Much before the lockdown started, one of the plants of the Aditya Birla Group went for the automation of a small function within the plant. The exercise meant the gates would open automatically and goods would be offloaded automatically too. The investment of approx. Rs 28 lakh in this automation process would allow the Company to work with 14 less people at the plant. The HR head of that business had shared with HRKatha that the Company could recover the cost of automation in lieu of salaries in less than two and a half years.
Business-wise it made great sense.
The incident left us pondering, whether automation was the answer to the current situation. The rationale was that it would require less people and production can be regained without much effort, even with the restriction of only 25 per cent of the workforce being allowed to work in a shift, to maintain social distancing.
In China, after the lockdown was lifted, more than 80 per cent of original equipment manufacturers have been able to resume production capacity. At the epicentre of the pandemic, during the early stages of the outbreak, few factories in the automotive industry were able to maintain relatively high levels of production due to high levels of automation.
Should India Inc. be taking a leaf out of China’s notebook?
Automation is a business strategy and not a response to a situation. Only after considering all factors can one respond to automation
The unprecedented crisis has adversely impacted the manufacturing industry not just in the country but the world over. With employees sitting at home, the manpower-heavy industry has felt the effects of the pandemic hard, having to shut down operations entirely. Demand has gone down and businesses are at risk of a slump in the future. Could automation be the industry’s panacea to this problem?
“All repetitive, non-value adding and highly manual tasks will see automation, including heavy-lifting activities, such as loading or unloading,” says, Balachandar N.V, executive director, Ashok Leyland.
Keeping tabs on the goods and trucks coming in and going out, falls precisely in this category.
While automation may be a strong point for consideration, it should be remembered that not all roles and functions can be automated, nor will it be feasible for businesses to do so.
Prince Augustin, EVP-group human capital and leadership development, Mahindra and Mahindra, explains, “If an organisation decides to automate, then they will also need alternate skills for maintaining the automation in the plant. Moreover, in the automotive plants, one cannot automate everything as it is a very labour-intensive process.”
Augustin adds that too much automation will increase the cost of production to such an extent that it will become unviable to manufacture in India.
Increased automation is a good way to protect businesses from future shut-downs and keep production moving in times of distress, such as the current one.
However, HR pundits are of the opinion that the shift to automation should not be a reaction to any situation, rather, a product of long-term strategic thinking. It cannot take place overnight, but needs long-term thinking and strategy.
“To me, automation should not result on account of a lack of manpower. It should be ingrained as a process because the technology demands it, and because the quality and repetitive nature of the operation demands it. While the current situation may accelerate the process of automation, it is not an answer in itself,” explains Balachandar.
All repetitive, non-value adding and highly manual tasks will see automation, including heavy-lifting activities, such as loading or unloading
Expressing a similar sentiment, Augustin adds, “Automation is a business strategy and not a response to a situation. First, one needs to look at the ease of doing work followed by productivity, quality, the difficulty of carrying out the operation and then the cost-benefit analysis. Only after considering all factors can one respond to automation.”
However, everyone agrees that an increase in automation is a need in the manufacturing sector in India. “To compete globally, we need automation, especially in the auto-industry,” asserts Balachandar.
“Automation is a strategically proactive decision. It can be a long-term solution proving useful to deal with situations such as these,” concludes Augustin.