Gurgaon-based Kuka Robotics (India), the wholly owned subsidiary of Kuka Roboter GmbH of Germany, has been operating in India since 2006 catering to customers by importing robots from Germany with local support in the form of after sales service and training. The company started by supplying to Tata Motors initially, and its current clientele includes Mahindra & Mahindra, Ashok Leyland, Daimler, Hyundai and Volkswagen India. Vikas Swami, Vice-President, Kuka Robotics (India), speaks to Bhargav TS on India’s position and future robotics application.
How important is India to Kuka Robotics’ global strategy?
Our headquarters is looking towards India and it should be the next developing economy after China, though we are still behind Brazil. But we are confident we will catch up by the next quarter and should be in the second position.
What is the market potential in India vis-a-vis China?
The two are quite similar in some ways. They are both economically growing markets with a strong automotive industry. An increasing number of foreign companies are setting shop in both India and China, where the per capita car population is low. So there is a lot of theoretical potential here. Of course, infrastructure has to also grow with this. As far as I can see, this is the biggest difference between India and China.
Since India is being considered as low cost work force, where do automation and the use of robotics fit?
Yes, India is a labour intensive market where labour is cheap, but slowly the conditions are changing. Since there is an increase in quality and volumes, manual operation is not possible. Therefore OEMs are now looking at more and more robotic automation because of the kind of consistent quality, combined with manufacturing safety it offers.
What is your view about the level of robotics in Tier 1 companies in India? How do you expect this to develop over the next ten years?
It is going to be big and they will be growing in a bigger way along with the OEMs. Since Tier 1 suppliers are catering to multiple OEMs, they want flexibility because of just-in-time deliveries. So they need to wait for the schedules and produce the components right in time, that’s where robots become very important. Now, component manufacturers are also planning in a big way for robotic automation, especially in foundry and forging operations where it is not possible to employ manual labour continuously. I am sure that in the next couple of years you will see robotics flooding the Indian market.
In future, for which applications OEMs can consider using robots, which is currently done manually?
One area is seat fitment, which is currently done manually. Another area could be commercial vehicle seat testing, where Kuka has the systems to test the number of cycles of human shock it can take.
While designing a robot do you take ideas from OEMs? Or do you produce robots according to demand?
Based on the OE demand Kuka started working on the applications. The best example would be one when laser brazing came into the picture so that OEMs could make their panels smaller or the width reduced. Such requirements come from OEs and from there Kuka develops the product. So, it is very much driven by the customer requirement.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities in India, either with the established, domestic brands or with the newcomers?
We see opportunities everywhere. We definitely cater to the global OEMs but at the same time want the Indian industry to benefit and employ the latest in technologies so that our overall economy grows. We will soon be setting up a technical centre to develop and cater to India-specific applications.
How energy efficient are Kuka robots?
We produce robots which consume 25-30 per cent less energy. The electronics which we have used is capable of taking more power fluctuation and have also addressed the issue of how quick our robots should start when power goes off. Therefore our new controllers are capable of addressing these issues and made the robots to restart in less than a minute.
Kuka robots are also designed with plus or minus tolerances on all the parameters that we have for input voltage fluctuations, frequency fluctuations, and temperature fluctuations. We considered these parameters during the design stage of the robots.
How is the demand for robots in the Indian market compared with other emerging markets?
If we compare India with the ASEAN countries, we are far behind, but in the last couple of years we are catching up. Now we have also started working with technical institutes to promote the robotics from the students level.
Have you bagged any new orders?
Yes, we will be supplying robots to Volvo Eicher, which will be mainly used in spot welding applications. We are also in discussion with some more CV makers and hope to bag them as well.
Apart from selling robots, what kind of maintenance do you offer? Is the engineering capability in India adequate to deal with such situations?
We do understand this challenge, and that is the reason why when we started our subsidiary in India, we also established a local training centre in Pune. This has been running successfully over the last six years, and we have trained hundreds of workers so far. We understand that training is an integral part of the product establishment, and it has been well accepted by our users in the market.
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