Technology has set the human race in an entirely new direction. It has offered diverse contributions to ease the lives of men. One such technological advancement is the science of Robotics. The applicability of robots in the society is so impactful that it has made even human efficiency questionable. From mining to space expeditions, robots have been establishing their mark in almost every field. Every year a huge number of robots are being manufactured and installed in different industrial sectors all over the world. The ever-widening horizon and the reckless effort made by different countries to remain at the top of the industry by using robotics to its full potential have made it essential to develop a measure that can conceptualize how developed a country is in terms of robotics.
Robotic density is one of the easiest ways to determine where a country stands in the race. It is the number of robots per 10,000 workers in a particular industry. This measure is constantly used by robotics companies to decide where to invest, when to expand and what tactics to use in the competition.
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), there is a steep rise in the automation of production around the world, with the new average robot density being 74 robot units per 10,000 employees in the global front. The region-wise average robot densities are 99, 84 and 63 units in the UK, USA and Asia, respectively. The 2017 World Robot Statistics presented by the IFR lists the top 10 automated countries in the world as South Korea, Singapore, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, USA, Italy, Belgium and Taiwan. However, the most dynamic development of robot density in the world was noted in China. Due to a sudden increase in the number of installations between 2013 and 2016, China’s robotic density shot up from 25 units in 2013 to 68 units in 2016— China is now ranked as the 23rd robot density country in the world.
India is a slow but emerging robotics power. Only 2,100 robots were sold in India in 2014, which increased to 2,627 units in 2016. In 2017, however, 3,421 new installations were reported in 2017 by the Frankfurt Sales of industrial robots (2019)—a growth of 30% compared to the previous year. Thus, India saw a compound annual sales growth rate (CAGR) of 18% between 2012 and 2017. In terms of the annual global supply of robots, India ranked 14th in 2017 following Thailand and Spain. And in terms of operational stocks, India ranked 13th following Canada, Spain and Singapore.
In spite of the steady growth in automation, India is categorized as a low robot density country. It has 85 robots per 10,000 employees in the automotive industry, which is way lesser than Indonesia (378 unit) and China (505 units). The average robot density in India is only 3 robots per 10,000 employees according to 2017 World Robot Statistics submitted by IFR (depicted in the graph).
The state of robotics in the Indian market can be better explained with the following example “India is today where China was 4 years ago and Europe was 10 years ago”. While the global market has made considerable progress even in domains like autonomous and service robotics, India is still trying to get its hands on the industrial robotics sector.
A gap exists between the huge industrial demand for robotics and the supply of hardware required to construct robots. Research and development on robotics require high-end components, and due to lack of a hardware ecosystem in the country, most of the hardware components need to be imported. This means a range of other import-related challenges like dual-use certifications, high import duties (in some cases), customs among other permission-driven environment and so on. This stretches the time required for the development cycle, delaying the go-to-market plans, which affect the customer interface drastically.
Industrial robots can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $80,000, and once application-specific peripherals are installed, they may cost as high as $100,000 to $150,000. On top of that, any company that imports robot has to pay 26.85% (7.5 basic customs duty plus 18% GST) tax in India. Thus, for a developing country like India, mass import of robots or their parts can cost a fortune.
The average annual wage for entry-level factory employees, on the other hand, is approximately $25,000 a year. Thus, when capital-intensive nature of robots and low wage factory workers are compared, it becomes needless to say that the preference automatically shifts toward the later.
Robotics is an interdisciplinary science that requires exceptionally brilliant minds. According to the 2016 FICCI-TSMG Advanced Manufacturing Survey, the current workforce in India does not have the necessary skills and expertise to work on such an advanced technology as robotics. This is primarily due to the incompetent curricula followed in schools and colleges. Robotics is usually offered as a postgraduate degree; hence, undergraduates coming from different colleges lack the required knowledge and skills. Moreover, courses and programs of robotics are usually expensive. This compels most of the students to jump to different courses.
Another not-so-highlighted reason for low robot density in India is the mindset of the people. Diverse opinions exist when it comes to the use of robotics. Although people are eager to accept driverless shuttles and industrial robots, they are finding the applicability of robotics in surgery and teaching difficult to accept. Developing trust amongst the users thus remains an unsolvable issue.
In spite of the Government’s growing focus on robotics lately, the notion that robotics will be taking over thousands of jobs in an already precarious job market comes in the way of acceptance of robotics.
Indian economy, plagued by wars, oil crisis and bad governance, entered the robotics market really late. The economy got jump-started only after the liberalization of 1991. But by that time, both quality and market for robots reached an unimaginable height.
To reduce this gap, better emphasis should be given to the new initiative, “Make in India”; such a venture will shoot up the demand for robotics in the country. It will also supply the necessary hardware and encourage the young Indians to opt for robotics.
As far as training the workforce is concerned, modernizing India’s educational system by letting go of the traditional curricula and adopting more industry-related and practical skill courses may help in the long run. Industrial Robotics courses focusing on various areas of Robotics such as sensors, actuators, robot applications, robot programming and so on should be adopted in postgraduate as well as undergraduate levels.
The Government should also provide all sorts of platforms to robotic-tech companies and academia to advance the technology further.