challenge is very evident,” he adds. Pointing to affordable automation as yet another emerging trend and a challenge, Raja says: “On the industry side, automation is a big concept that includes robotisation. Gradually, we see that there is awareness around automation and there exists a need to be consistent.” For instance, he adds: “Until and unless there is a robotic inspection, one cannot assure that the product being delivered has quality and is up to the mark. Manual inspection can lead to errors, and because we are not physically designed to do monotonous jobs, robotics is bound to come into the picture and this will help save time.”
Aggarwal says that though the industry is contoured with its many challenges, the foremost among all is the limited adoption to technology. He says: “We are faced with a myriad of challenges – one is that we see a limited technology adoption by the consumer demographic. To ensure that we grow as a company, we have to undertake exercises to change consumer mindsets.” Till date, he says, consumers rely on low-cost mechanical processes that are error-prone, and often these lead to high system inefficiencies. “To convince our clients about the benefit of installing automation systems, we conduct a Return on Investment Analysis where we determine the period in which an investment will payback.” Further, he says: “We deduce this by calculating the savings in water usage, electricity usage and manpower hours bought in due to our automation systems.”
Getting to the heart of the issue: Robotic mitigation of toxic and hazardous waste
While technology and its adoption play a vital role in the industry, Raja asserts that his company takes the issue-centric route to automation and robotics. As Janyu Technologies is primarily a robotics manufacturing company, it is focused on hazard mitigation. He explains saying: “Our company is focused on hazard mitigation. A hazard begins at two levels – occupational hazards that is something we face during our job and another is a process hazard – the residues or remanence out of a process.” Industries across the board today still rely heavily on human labour, and very often the working conditions expose the labourer to hazards on the job. Giving a few examples, Raja asserts: “Industries wherein the processing phase involves hot metal, the power-press machine, buffing, grinding, punching are all instances where the operator or the worker is directly exposed to a hazard in some way or the other.” He also pointed to the chemical and oil and gas industry sector, he says: “In the chemical industry, the worker is exposed to toxic fumes; also, in the oil sector, there are storage areas such as storage tanks. These tanks are big silos that are 20 meters to 30 meters in diameter. The storage of oils and other chemicals leads to the formation of toxic sludge at the bottom of the tank.” DP Misra, formerly the Director-General of Indian Chemical Council (ICC), gives us a more detailed view of the situation when it comes to sewage waste. He says: “Contractors engaged by municipalities maximise their profits, they do not provide safety gadgets, as a result, labourers end up working for the lure of money, and sometimes it also leads to the loss of life.” The lives lost can often exceed 2,000 each year, he says. “I am very distressed about the way manual scavenging takes the lives of poor labourers as if there is no dignity to human life. This is also due to the collusion between the municipality and the contractors to earn money. Pitiable indeed.”
A unified approach
Industry representatives and social activists together identify with the handling of both non-toxic and toxic waste, and the exposure to hazardous substances to labourers as a social stressor and an issue within society. Dr Milind Kulkarni, Director, Prachi Services talks how the automation and the robotics sector has much to think about in terms of human dignity in waste handling. He says: “Maintaining human dignity is vital and the way we handle and deal with waste is an emerging phenomenon. Jobs related to this is often considered as a low self-esteem job.”
In the case of sewage systems and septic tank maintenance – workers are engaged to enter and clean them, which can prove to be hazardous to the worker. Raja reiterates the kind of issues Kulkarni has mentioned. He says: “When we talk about toxic or hazardous substances like chemicals or substances in the oil and gas sector used in heavy industrial applications; There is a storage of 60 to 70 tonnes of a chemical at a time. The storage leads to the formation of toxic sludge at the bottom of the tank – and now the question arises: How would you remove this sludge and clean the tank?” Explaining further, he says: “So you have a manhole where the labourer crawls and brings the sludge out in small portions. These are otherwise inaccessible areas, they restrict breathing and the air space in these tanks are filled with toxins and is injurious to health.” In such a situation, each tank would take anywhere between 100 to 120 days to clean manually by a group of people. But in such a situation, with the help of robots, the tank can be cleaned in 30 days, and as a result, the sludge can be pumped out using hydraulic systems, he adds.
Explaining in detail, Raja says that his company also provides machines that have amendments. “One is municipal solid waste and the other is sewer waste that includes liquid waste in pipeline systems,” he says. Janyu Technologies, he adds, is also coming up with big schemes for the government. Overall, Raja believes that things are moving forward in terms of providing safety to the worker; companies are mindful to give shoes and other protective accessories to workers. But in inaccessible areas, we must try and help the industry see robotics within the scope of automation as a ‘means-to-an-end’. “Hence at Janyu Technologies, our objective is to handle hazards through the use of technology and automation,” says Raja. Seconding the thought is Misra. He says: “To my knowledge, the use of robotics in India is at a premature stage and those engaged in the manufacturing of robotic systems have not made enough publicity.” He says that recently he invited Abhimanyu to present his system at a seminar organised at IIT Bombay on Solid Waste Processing. “Although he was offering robotic systems for the cleaning of chemical tanks, I requested him to meet the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) Authorities and offer his system. I am quite sure robotic system can take over manual scavenging provided the capability in the country, and I also believe that this might meet the needs within India,” says Misra.
Clearing misconceptions and taking the route to problem-solving
So, can we move into a market which is competitive whilst also working together by following an issue-centric approach to problem-solving? Raja suggests that the industry needs to first identify where it stands. “We are not in Industry 4.0 which is the normal selling point for most corporates. First, we need to understand what Industry 4.0 signifies,” says Raja. Explaining further, he says – Industry 4.0 is a phase where machines talk to each other and where there is a considerable amount of Machine Learning happening. Here, machines control machines and with the help of data that is collected, the machine understands, analyses and take decisions. “Today, we live in an age in India where basic IoT systems and Data Analytics is yet to be conducted. There is awareness, but much of Machine Learning is still confined to high-tech industries like the automobile sector,” he says. India is in a phase where we have completed Industry 2.0 and we are halfway through to Industry 3.0. We are in an age where PLCs are still popular.
In rhetoric, Aggarwal brings in a government and policy perspective. He says: “The Government of India has recently launched Smart Advanced Manufacturing and Rapid Transformation Hub (SAMARTH) – Udyog Bharat 4.0 – an initiative in which demonstration centres are being established to raise awareness among the stakeholders in the Indian manufacturing industry.” Moreover, he says, cheap Chinese imports have flooded the market in recent times and this has made Indian players realise that they need to upgrade their operations if they want to survive in an increasingly competitive environment globally. This is only possible if real-time feedback and control systems are adopted throughout the manufacturing value chain. We have started moving in that direction for sure, but have a long road ahead of us. The government, he says, can contribute to a better waste management system by providing regulation and incentives. “State governments and municipal bodies can make it mandatory for buildings, layouts, complexes and cities to deploy automation systems to streamline waste collection, segregation and processing. This can be similar to the policy for mandatory rainwater harvesting systems in buildings, as implemented by multiple state governments.” Moreover, Aggarwal says that authorities can institutionalise a green building rating to ensure that any new building being developed is rated according to the amount of waste it generates and recycles. He says: “To promote the lower waste generation, the rating agency can recommend automation systems that enable optimised processes and reduced wastage.” Kulkarni adds saying that the government can enforce robotics and automation in large-scale projects and government departments. He says: “We need funds to be made available along with the proper allocation of funds. New skill must be recognised and proper jobs should be created.”
Misra was the former Director-General of the ICC. While giving a personal take on the matter, he elaborates on the initiatives taken by the council to bring about regulation and a high-automation of toxic chemical waste. He says: “The chemical industry is very concerned with process safety. When I was the Director-General of the ICC between the years 2005-2009, we had an extensive training programme in Chemical Process Safety for the Indian chemical industry.” During those years, he adds, the council brought to the industry the concept of Responsible Care that ensures signatories to the Responsible Care adopt the seven code of practices as adopted elsewhere in the world. “The industries who practise Responsible Care to the satisfaction of ICC auditors are allowed to use Responsible Care logos so that they are internationally recognised about safety procedures involved in the manufacturing of chemicals,” he says. Now the number of companies signatory to Responsible Care are in an excess of 100 and the use of process safety along with Hazop Analysis of process documents go hand in hand and requires extensive use of automation.
The last word
The first step to dealing with the issue is to meet global manufacturing standards, asserts Aggarwal. He says: “We need to adopt a combination of regulatory steps at different levels. The quality standards need to be revamped to match global norms. Inspection teams need to be equipped with technology, and our focus must be on ensuring high-quality raw materials are used for manufacturing within India.” This, in turn, will ensure a lower input cost for the industry and will help deploy automation systems to ensure quality check through the value chain, he said. “The goal of automation is to manage tasks where the human worker’s potential is currently being squandered. Allowing the inclusion of robots will take care of menial tasks and we will be able to free up capital to perform tasks that require more intellectual capability and hence will enable us to move towards a better standard of living. Raja stresses the need for collaboration of the industry and associations as a route to looking at the subject from an issue-centric perspective. He says: “As of now, we are assisting in handing the toxic sludge to our private sector clients.”
Also, when we talk about robotisation and automation, people think from different perspectives. “As a part of problem-solving, we focus on two kinds of robots – autonomous and semi-autonomous. Work is done and we are productive. What we need is a de-centralised approach to problem-solving where the industry needs to come together and address the situation with an issue-centric approach,” he says. Highlighting a little on the work and solutions by Janyu Technologies, he says: “We are into crawlers and robotic arms. We have custom-designed our crawlers as per need and client-requirement. All our robots function on hydraulics and they have in-built cameras where in we see it being operated at a distance of 150 metres. If the sludge is tough, we can use the arm to cut through or dilute the sludge with either water or kerosene.”