Maruti Suzuki partially replaces manpower with robots at its Manesar and Gurugram plants
The robots are working in the automated weld, paint and press shops whereas manual work is limited to the car assembly.
Auto major Maruti Suzuki India Limited has deployed more than 100 C-series high-speed robots to work in welding for its upcoming variant of the Dzire. The country’s largest automaker is, in fact, fast moving towards automation, deploying at least one robot for every four workers at its Manesar and Gurugram factories in Haryana.
Rajiv Gandhi, the executive director (production) of Maruti Suzuki, told Mint, “We have around 2,500 robots at the Manesar facility. In total, including the Gurgaon plant, there must be around 5,000 robots.”
The robots are being used in the automated weld, paint and press shops, while manual work is limited to the car assembly sections. The firm is now buying C-series robots from Japan-based Fanuc Robotics. The robots are smaller and can work 15% faster than their predecessors.
However, the new move has sparked tension about possible layoffs. Last year, the International Labour Organisation had said that as many as 137 million Asian workers could lose their jobs to robots in the next 20 years. The US Census Bureau had agreed that five million jobs may be lost in United States alone by 2020. Experts, too, believe that robots are the future, as the automobile market expands. Abdul Majeed, partner and national auto practice leader at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, told Mint, “You want to make sure that there is no product defect... Safety laws are stringent, people are particular about recalls. Humans can have inconsistencies, but robots won’t.”
But a senior Maruti official told The Hindu that manpower is actually increasing with car volumes and their features multiplying. Executive Director Gandhi said the company deploys robots where the safety of workers is at a higher risk and timely completion of work is an absolute must. He, however, added that they plan to increase automation levels to 60%. “On all the new models, level of automation will increase. With automation, fit and finish is better,” Gandhi told Mint.
Adding to the fear, Chief Financial Officer Ajay Seth said that they have almost touched the maximum employment at their Manesar and Gurgaon plants. “As far as total employment in Manesar and Gurgaon is concerned... I think we have more or less reached the maximum employment which is possible, which is about 22,000 people,” Seth told Mint. “Two years back, it would have been somewhat lower because at that time demand was not quite this high and workers and the factory depended on volume... but there would be stability in employment now.”