Milind Padole, MD, Affordable Robotic &Automation Ltd. (ARAPL)

Graduating from VJTI Mumbai and having done 2 stints of jobs with Mahindra and Comau, Milind’s interest in robotics picked up on his assignment to Germany and he realized that the power of Robotics is beyond cost and productivity – it is just inevitable, it will soon become a way of life. The strike at the Igatpuri plant right in the first year of the job,  the resolve to start his own business was slowly gaining roots – somewhere he believed he had what it takes to go the road less traveled.

 

Over the last one and half years, the novel coronavirus outbreak has broken many countries across the globe. Be it a first world nation or a developing one like India, each has had to overcome its own sets of struggles to safeguard its population, businesses and economy while coping with the increasing demand for healthcare facilities. While some overcame the consequences with considerable efforts, others are working towards rising from the aftermath of this pandemic.

To restrict the large spread of the deadly virus, many countries opted for long lockdowns, like India. Of course, lockdown never meant locking down on lives, livelihoods, business and economy. So, Work from Home (WFH), Automation, Robots, AI (Artificial Intelligence) became the new norm, like social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands frequently and sanitisation, among others. Even as countries across the globe unlocked in phases, one thing common is the huge shift in almost all industries worldwide.

Just like there are pluses and minuses in most cases, it’s different for industries as they moved into the restart and revive mode. Let’s get done with the negatives first. Automation in capital goods industry related to automobile, real estate, travel, hotels and hospitality has suffered huge losses as the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and their dealers were compelled to halt operations for a considerable amount of time.

Given that nations were in lockdown and international travel was banned by several countries, the travel, hotel and hospitality industry was severely impacted. Thousands lost their jobs and many ventures deemed risky to continue investing in, had to shut shop. Real estate in India continues to suffer as global companies are still in pause mode before they re-plan expansion and green shoots of housing demand are already visible. Some consolation comes in the form of low interest rates, pressure on property prices and need for homes, which may help this sector inch on the path of gradual recovery.

Already low on morale due to the pandemic, the automobile industry also saw two iconic brands opting to halt production in India. Earlier, Harley Davidson Motorcycles chose to exit the country as they were nowhere near achieving the expected revenue. While Hero Motors stepped in for a deal to make, sell and service the legendary brand’s motorcycles in India, Ford recently announced its exit after its deal with Mahindra fell through and they couldn’t come up with a plan to consolidate operations here.

Thankfully, the passenger vehicle manufacturers have more or less recovered lost ground and closer to the pre-covid status quo, others like the commercial vehicle industry are still struggling to return to normalcy. Moreover, the smaller goods industries, which were serving the above-mentioned industries, are seemingly in for a little longer struggle with their revenues and cash flows before they can return to their status quo.

On the plus side, the automation industry made significant gains in sectors like education, hospitals, pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies; e-commerce & FMCG. Given that healthcare is a priority in a crisis situation like the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals, pharmacies, pharma companies were bound to see changes in functioning and automation also given equal necessary and crucial importance.

Education has seen rapid adoption towards online learning. This has resulted in many AI; ML tools being developed for education. Many automation tools are already launched or getting launched to keep students engaged; help them learn fast. The learning will get automated in many aspects. This will result in permanent shift in the way we learn. The trends will eventually move towards Flip Learning.

Not to forget, the closure of malls saw a change in the purchase pattern of consumers. More and more people opted to shop online, not just for mobile phones and other gadgets, clothes and accessories, but also groceries, fruits and vegetables. So the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) companies, e-commerce businesses and warehouses adopted automation to handle the rapid rise in business and to cater to a widening customer base.

Needless to say, the shift towards automation in these industries is permanent and changing consumer behaviour, peak demands and contactless operations have compelled them to not only adopt automation, but also widen its scope in their operations in the long run.

While first world countries have incorporated automation in their operations, many industries in developing nations witnessed the transformation with this new technology for the first time. And have to struggle with high initial costs. Fortunately, India, though a little late in taking the automation route, has started well and expanding the footprint at a brisk pace.

Even as automation solutions available can’t always be justified in developing countries, new players are entering the market to bridge the gap due to cost structures. And considering that this new norm is here to stay, we can be sure that the new automation providers will only grow in the coming years, not just individually, but also in numbers.

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