COVID-19 has disrupted the functioning of many industries and accelerated digitalisation efforts. Social distancing and work from remote locations has pushed the industry to be innovative and adopt technology with more rigour.
Digitalisation for virtual future
In 2019, chemicals was a $178 billion market, pharma accounted for $20.03 in earnings. These sectors are expected to witness an increase in digitalisation. Data suggests that investment in technology is set to increase by a modest 3-5% in the chemical sector and a high 12% in pharma. In fact, industries promoting automation will grow to become a $304 billion market by 2025.
The process industries, where bulk solids are involved, have steadily shifted themselves from a manual analysis phase to a virtual physical twin phase of simulating essential industrial processes. With the onset of ML, AI, etc, a lot of focus has been shifted towards virtual statistical twin models, which helps one predict processes. “The ability to connect to manufacturing processes, deploy ML models in real-time, upload data that is coming and coupling all of this with digital simulation to predict the downfalls with the ability to simulate the solutions and redirecting the feedback to the real world is where the industry is essentially moving,” Sudhir Padaki, Director – Data Analytics, Altair Engineering, said.
Although the industry waded towards automation before, now, the structure and configuration of automation are changing as per the requirements of the end-user. Globally, companies are opting for flexible and modular plants instead of the monoliths that existed earlier. Automation itself is evolving into being a modular system. “Digitalisation umbrella opens up enormous possibilities and this is because of the enormous amount of data that can be accessed and stored, which translates information (via data). The business decisions that would be taken from now on should be guided by information coming out of data and the plant should be operated using this information,” GNV Subba Rao, Director, ABB Global Industries & Services, highlighted.
Automation for operational efficiency
Automation & digitalisation play a vital role in de-risking a business crisis. Industries can gain efficiency and productivity by implementing correct solutions for businesses, eliminating waste to make businesses profitable and redirecting manpower. In chemical plants, for instance, autonomous solutions monitor and provide regular data to experts, which helps them analyse and guide operations, eliminating the risks associated with physical monitoring. Dharmender Singhal, Head of Technology Digitalisation, Haldor Topsoe India, suggested, “One should look for optimal automation & digitalisation solutions around their pain points with correct business cases. This way, companies can ensure profitability, efficiency and business continuity.” It is pivotal that organisations shift from product-based businesses to outcome-based businesses. “There are a lot of endeavours that have been started for intelligent operations and operational optimisation, which are in various stages of implementation that both increase operational efficiency and reduce cost,” asserted Namirta Mahindro, Chief Digital Officer, Aditya Birla Chemicals.
New normal for the long run
According to BCG Consultancy, there are four levels of quality in the new normal for process industries. Most companies are at the level one and two of future work for quality function, which includes deploying base technology systems, building on an integrated data acquisition & monitoring system, digital infrastructure for remote working, targeted automation in sampling and testing, implementing systems to move to exception-based review and embedding a culture of accountability of outcome (i.e. presence at the site). Many companies are targeting to reach levels three and four of the quality functions, which involves eliminating QC labs for product release, transforming process capabilities to eliminate errors and building new capabilities to drive digital & analytics in the near future. Shirish Belapure, Senior Technical Advisor, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance & Former President, Zydus Cadila also concurred with this analysis. “With most companies taking up an ambitious target now, in the coming five years, we can expect them to reach the level three and four of adoption,” he stated.
Collaborations will, thus, be key for further upgradation. It will be essential that manufacturing set-ups start small by focusing on pilots to ensure a low-risk factor. Deepak Fertilizers & Petrochemicals, for instance, during this lockdown period, underwent a huge automation exercise, which helped them get in touch with the farmers directly and amplify their data on farmers to close to 40,000. Speaking on the agile adoption of automation, DS Ravindra Raju, President – Manufacturing, Deepak Fertilisers & Petrochemicals Corporation, mentioned, “This required a lot of efforts from our IT, marketing and sales teams to completely change the way of working. A lot of efforts went into the training, culture change and formulating new ways of working.” He added, “Going forward, the digital initiatives carried by us are going to stay with us in totality and these are sustainable changes.”
Skill preservation & upskilling
However, with autonomous functioning coming into play, talent will be the key differentiator. For a successful transformation, reskilling and upskilling people is crucial. This process must not only be limited to technical skills but requires a mindset towards change. Motivating the workforce to be agile, innovate and collaborative will accelerate the transformation journey. It is also important to capture the information from the skilled workforce on the verge of retirement, and create a digital model/twin so that it complements/supplements the knowledge of the upcoming workers and digital native generations. While many fear job losses due to automation, Ramani Iyer, Former District President, ISA and Advisor to the Board, OMFYS Technology, emphasised, “As the world moves forward and sophistication in technologies increases, one needs new knowledge and new skills. Only people who have these will adapt to modern functioning.”
Blueprint for revival
Analysts predict that the third and the fourth quarter of FY20 is expected to see a surge in demand; bulk pharma, bulk chemicals and speciality chemicals, each have their own set of challenges to deal with before catering to the growing demand. In addition to visibility, agility and innovation, strategies with a focus on revenue maximisation will be crucial for smooth revival. Sujata Tilak, Managing Director, Ascent Intellimation and Director, IIoT Division, ISA, recommended, “Strategies must be driven by business and not by technology. Technologies can be the enabler but the business has to be the driver.” It would be essential to monitor demand signals in real-time and analyse how demands are shaping up and cater to them accordingly. Atul Govil, Chief Transformation Officer, India Glycols, suggested, “Companies will have to carve out a dedicated and enthused team with domain experts across departments to drive the filtered set of initiatives taken by them.” Though process industries have been a rather laggard in adopting technologies, Vivek Gupta, Assistant Vice President & Head Instrumentation, DCM Shriram, opined, “With the pace of the industry moving right around with newer technologies, everything is possible. The approach needs to be standardised, and as far as giving remote support for systems on the internet comes into play, the data security needs to be ensured with data diodes.”
Creating competency and roadmap
Today, people, process and technology are all gaining equal prominence. Technology is no longer a limiting factor; application is crucial. Digitisation, digitalisation, Industry 4.0, etc will cease to exist, unless organisations invest in training and skill development. Organisations need to showcase initiatives, relate and utilise technology to drive interventions across the enterprise. They need to build certain competency upliftment to inculcate a digital mindset in the employees. With a clear agenda and roadmap, organisations can procure maximum ROI with digitalisation.