India remains grossly underinvested in factory automation, something that is necessary for long-term competitive success in both the domestic and foreign markets, writes Didier Lacroix. India is ranked as one of the fastest growing markets and has seen an upsurge in the number of manufacturing facilities across the country. Despite this, it remains grossly underinvested in factory automation, something that is necessary for long-term competitive success in both the domestic and foreign markets. During the past decade, India has emerged as one of the key manufacturing hubs for global manufacturing companies in the automotive, pharmaceutical, packaging, food processing, and textiles industries.In 2010, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu ranked India as offering the second best global manufacturing platform in the world, above traditional manufacturing countries such as the US, Germany, and Japan. Innovation, combined with a talent pool of scientists, researchers and engineers, is more critical to manufacturing growth on the global stage rather than low cost energy, labour and regulations, it stated. Within the country, the domestic manufacturing sector accounts for nearly 17 percent of India’s total GDP and employs nearly 100 million people (per ASSOCHAM estimates). Frost & Sullivan’s IPC Practice predicts that by 2020, this would generate 25 per cent of the country’s GDP. However, Frost & Sullivan analysts add that this growth will only be realised through adoption of factory automation that enable greater efficiency, productivity, sustainability, global competitiveness and standards compliance.Cognex systemsCognex Corporation is a leading supplier of machine vision systems. It’s ID and Vision systems address all three critical areas in the manufacturing process: inspection, identification and guidance for industries including automotive, electronics, pharmaceutical, food processing and packaging, and consumer goods,Cognex’s image-based ID systems can meet all the 1-D barcode and 2-D code-reading requirements. Since its inception in 1981, Cognex has shipped more than 500,000 machine vision systems representing more than $2.5 billion in cumulative revenue.Despite all this, the domestic manufacturing industry is facing competition from emerging manufacturing hubs in Asia and South America.Increasing material and labour costs coupled with process inefficiencies are dulling Indian’s competitive edge. India’s future depends on adopting appropriate automation, innovation, and technology, and empower its talented, English-speaking workforce.Global competitionAutomation in India has always been a shop floor tool rather than a business performance enabler. When it comes to core manufacturing processes, manufacturers rely on labour-intensive methods. Even with factory automation in place, the technology threshold is fairly low, when compared to world standards, due to lack of knowledge and awareness.Based on their prior experience, significant investment is being done by established manufacturing hubs in the US and Japan in India to increase efficiency and flexibility of their supply chains while improving upon product features and quality in the automotive, pharmaceutical and food processing industries. An increase in the demand for such solutions is already being witnessed in the Asian region.Automation technology providers offer variety of factory automation technologies, including machine vision. Manufacturing equipment and robotics make products, while machine vision provides quality assurance, product tracking and documentation for standards compliance. Machine VisionMachine vision systems address three critical areas in the manufacturing process: identification, inspection, and guidance.Identification refers to tracking and tracing raw materials, components, and products throughout the entire production cycle. It tracks any industrial code, including engraved or embossed serial numbers placed on a product, tells manufacturer how, when, and where it was produced and raw materials used to manufacture the product, supplier identification, and any number of other important production data. Inspection refers to presence or absence checking and dimensional checking where manufacturers make sure that a part is manufactured to critical dimension.Guidance is the use of vision to locate a part, feature, or pattern to automate the mechanical handling of that part during assembly, material handling, and packaging processes. Machine vision systems can be broadly categorised into two different types of systems that use the same underlying technology: •Identification (ID) Systems: When used separately or together, helps manufacturers improve their manufacturing process and cut costs.•Creates total visibility and measurement by automatically retrieving codes and other identifying marks on raw materials, components, and products as they move through the manufacturing supply chain. •Enables accurate, timely information about a specific item, which can be stored, retrieved, and analysed in easy-to-use manufacturing databases that, in turn, help manufacturers with: •Removes hidden inefficiencies in material handling productivity.•Tracks the flow of operations.One such company is Proteck, a Chennai based leading manufacturer of printing equipment. Its printing operations use a variety of printing presses from different manufacturers, each with its own unique set-up and quality needs.To streamline operations Proteck installed two Cognex In-Sight Micro cameras to detect registration marks on printing plates and automate the set-up process.Cognex’s PatMax and In-Sight Explorer software handled different positioning requirements in the same machine, while Vision View terminal provided a way to view information such as plate positions, before-and-after position correction and the presses’ operating status. At P&G India, Cognex’s In-Sight Vision System verified that right packaging and manufacturer’s recommended price (MRP) were used for 50 detergent variants, each with similar color and features.Previously, quality checks for the detergent packaging, was done manually in two separate rounds of inspection and verification. After deploying Cognex In-sight vision system along its packaging line, P&G has increased the line speed and bottom line as both inspection and verification are done simultaneously, eliminating packaging errors. These show how Cognex has helped Indian manufacturing companies reduce costs while improving throughput and quality.