From largely automated shop floors to automated robots playing table tennis with human opponents, the automation industry has come a long way. Forpheus, the table tennis-playing robot from Omron, was a great example of the heights automation has scaled. Sameer Gandhi, managing director of Omron Automation India, spoke to International Business Times India about the state of automation in the country, Big Data and the India market on the sidelines of the Elecrama 2016 in Bangalore. Here are excerpts from the interaction.

What has Omron's story been so far?

As a group, Omron started back in 1933. Today, we have close to $8 billion in turnover and over 37,000 employees globally. We have product portfolio of over 200,000 products. We started in India in 1996. In India, we have over 150 employees in six offices spread across the country. Omron is very active in the industrial automation business, which constitutes almost 40 percent of its work.

What is your go-to market strategy in India?

Almost 80 percent of our business comes from channel partners. We have over 70 partners in about 40 locations across the country. Our presence in the Eastern part of the country is significant because a lot of manufacturing units are present there. Even the North-East is coming up in a big way now. Guwahati and even Shillong are seeing the emergence of a lot of pharmaceutical firms. It, thus, is indeed a big upcoming market.

We cater to clients in a large number of industries, ranging from automotive, food and beverages (F&B), fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) to packaging to textile. It is, thus, imperative for us to be close to the customer's factories.

We also have our automation centre in Mumbai. It's our fifth automation centre globally after Kusatsu in Japan, Shanghai in China, Fremont in the US and Barcelona in Spain.

Our automation centres are places where the client comes in with the concepts and we help them make them work.

What is Omron doing in automation that nobody else is doing?

We have an extensive product portfolio and are leveraging it to the hilt. We are able to provide an integrated solution to our customers using our range of products. Our controllers and smart devices are able to provide high-speed and hassle-free integration. When I have to put together a solution for a customer, I don't have to worry about compatibility issues because it is all hardware-agnostic. The uncertainty factor is extremely low for the customer and that is what sets us apart.

Our contemporaries in the market have specialisation in only one or a couple of areas. However, that is not how the customer works. We are end-to-end solution providers. Our integrated solutions make it easy for the customer to be efficient and effective.

How has the Indian industry taken to automation? How are you positioning yourself for the Indian market?

Our products are primarily for the global market and not for a specific geographical area. The usability of the product might differ but the product usage is the same. From an automation perspective, our customers in India are using the same products being used in Japan. Adoptability is the more interesting point. 

Our estimation is the automation market in India will grow between 10 percent and 12 percent year-on-year. This growth might even be faster depending on how the Make in India initiative takes off and more manufacturing concerns come into the picture. Users or customers have realised it doesn't make sense looking at cost so much. It is more about functionality and productivity. Automation adds value to the user in terms of productivity, efficiency and quality.

There is a learning curve, and yes, some industries such as pharma are ahead of the curve in India. The primary question around automation has now changed, though. Nobody is questioning the usefulness of automation anymore. The uptake has started, albeit very cautiously.

How much is Omron planning to invest in its India operations?

Our investments are primarily in terms of resources, people and training. The automation centre is a major investment we have made and will continue to make in India. We are investing heavily in training our channel partners. A lot of these investments have already been made in anticipation of the potential growth opportunities we see here.

Financially, we have already made direct investment upward of Rs.500 million over the last two-three years.

Almost everybody wants to associate with Make in India. How is Omron approaching it?

We look at ourselves as enablers to the Make in India process. Make in India, to us, primarily means more manufacturing units in the country, and for good manufacturing units, automation is indispensible. We are the enablers by providing those automation solutions to manufacturing units.

For us, it means make in India for the world. Hence, the quality has to be good at extremely competitive prices.

How big is the India market for Omron from a global standpoint?

In a global context, Asia contributes to about 9 percent of Omron's automation business. A lot of our business in India happens through channel partners and thus is diffused business. We are, thus, unable to track the exact number of customers we have in India. We, however, have at least 1,500 known customers in the country. Approximately, 20 percent of our India business is direct and these are primarily large customers.

The ticket sizes vary from a few thousand rupees to a few million. The largest deal we have had so far in India was with an Indian engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company for Rs 25 million. We currently have approximately 5 percent of the overall automation market in India. Thailand is our largest market in Asia followed by India.

We only cater to the domestic India market from India. We do not have a research and development (R&D) facility in the country. Our R&D facilities are in Japan, Europe and the US. We are exploring the India R&D market.

How is Omron approaching Big Data?

While a lot of data is being generated, a limited amount of it is actually being collected and analysed. We have a keen interest in Big Data. Unless we provide the enabling systems, Big Data is never going to come up from the shop floor. We do not handle the customer's data. Data stays with the customer.