With demand for robots growing as companies in multiple sectors look for new ways to enhance their productivity and competitiveness post-pandemic, ABB has compiled a set of growth predictions, looking at key trends driving demand for robots in the coming year.
"The pandemic accelerated far-reaching global mega trends – from labor shortages and supply chain uncertainty, to the individualized consumer and growing pressure to operate sustainably and resiliently – leading new businesses to look to robotic automation,” says Marc Segura, ABB’s newly appointed Robotics Division President. “As technology opens new opportunities for meeting customer demands, new trends will continue to emerge that will further drive demand in areas where robots have traditionally not been used.”
Based on customer conversations, market research and a global survey of 250 companies across multiple industries, ABB has identified three key trends that will shape the demand for robots in 2022.
Demand for energy efficiency and automation is growing rapidly, including in India, and these are key investment focus areas, ABB's finance director Timo Ihamuotila told TOI during a visit to Bengaluru, where the Swedish-Swiss company has a large manufacturing base and one of the largest global R&D, engineering and shared services business.
ABB makes motors and drives, which are at the heart of everything that moves: water supply, transportation, elevators, escalators, windmills, industrial equipment, factory production lines. These are associated with enormous energy consumption. Electric motors consume more than 45% of the world's electricity. Adopting high-efficiency motor systems, ABB says, would reduce global electricity consumption by up to 10%. A drive is the electronic device that controls the electrical energy sent to a motor. The more efficiently an inverter controls the speed and torque of a motor, the more energy it saves.
Ihamuotila said rise in energy prices and environmental concerns are driving demand for high-efficiency motors and drives. Digitalisation, where India plays a significant role, is also enabling remote monitoring and predictive maintenance of these products. This motion business (motors, drives, etc), Ihamuotila said, is a clear investment priority for ABB in India.
Automation too, he said, is being driven by inflation, as also the need to move into higher value-added tasks and to keep people away from hazardous work. Ola is utilizing ABB's automation solutions in its factory in Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu – ABB robots, built in its Bengaluru factory, are used in the painting and welding lines, and in the battery and motor assembly lines.
The solution also ensures remote digital connectivity and monitoring of the robots. He added the biggest user of robotics solutions is automobiles, but other industries are catching up. "Some years ago, we had about 50% of the robotics solutions in automobiles, now it's between 25% and 30%. The next biggest is what we call general industries, which includes things like food & beverage, and logistics. Consumer electronics is very big. Pharma is growing, he said.
ABB has done the digitalisation of JSW's steel melt shop – it tracks the movement of ladles and cranes that carry molten steel and makes thermal loss predictions, which then help to optimize the casting speed of steel (conversion into a solid state) and increase productivity. It has implemented automation solutions in Amul's milk processing.
Ihamuotila said it's possible today to automate almost the entire ecommerce chain. "New technologies in automation allow you to build production lines that can be described as `lot size of one', where you can say you want these many chips and these many cans of something, and so on, and then the production line will produce this, package it, and ship it, he said.
Warehouse automation, he said, is growing fast. Sorting and palletising is crucial in warehouses. "You order something, and then in the warehouse, it has to be found, and there are different sizes of packages. The new robots can recognize packages and move them to the right place. These are big, big projects for us, he said, adding that while automation is growing, it is robotics that is growing faster and that's a major focus of investments in India.
Ihamuotila said ABB will also continue to make significant investments in India in R&D and shared services. India hosts several of ABB's centers of expertise that use new-age digital and analytics tools.
In shared services, which involve things like transaction support, bill booking, and invoicing, the focus is increasingly on analysis, projections, budgets, and planning. India hosts a transfer pricing analytics team that supports a number of countries.