Production per person increased from 8,000 pieces to 21,000 pieces, which is a 162.5% increase, and product defect rate fell from 25% to 5%—this sounds like a dream for any organisation. Well, this is a dream come true for Changying Precision Technology Company factory in Dongguan province of China which has replaced 90% of its human workers with robots. The data reflects a new form of human-robot co-working environment that will soon sweep the world.
The Dongguan company has automated production lines that use robotic arms to produce parts for cellphones. It has also automated machining equipment, autonomous transport trucks, and other automated equipment in the warehouse and number of employees have dropped from 650 to 60 and likely to come down to 20.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as China has a hugely ambitious plan to have a robot density of 150 units per 10,000 employees in the next two years, up from 36 now; and it is moving rapidly in this direction. Robotics will give a huge boost to China’s dominance of the world market with low cost robotic manufacturing replacing human labour, the cost of which is increasing every day. China has become the biggest market for industrial robots with nearly a 30% market share.
India, by sharp contrast, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), had bought only 2,100 industrial robots in 2014 which is estimated to rise to 6,000 in 2018. The operational stock of multipurpose industrial robots in India was 11,760 in 2014. In 2015, the estimated figure was 14,300 and it is expected to increase to 27,100 by 2018.
Though we are talking about ‘Make in India’, which is indeed a great objective, but one needs to factor in the massive push towards robotics not only by China but countries across the world initiating RPA or Robotic Process Automation wherein a software 'robot' application replicates the actions of a human being interacting with the user interface of a computer system.
China is not just buying robots from overseas suppliers, its reform agenda entitled ‘Made in China 2025’ wants to ensure that by 2025, 50% of its robot requirement should be met by domestic manufacturers.
Digitisation and automation have pushed by sales of robots globally to unprecedented levels. The total number of professional service robots sold in 2015 rose by 25% to 41,060 units valued at $4.6 billion, up from 32,939 in 2014. It is projected that during 2016-2019, sales of industrial robots will increase to about 333,200 units valued at $ 23.1 billion.
Sales of logistic systems will increase considerably in this period. It is estimated that about 74,800 robots for defence applications will be sold in the period 2016-2019.
RPA will soon be implemented by Indian factories and the IT industry which is already automating several tasks. IT will soon begin to use RPA to write the basic level of codes which are now being written by millions of coders working in India’s $150 billion IT industry. While use of robotic and automation will see a great improvement in productivity and quality which will be essential to stay competitive, at the same time, it will create serious problem for the 4.2 million people employed in the Indian IT industry.
We need an urgent plan to train our talent in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Robotics if our people are to be relevant for the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is evolving at an exponential rate rather than linear.
Our current political, business, and social structures may not be ready or capable of absorbing all the changes a fourth industrial revolution would bring in its wake. India clearly is not ready for this change. Our huge talent pool which was to be a demographic dividend might turn into a disaster without the right skills and competencies to create value in this era.