How small, high-speed robots ‘drive out’ the new Dzire at Maruti’s Manesar plant

aditi nigam New Delhi | Updated on January 11, 2018

The new C series robots at work at Maruti’s Manesar plant in Haryana

Amid a jungle of heavy equipment and robots, a young man stands glued to a small screen.

He has been trained to press a button at the right moment for a robot to pick up a car door panel and weld it and pass it on.

A split second’s delay and things may go awry, as the second panel will soon be dropped in the slot for welding by a robot.

That about sums up the human-machine interface in Maruti Suzuki India’s automobile facility, which rolls out a car every 10 seconds, consisting of roughly 30,000 parts.

Set to roll out its upgraded Dzire variant, the auto major’s 600-acre Manesar (Haryana) facility, houses three plants.

The facility produces 16 car models and 1,075 variants, has 2,050 tier-II and 444 tier-1 vendors.

Such is the pace of work that about 3,400 trucks drive in everyday with raw materials and 650 car trailers move out of the gates every day. Behind the scenes, there are 4,200 equipment and 2,400 robots, along with thousands of young employees, rolling out 1.5 million vehicles a year.

The new Dzire is being made in Plant A, where the robots are huge and take up a lot of space. But, as technology advances and volumes rise, this plant has acquired 104 new C series smaller, high-speed robots that are 15 per cent faster.

They weld and paint on steel, and are adept in matching 48 different colours on plastic bumpers to perfection, apart from doing other jobs.

There are only one or two young men to a whole line of robots. But, when asked about job losses, a senior Maruti official said: “manpower is in fact increasing, as volumes and features (in cars) are also increasing”, adding that robots not only save time, the margin of error is also substantially lower. The company faces an average defect of only 7 per cent.

With focus on advanced safety and emission standards, the company has also invested ₹3,800 crore in its R&D facility in Rohtak, Haryana.

“Each of our vehicles has undergone 35-40 tests over three-four years,” said C V Raman, Executive Director (Engineering), MSIL, adding that six models were already meeting safety and emission norms ahead of the regulatory deadline of October 2019.

He, however, rued the fact that there were no regulations for “after-market fitments” in India, which sometimes lead to serious accidents.

The Maruti Manesar plant, incidentally, has been in the news following a labour unrest in one of its plants in July 2012, leading to the death of an executive and subsequent sacking of about 3,000 employees.

Impact of automation

Predictably then, disruptive technologies, such as robotics, are a win-win for the automobile industry that is focussed on enhancing productivity along with lowering labour costs. But, concerns are growing globally over the impact of automation on the scale of job creation, especially in a country like India, where an estimated 1.25 crore people enter the labour force each year.

As things stand now, there is a collaborative relationship between workers and robots, but what does the future hold in an automated world?

As pointed out by a paper by the International Labour Organisation, it is time for research and public policies to shift attention from the “technical” to the “social and political dimension” of technological change, innovation and job creation.

For, who wants to visualise a future where markets are flooded with products, but buyers are scarce.

(The writer visited the Manesar facility at the invitation of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd)

Published on May 08, 2017

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