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M Vijayakumar, Head - Facility Development and Automation, Roots Industries India

Image: Roots Industries

Automation as a strategy “Balancing business & automation strategy is critical”

May 3, 2018

“A team should be made responsible to identify the potential areas across the supply chain to implement the automation and they should be trained in latest techniques” — M Vijayakumar, Head - Facility Development and Automation, Roots Industries India

Do you see any challenges while making automation as a fundamental part of the overall business strategy in the Indian manufacturing enterprises, in both SMEs and corporates?

Yes, requirements such as product volume, product cost and product quality are playing a vital role in deciding the implementation of automation in any industry, from SMEs to corporates. Another factor that influences is the availability of trained manpower to make quality product. To get consistent quality of the product, we need to implement automation in few areas irrespective of production volumes. The automation budget for meeting the product quality is considered as a fundamental part of the business strategy in many of the corporates. SMEs start with controlled process for low volume and later implement automation, when the volume picks up.

A better approach to automation investment begins with a strategic vision that drives a methodical approach to business improvement. What would be your recommendations?

Automation should not be planned for the crisis management; rather it should be planned well in advance as a long term strategy. For business improvement two elements are important: product quality and operational cost. A roadmap to implement the automation can be achieved in three phases. First, covering the critical processes, then at measurement stations and finally for simple processes. In this phased manner 30% improvement can be achieved in each phase and a net of 90% improvement can be achieved in the completion of the project. Also the investment can be done in a phased manner that will not affect the fund flow, which in turn improves the overall business.

How easy/difficult is it to align business & automation strategy in a manufacturing organisation and ensure the two are closely linked in the long term, especially in the SME sector?

Balancing the business and automation strategy in manufacturing environment is critical. This will be made easy only when the employees are trained to carry out the improvements in terms of quality, process, safety, etc. A team should be made responsible to identify the potential areas across the supply chain to implement the automation and they should be trained in latest techniques. This vibrant team should be a special task force and directly reporting to the top management. The team has to interact with system integrators, specialists and suppliers for the latest innovations applicable to their manufacturing operations.

Consumer demand and relentless global competition have resulted in shorter product lifecycles and a renewed emphasis on quality and cost reduction. Can you highlight the current developments that address these areas?

The older concept of product-based dedicated machines and assembly needs expertise for setup and changeover, which consumes more time and effort. This will be eliminated, thanks to servo motors and drives, which changed the face of many systems. For example, the introduction of servo presses improved the quality consistency of the parts and also the productivity. Moreover, remote monitoring and Industrial IoT are helpful in improving the operational efficiency by eliminating the effort for data collection and helpful to take quick decisions.

The effective execution of your automation strategy requires the right partner to help guide and drive the process. How can the partnership between solution provider, system integrator and end-user be more effective to further overall business objectives?

The end user has the product and process knowledge. They know the pain points in their manufacturing process and supply chain. The system integrator and service provider has the knowledge on automation techniques and broad expertise of implementation. Thus, a collaborative approach of the user, the service provider and the system integrator will definitely result in successful implementation of automation.

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