New Delhi: Signalling the rising tide of automation in India, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd now has at least one robot for every four workers employed at its Manesar and Gurgaon car factories, the country’s largest.
Robots are deployed largely in the weld shop, the paint shop and the press shop, where automobile car bodies are shaped. The three are fully automated. Manual work is now done mostly in car assembly.
India’s largest carmaker is now buying C-series robots, which are smaller in size, take up less space and are 15% faster than their predecessors. Among the suppliers of the robots is the Japanese company Fanuc Robotics. For the company’s upcoming car, the new generation Dzire, as many as 104 C-Series high-speed robots are being used for welding.
More than 2,000 robots work seamlessly at the weld shop in Maruti’s Manesar facility. On one particular car at a particular time, at least 12 robots could be at work, the company said in a presentation to reporters during a visit to the Manesar plant on Friday.
There are around 160 robots in the body paint shop and 65 in the bumper paint shop.
“We have around 2,500 robots at the Manesar facility. In total, including the Gurgaon plant, there must be around 5,000 robots,” said Rajiv Gandhi, executive director (production), Maruti Suzuki, when asked about the total number of robots deployed by the company at its facilities.
Robots are becoming more ubiquitous in factories across the world as employers seek to cut costs, sparking concern about potential job losses.
An estimated 137 million Asian workers could lose their jobs to robots in the next 20 years, according to International Labour Organization numbers released in July last year. In January 2016, the US Census Bureau suggested that robots could take away as many as five million jobs in the US alone by 2020. Adidas’s Ansbach factory in Germany, run almost entirely by robot workers, is due to start production this year.
As of 31 March, Maruti employed as many as 22,000 workers, its chief financial officer Ajay Seth said at a press conference to announce the company’s earnings on 27 April.
Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, the company’s production has increased from 1.27 million units to 1.6 million units.
“As far as total employment in Manesar and Gurgaon is concerned... I think we have more or less reached the maximum employment which is possible, which is about 22,000 people. Two years back, it would have been somewhat lower because at that time demand was not quite this high and workers and the factory depended on volume... but there would be stability in employment now...,” Seth said.
There are still some models, such as the Eeco van, where automation levels are as low as 30%. The company plans to increase that to 50-60%, Gandhi said.
“On all the new models, level of automation will increase. With automation, fit and finish is better,” Gandhi said, adding that robots are deployed in practices where safety risks are high and where they need to play a role to meet efficiency and time requirements.
Technological changes, addition of new features in automobiles, an increase in the number of parts that go into each vehicle and higher production has necessitated automation, he said.
Automakers will have to deploy more robots to meet demand, as the car market expands, experts say.
“Several things are happening. The way you are building vehicles today, precision is very, very important,” said Abdul Majeed, partner and national auto practice leader at PwC. “Electronic components are increasing. You want to make sure that there is no product defect. Safety laws are stringent, people are particular about recalls. Humans can have inconsistencies, but robots won’t.”