Global technology major ABB Ltd has been helping companies in their digital transformation journey through industrial automation and robotics since many decades. In an email interview with Mint, Sami Atiya, president of Robotics and Discrete Automation at ABB, shares his thoughts on the evolution of robots and the adoption of robotics in India.
ABB will hold its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 26 March as planned, though shareholders will not be allowed to attend in person and instead vote via independent proxy as precautionary measures against the coronavirus (COVID-19). Edited excerpts:
How has robotics evolved over the years at ABB from its simplest forms to the sophisticated AI-driven robots we see today?
ABB has shipped more than 400,000 robots worldwide since introducing the first micro-processor-controlled robot in 1974. In the meantime, a lot has changed. ABB now makes a wide variety of robots to fit a variety of customer needs, from large robots that can lift a car body to very fast ones for packaging food, to the latest generation of collaborative robots including our YuMi family.
In addition, we offer software, controllers, advanced connected services and offline programming and simulation tools. With our solutions, we support our customers as they transition to the factory of the future with a complete digital ecosystem. Already today, processes can be optimised through real-time data analysis. Machine learning allows the system to remember challenges and continuously improve item recognition and identification of optimal picking vectors for example.
In the future, machine-learning and AI will increase the bandwidth of data and analysis and enable robots to self-learn and self-adjust. This will make the handling of the robots easier and enable improved performance.
What is the appetite among Indian CIOs to adopt robotic automation in their organisations? What are the growth drivers?
The fundamentals driving investment in robotics and automation are common to a large number of markets around the world. There’s a need for greater flexibility to support the trend of mass customisation. Product life cycles continue to shorten, and manufacturers must launch new products quickly – up to full speed in days, not weeks. India, in particular is one of the strongest growing economies of the world – despite recent subdued market conditions.
The manufacturing sector has accounted for around 17-18% of the country’s GDP over the last few years. Programs such as ‘Make in India’ are further expanding the sector. Also, the recently announced plan to make India a hub for electronic manufacturing is a promising signal. The success of these initiatives in the long run largely depends on improving the competitiveness of the manufacturing segment in India. This is where robotics and automation can play a crucial part. Our customers are aware of this and are eager to embrace robotic automation. Between 2013 and 2018, robot installations in India saw a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20%.
How large is your robotics division in India and what is their role?
We have several hundred employees, including professionals working in business development and R&D as well as in our engineering delivery team in our Indian Operations Centre. Our R&D team in India works closely with our global R&D team to develop next-generation embedded software applications and digital solutions such as remote monitoring of 8,000 robots in 40 countries. With our engineering delivery center, we are supporting our global business lines with operations such as sourcing, engineering, project management, installation and commissioning. The Indian market offers us great growth perspectives. The country’s industrial automation market is expected to grow more than 10% per year until 2023.
Which sectors in India are adopting robotic automation more than the others?
Today, the automotive industry is the largest adopter of robotic solutions in India. We are also seeing segments including food and beverage, consumer packaged goods, electronics and the logistics industry starting to adopt robotics at a much faster pace. India’s growing middle-class population is fuelling new consumption patterns, such as a shift towards packaged food for example, and this is creating a need for flexible robotic solutions in these segments. ABB is very well positioned to meet these needs.
How are you leveraging the startup ecosystem in India to innovate in the robotics space?
ABB Robotics takes a global, collaborative approach to innovation, including partnerships with universities, industry leading companies and startups to enable further leaps in innovation and growth. Startups have an important role, and we are keen to work with innovators large and small worldwide. Last year, for example, we opened a new healthcare research hub at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) innovation campus in Houston, Texas to work closely with startups in the healthcare sector. We are of course very open to collaboration in India.