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Apr 15, 2017 02:02 PM IST

I, Robot: How Tatas' bet on automation is a sign of technological breakthroughs

This off-beat project is one of several that Tata Group company TAL Manufacturing, a 100 percent subsidiary of Mumbai-based Tata Motors is working on.

The next time you see someone behind a bar counter juggling bottles with clockwork, machine-like precision or making that perfect single malt, the chances are you would be staring at a robot instead of the regular bartender.

This off-beat project is one of several that Tata Group company TAL Manufacturing, a 100 percent subsidiary of Mumbai-based Tata Motors is working on.

“You can tell the machine what you would like to have, swipe your card and pay for it on the machine itself and enjoy your drink.  That’s the kind of proposal we have sent to a customer who said he was interested in a robot who can do the job of a bartender,” said a senior executive of TAL Manufacturing.

TAL, which has a facility in Pune that can make 3,000 robots a year, recently launched Brabo, a highly indigenized robot priced in the range of Rs 5-7 lakh. Brabo, which is 30-40 percent cheaper than a foreign counterpart, weighs 68-95 kg with a payload capacity of 2-10 kg.

After an investment of Rs 10 crore and three years spent in development the Brabo is used in small foundaries, for machining, by auto comp vendors, for sealant application, packing and end-of-line inspection.

At least 25 Brabos are operational in automotive and non-automotive sectors requiring chamfering, testing and validation, assembly and vision-based inspection and a further 30 are installed as samples. TAL though is far from settling down.

“Brabo is a dumb robot. We are working on an intelligent robot, for which we are inducting software engineers who could write programmes for the machine and make it intelligent. So we are finding ways where we can control the robot through a mobile phone which need not be even close to it,” said RS Thakur, Non-executive Chairman, TAL Manufacturing said.

TAL is also keen to tie up with overseas companies, which can complement its own work in the area of robotics. While the launch of the Brabo is restricted to India for the time being an advanced version of the product will be taken to export markets of Europe in the coming period.

Technological breakthroughs in a variety of fields are allowing greater use of robots than previously a hotel’s front desk or floor-cleaning machines are all forms of a robot which are operational as of today.

In China several dozen little machines, which are no bigger than the size of a shoebox, are used is a warehouse for sorting 200,000 delivery packages per day. These intelligent, self-charging robots scans the code on the parcel, nullifying sorting and dispatch errors. (Watch below).

These tiny orange machines have, however, replaced numerous, low-paying and menial jobs, stoking further fear of robots eating into jobs globally even as demand for automation increases by the day.

In Shimoga, Karnataka, for instance, a buyer has placed an order with TAL for 100 Brabos to be used in a factory that makes turbo chargers and auto parts. About 75 percent of the produce is exported by the manufacturer thereby demanding a high degree of end quality which may not be possible with manual labour in a non-industrialised area like Shimoga, according to Thakur.

“China has gone from zero robots per 10,000 workers to today 49 robots per 10000 workers and they have better employment than what they had earlier. What robots can do is replace dirty and dangerous jobs that humans have to perform. (However) robots cannot take over every job of the industry because nobody can replicate the dexterity of humans. Robots will save employment,” added Thakur.

“If you are not competitive then closure of industry will take away jobs anyway. But if you becoming competitive by using a robot you are surviving”, added Thakur.
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