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The integration of robotics in the manufacturing process ensures a high degree of accuracy: Hari Parthasarathi, 3M India

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In today’s business world, the dual challenges of labor shortages and the need for operational efficiency are more pressing than ever. Companies are urgently seeking ways to stay competitive and meet the demands of a rapidly evolving market. At the forefront of this transformation is 3M, a company with a proven track record of industry innovation.

Leveraging advanced robotic processing and machine learning, 3M has revolutionized its manufacturing operations. This technological prowess drives product development within 3M labs and results in automation-ready products that deliver exceptional performance. To delve deeper into the transformative benefits of automation in the face of labour shortages, we sought insights from Hari Parthasarathi, Application Engineer Leader for India, SEA, and ANZ, 3M

Some edited excerpts:

Could you elaborate on the specific challenges or pain points your customers typically face in the manufacturing setup?

As India begins to assert its credentials as a manufacturing hub for the world, manufacturers face a plethora of challenges. The most critical of these is the ability to successfully leverage automation allowing them to improve production efficiency by perfecting processes, reducing cycle time and increasing output while maintaining a high standard of quality. Automation, along with the adoption of innovative technologies and practices, can also be a dependable partner when trying to diversify supply chains, increase capacity and mitigate the shortage of skilled labour.

Integration of automation, such as robotics, into the existing setup is complex and challenging. Manufacturers need to consider the significant investment needed, the return on investment and the long-term benefits of such capital expenditures. 3M is committed to addressing these challenges and our focus is on understanding these challenges and providing innovative solutions that simplify the adoption of automation, enhance the performance of abrasive products, and improve the overall efficiency of the manufacturing process. By coming to 3M and 3M labs, customers can fully leverage 3M abrasive technologies and the expertise of our application engineers. We help customers navigate these challenges and prepare for their future needs in an ever-evolving market.

Could you provide examples of how the adoption of robotic automation has significantly improved efficiency or performance for your customers?

Automation has allowed customers to perfect their processes by automating repetitive tasks. It has led to higher productivity by freeing up their skilled workforce to focus on more value-added tasks. The performance of abrasive products is enhanced when used in conjunction with robotics – they perform more powerfully and impactfully than when used manually, leading to better material removal rates and improved surface finishes.

Well-programmed robots can perform tasks with high level of precision and repeatability. They can standardize the process with precise force and pressure enhancing performance significantly compared to manual processes. Manufacturers have been able to simplify operations by automating complex processes leading to a more streamlined and efficient production. The adoption of robotic automation has led to improvements in efficiency, performance, and quality allowing customers to meet the dynamic shifts in industry demands and compete more effectively in the global market.

In terms of market segmentation, which industries or sectors do you see as the most promising for abrasive automation and robotics solutions in the coming years, both in India and globally?

The most promising industries for abrasive automation and robotics solutions both in India and globally are the automotive, metal fabrication, aerospace, rail, electronics, and general manufacturing. The automotive sector continues to be a significant focus area for us. The demand for high-quality finishes and the need for efficiency in manufacturing processes make the automotive sector an ideal sector for the application of abrasive automation and robotics. Adoption of robotics in these sectors can lead to significant efficiency gains, with some customers reporting productivity improvements of up to 20%.

The Metal Fabrication Industry includes a wide range of applications from heavy material removal to light finishing work. The Aerospace Industry has stringent requirements for surface finishes and material removal, the rail sector is another area where we see potential for growth. As the focus on renewable energy sources increase, the wind energy sector is looking for ways to improve the efficiency and longevity of wind turbine components. We expect demand for automation solutions that can manage the intricacies of electronic part manufacturing and the need for precision in production.

In regions like Eastern Europe and India, there is a growing preference for more comfortable jobs, leading to a demand for robotic solutions. In India specifically, 3M is also looking at the unique needs of small, micro, and medium industries to understand how they can adopt these technologies to stay competitive in the global market. Our strategy is to closely monitor these sectors and work with customers who are ready to make the shift. By understanding their specific needs and the trends in these industries, we aim to stay ahead and provide solutions that cater to the evolving demands of these markets.

How does abrasive automation help in achieving quality and consistency in manufacturing especially for customers producing parts for global markets ?

The integration of robotics in the manufacturing process ensures a high degree of accuracy that is not always achievable with manual operations. This leads to a more consistent product quality, which is essential when catering to the stringent standards of the global market. Abrasive products, when used in conjunction with robotics, perform more impactfully enhancing the life of the abrasive and ensuring a more uniform outcome. It helps in achieving quality and consistency in manufacturing by providing a reliable, efficient and high-performing alternative to manual processes especially customers producing for global markets.

Could you elaborate on the role of the Robotics lab in testing innovations and proof of concepts, particularly in relation to market relevance and manufacturing focus?

The role of the Robotics lab in testing innovations and proof of concepts is pivotal, especially in terms of market relevance and manufacturing focus. The lab serves as a dedicated facility where we can experiment with and show the integration of 3M abrasive technologies with robotic systems. To be clear, 3M doesn’t make robots or integrate robotic systems, but we partner in our customer’s automation journey by making the most of our premium abrasives, leveraging our expertise and global network.

Having a dedicated space to test and refine our solutions helps ensure that our innovations are not only relevant but also impactful in the current manufacturing landscape. Tangible demonstration of how their processes can be improved with robotics is a possibility because of the lab. All these factors help in building confidence in customers who are considering automation to accelerate the adoption of automation.

At the lab we customise solutions to the specific needs of different industries, optimising the abrasives and automation technologies for their applications. It is a testbed where we can evaluate the performance of our abrasives in automated environments enhancing the life and efficiency of our products and developing new solutions that are automation-ready for the future. We engage with customers directly at the lab to understand their challenges better. This collaborative approach leads to more effective solutions strengthening our relationships with customers.

While the lab is in India, it caters to a global audience. We can recalibrate our solutions for different markets and ensure that they meet the diverse needs of our international customer base. The Robotics lab is instrumental in bridging the gap between innovation and application, ensuring that our solutions are not only innovative, but also aligned with the evolving demands of the manufacturing sector. It is a critical part in our strategy to maintain relevance and drive growth in the abrasive automation and robotics market.

How does 3M decide on the locations for setting up labs, and what are the key factors considered in this decision-making process?

The decision to set up a lab is based on a comprehensive evaluation of market demand, customer needs, the availability of a supportive ecosystem, strategic alignment, and the potential for a positive return on investment. 3M doesn’t establish labs in every market where it operates, particularly if the market demand can be satisfied through other existing labs in nearby areas. Planning is done keeping in mind efficient allocation of resources. Each region has unique needs and challenges, we need to consider the regional dynamics to ensure that the offerings are tailored to the local market. Whenever we set up a lab, the goal is that it must contribute to the growth of the abrasives business and provide value to customers. We look at presence of industries such as automotive, metal fabrication, and electronics where there is a significant demand for automation solutions. The existence of a robust ecosystem of system integrators, robot manufacturers, and tool supplier is also necessary to support the lab’s operations. Being close to key customers allows for more effective collaboration and a better understanding of their needs helping the exchange of ideas and demonstrate proof-of-concepts.

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