Anders Jonsson, EVP, ABB Robotics Division
The executive vice president of ABB Robotics Division was in India recently and took time off to speak to T Murrali.
What brings you to India?
I am here to open an application centre for robotics in Bangalore. It is essentially for body-in-white (BIW) systems in body shops. With this centre, we can locally design, engineer and deliver BIW lines in India to our auto OEM customers with support from the lead centre in France. The ABB India Centre, like its counterparts in China, Germany, Sweden, the US, Canada and Brazil, will be a satellite unit to the main one in France. We are building up our presence here and have nearly 300 robots in India. Though we started a bit late, things business is picking up now. It is the takeoff period for us and we see a greater role for robots in all areas, including the automotive segment.
Why is a robot essential?
Any customer should buy a robot for three reasons. The first is to replace a group of workers, which may not work well in India since you cannot compete with Indian workers. This is more relevant to countries like Japan where there are not too many young workers and more of an ageing population. The second reason to go in for a robot is for health, safety and environment. They come in handy when the prevailing conditions are too hot, cold or dusty which human beings typically cannot bear. This is much valid in India. Finally, robots are required for sustained process quality.
How do you see your Indian operations evolving?
In my view, they have been growing at a quick pace. We are still clocking very small numbers but growth has been phenomenal each year. We are now planning to get into a very broad range of products. Thus far, we have only been offering robots but will soon begin selling complete systems for applications like body manufacturing, sheet metal pressings and paint lines.
What are some of the issues involving growth of robotics in India?
We might have started slightly late in India but, as I just said, growth has been good. The proliferation of robotics depends upon the sensitive issue of competing with labour. I do not see robots pose a threat to workers because, by the end of the day, companies that produce quality components get more orders and flourish. I am quite optimistic about the growth of robotics in India. The only significant impact/change I see for customers going in for robotic lines is that they need to freeze the design before ordering robots. In the case of manual lines, they can redesign any number of times even at a much later stage. I have also noticed seen some Indian clients are not used to these design philosophies.
Does ABB have customised solutions for SMEs which are critical in the Indian context?
Yes, we do offer a complete package. Here, customers can buy a robot separately or with a controller and have the option of programming by themselves. Based on the requirement, they can source the grippers and get the robot in action. Another possibility is to offer customers a complete cell or line based on their job requirements.
What are the technologies you propose to introduce here?
We have a vision system that can be integrated with the robot. This can visually see and act as programmed. We also have force control systems to help gently pick and place even food items like chocolates. So far, we have been selling basic models but see tremendous potential for the new technologies since they save on operational costs. For instance, the robot can move based on the components it has to pick up rather than move as per the predetermined programme as in the case of picking, placing and palletising. We offer other solutions too. For instance, the Asian Arc Welding cell, which we developed specifically for Asian markets, has started off well in India. Since these packages are expensive, we are now coming out with cost-efficient solutions here.
Do you plan to offer remote diagnostics services to your customers?
Worldwide, we have the mobile phone diagnostics system (which is part of remote diagnostics) to support our customers. It is still not available in India. If this system works in other countries, it should work here too. It has very good mobile telephone technologies as well as a good telecommunications network. We now plan to launch these services in India. Right now, the top priority is to increase the number of robots used.
What will this involve?
We propose to increase the size of our team to accomplish this goal as selling a robot is a different ballgame compared to a motor or compressor. We have software with which we build a simulation cell for customers to virtually see how robots work. This helps them plan in advance and change the layout, if needed, to optimise efficiency.
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