September 10, 2012      

Recent news has been full of positive reports on the growth of robotics in the Asia-Pacific region. With large populations, increasing conflict between industry and labor and a rising number of highly automated competitors, countries like India are gaining attention from the international robotics community. Not unexpectedly, sales in Taiwan have been slowly maturing, with a hollowed-out manufacturing infrastructure in India perhaps learning from China’s tactics for fostering domestic entrepreneurship. Whether buying or selling, the potential for rapid industry growth in these markets is blooming.

According to IDB, Taiwan?s robotics market is expected to reach $1.8 billion by the end of 2012 and continue to grow 10% annually thereafter. Janitorial robot sales alone increased from $6.6 million in 2005 to $100 million in 2011, pointing to the prioritization of service robotics for an aging population in that state.

India is another emerging market to watch. While the country lacks robot manufacturers domestically, the rest of the robotics world sees huge potential in marketing to the world?s second most populous country. The organizers of AUTOMATICA, Germany?s mammoth robotics tradeshow, plan to launch the India Automation Technology Fair (IATF) next February in Bombay. India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. With a tradition of training youth to enter science and technology fields, future generations of robot-ready engineers are not difficult to imagine.

Mazor Robotics has recently partnered with AMS to sell their robotic system for spinal surgery in India, with promising results so far.

?As demand for quality healthcare grows, medical device analysts are projecting robust growth rates in the Asia Pacific region, with recent reports indicating medical device growth rate of 23 percent in India alone,? stated Romesh Kaul, president and Chief Executive Officer of AMS.

India Times?In industrial news, Maruti Suzuki, India?s largest carmaker in terms of market share, is automating its Manesar operations to increase consistency with the quality of their cars as well as bring them up to speed with its hi-tech plants in Hamatsu Japan.

Hyundai, Volkswagen and Ford already have highly automated plants in India. “All our new cars are manufactured with strong technology intervention. Our new global fluidic designs are crafted through highly automated operations to churn out specific shapes to our cars that can only be managed through robots,” said a senior Hyundai Motor executive. In India, carmakers employ over five workers for every unit rolled out. All automobile and component companies together employ an estimated 1.3 core workers directly and indirectly.

Maruti, which operates two plants at Manesar, is planning 99% automation in the press shop where steel sheets are moulded into door frames and then passed onto the weld shop to hinge them onto the body of the vehicle.

The carmaker has been steadily increasing automating of its plants in India. In over a decade, the company has doubled the number of robots used in its plants to around 1,500. It will add another 50-100 new robots in the older plant at Manesar to increase automation to 99% from the current 90%. But the company did not reveal by when this process will be completed.

Maruti has increased the automation percentage at its three plants in Gurgaon to 60-65%in the past few years. It had stopped operating two manual production lines at Gurgaon in an effort to move to fully automated operations.

Automation has been a sensitive issue for the country’s largest carmaker after a series of perpetual worker’s strikes last year and massive violence at its Manesar plant on July 18 that left one senior manager dead and 96 employees seriously injured.

Maruti employs over 10,000 permanent employees and contract workers to manufacture around 1.25 million cars annually. It has been contemplating various means to minimise human intervention as its aims to modernize its Indian facilities, which now churn out more than 50% of parent Suzuki’s global output.

It is also moving away from contract labor and would employ only permanent employees in core manufacturing areas.

“While older models like M800 and Alto are simpler cars to manufacture, the new generation models like Swift, A-Star or Ritz are more complex and need much improved technology and process. Besides, automation is also cost-effective as investment is duly recovered over a period of time unlike the spiraling labor costs,” said a senior Maruti executive, preferring not to be named.