Kuka robots make a mark

Kuka Robots completes three years in India.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 20 Aug 2009 Views icon16860 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Kuka Robotics seems to be reaping the benefits of being in the right market at the right time. And, India at the present moment is refreshingly different from the rest of the slowdown-affected world, particularly the automotive market. One of the world’s largest robot manufacturers, Kuka announced its entry into the Indian market in May 2006 through Kuka Robotics (India). Already a well-known supplier to the international auto industry, its main aim in India was to showcase its key competences — engineering, designing and delivering complex solutions for automated production and also project management in robotics — to vehicle and auto component manufacturers to help them meet international output and quality standards.

Kuka, for whom the automotive business constitutes a large portion of its total turnover, was understandably bullish about India. It chose Pune to start operations because it wanted to be close to its customers, particularly Tata Motors. The company’s India gameplan was to have the necessary presence and concentrate not only on sales but also on engineering and customer support and training.

Three years down the line, with its Indian operations headquartered in Gurgaon, Kuka India also has a state-of-the-art service and training centre in Pune and its key clientele includes some of the prominent automobile manufacturers and other engineering as well as non-engineering companies. Now with foreign players like Volkswagen, to whom Kuka is a supplier, expanding their operations to India, business can only get better.

Swinging into action at Tata Motors
Tata Motors though proved to be the first major business for the company in India. The car and commercial vehicle manufacturer took the lead in setting up one of the most automated production lines with a very high safety level for its Indica small car at the Pimpri, Pune plant which produces passenger cars, utility vehicles and commercial vehicles with a total capacity of 565,000 units per annum. The carmaker installed around 300 robots on a single line compared to its older 70-robot line. Production took a big leap with the new line capable of producing 2,70,000 cars per annum or around 900 cars a day. Enthused with the result, Tata also automated its Sumo Grande and Safari lines.

More recently, Tata Motors has completed an order of around eight special application robots at its Pimpri plant. These robots will be used in the making of Tata’s new Indicruz crossover, which is slated to be launched around Diwali this year. The new people-carrier, which will compete with the Mahindra Xylo and Toyota Innova, will see the special application robots effect spot welding, stud welding and also loading and loading of various components. Tata employs a large number of KR 210 robots, which are used for typical material handling applications, and the KR 16 for arc welding.

Kuka's German connection
German carmaker Volkswagen AG is another leading user of Kuka robots and the two companies share a working relationship since a couple of decades. Thus, when Volkswagen decided to set up a manufacturing plant in Chakan, near Pune, Kuka Robotics was an automatic choice.

The company has supplied 70 robots for attaching add-on components (doors and flaps) for three models — the Skoda Fabia as well as hatchback and saloon versions of the yet-to-be-launched Polo.

The VW body shop is up to 40 percent mechanised. The chief highlight of this area, where the body-in-white will be constructed from sheet metal parts both stamped at VW’s own press shop and supplied by vendors, is the flexible framing station which forms a key element of VW’s new modular platform strategy that enables it to create variants specifically for the requirements of each country and region. At the Chakan plant, for example, VW will for the first time add an A-segment rear-end module to the A0-segment front-end and mid-section modules of the Polo platform to create a saloon version (VW251).

At the framing station the roof and body sides are joined using a laser hybrid welding (brazing) technique pioneered by Audi and VW which not only saves time compared to the spot welding process used by all other manufacturers today, but also makes for a clean and elegant joint, whereas the others have to conceal the unsightly spot welds in the roof ditch under a layer of wax covered with a plastic strip. Carrying out this critical job are the Kuka robots.

In India, the automotive industry is fast turning out to be one of the biggest employers of Kuka's industrial robots, which the company imports from Germany and installs for its clients in India. Besides Tata Motors and VW, its key customers include Hyundai Motor India (robots for underbody sealing applications), Mahindra & Mahindra (robots for hemming and glass glazing applications), Ashok Leyland (project is under installation; robots supplied for loading and unloading of machines), and Cooper Foundry (for handling applications).

Training academy
To facilitate smoother induction of robots, Kuka India also has a state-of-the-art service and training centre in Pune where it provides hands-on robotics training to both engineering graduates and professionals from the manufacturing industry. At the academy, which was set up to help train Tata Motors’ staff for the Pimpri project, trainers (who are trained at Kuka Germany) provide realistic, theoretical and practical training on Kuka robots. The courses are divided into three levels — basic, advanced and expert — and are aimed at training robot service technicians, programmers and operators. In each specialist area, participants learn what is needed to become a fully qualified robot expert. The trainees' skills are tested, verified and documented by means of a final examination in each area, leading to a certificate as a Kuka Certified Robot Professional in one of these three technical fields. Thus far, Kuka has installed over 600 robots in the Indian market, most of them in the automotive industry. Its single-biggest order for robotic automation was from Tata Motors for the 300 robots, which still remains the biggest order as yet for any company supplying robotic automation products in India. India takes to robots, but slowly
As the Indian automotive industry matures and also grows in size, the use of robotic production techniques has been growing rapidly. According to Raj Singh Rathee, managing director, Kuka Robotics (India), “The demand for automotive robots is picking up in India. This is because more and more automakers are increasing capacity and installing robots makes it economically feasible for them. Earlier, the volumes were not high enough for carmakers to use robots. Nevertheless, while existing volumes are still not very high compared to the other developed countries, the momentum is expected to pick up substantially.”

Kuka’s robots are also helping out with associated industry. The company recently introduced the heaviest palletising robots in the Indian market, which will meet demand from the logistics industry and indirectly meet the needs of the automotive industry as well.

What is also changing gradually is the industry mindset. A once-apprehensive outlook has now turned positive as users begin to appreciate the benefits of automation and robotisation in their operations. Not only do robots save costs, hugely improve quality and production levels but are also a safer option. In fact, they can assist manufacturers to transform their competitiveness and deliver much-increased levels of productivity, efficiency and profitability. All of which is needed in today's markets.

In January 2008 Kuka got an opportunity to showcase its products and expertise at the Auto Expo in Delhi. Robo Expo was a unique platform for the Indian automotive industry to update itself on the latest technologies in the robotics and automation field. For Kuka it proved to be a great marketplace where both component manufacturers and OEMs were present in large numbers and the company received a number of enquiries which later led to sales. January 2010 will see Kuka once again participate in the next Auto Expo and this time around it plans to exhibit a completely new technology designed to hugely benefit the auto industry.
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