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The labour troubles of India’s automobile industry are well-known. Forced to rely on cheap contract labour to cut costs, industrial relations in these firms have plummeted in recent years. Can there be other solutions to this unenviable situation?

Our manufacturing sector needs to find a solution not only to counter issues associated with contract workers but also lower input costs while ensuring products are available at affordable prices to meet domestic demand. One possible solution is to recourse robotics and automation in manufacturing.

India has, however, shied away from making investments in these technologies. This is because unlike other countries, such as the US or those in Europe where wages remain abnormally high or in China where scale of manufacturing is vast, decision makers find it hard to justify any investment to be made towards automating the production process.

Data compiled by International Federation of Robotics (IFR)—a non-profit organization established by robotics associations from 15 countries—in its report World Robotics 2012 shows that supplies increased in the US to a new peak level of 20,555 units in 2011. Similar figures for Germany and Japan were 19,533 and 28,000, respectively. India stands out with the sale of a paltry 1,547 units.

One can argue that such absolute numbers can be misleading when used to analyse such cross-country data as size of manufacturing varies across these countries.

But India fares even worse when other parameters such as robot density—the number of multipurpose industrial robots per 1,000 persons employed in manufacturing industry—are used. South Korea has the highest robot density in the world at 347, whereas Japan and Germany have registered a robot density of 339 and 261 for the year 2011. India has a robot density of 1.

In the years ahead India can think of competing with China as a manufacturing outsourcing hub. It can take a cue from Japan, which after the end of World War II used value added manufacturing to rebuild a war-torn economy to emerge as world class competitors in highly automated industries such as automobiles and electronics.

Why is India lagging behind other countries in robotics? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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