‘What is the need for digitalisation in machine/equipment building?’ is one of the common questions every manufacturer has in his mind today—not only in India, but globally as well. Today, manufacturers are aware that digitalisation offers many benefits, but are not confident whether each and every aspect of digitalisation helps them to achieve the desired results, when implemented in real-time. Evidently, this is quite a widespread topic around the world.
Coming to the Indian context, manufacturers are a bit sceptical about the right time to adopt digitalisation in their respective organisations. Yes, there are challenges like investing in new technologies and transforming the whole ecosystem & value chain, which takes a lot of efforts. However, according to experts, adopting digitalisation needs a holistic approach and manufacturers have to imagine how they should use the data that churns out from every part of the organisation effectively. Here, manufacturers need to understand how digitalisation is different from digitisation. Through digitalisation, a company’s digitised resources (such as online channels, machines equipped with digital sensors, cloud-based software) are transformed into new sources of revenue.
Building smarter machines
To help companies transform digitalisation into a driver of profitable growth in the machine/equipment building sector, Siemens PLM Software and EM have been organising a series of panel discussions across India. This time, they joined hands with IPI (Indian Plastics Institute) and ITAMMA (Indian Textile Accessories & Machinery Manufacturers Association) to host one at Coimbatore, the city of entrepreneurs.
The conference was kick-started by JM Balaji, Mentor, Events—Sub-committee, ITAMMA, who briefed on the latest developments within ITAMMA. Next, S Srinivasan, Head— Manufacturing, Roots Polycraft and Treasurer & Co-ordinator, IPI, highlighted the Coimbatore chapter of the association. The chief guest of the conference was Dr Jairam Varadaraj, Managing Director, ELGi Equipments Ltd, who set the tone for the panel discussion. He emphasised that technology is an enabler to leverage the competency. “We lack imagination and we should imagine our business in the context of technology,” he addressed. Further sharing his company’s initiatives, he averred, “We are going through a painful transformation of changing the whole ecosystem in our company that will leverage the power of this technology and compel individual behavioural change within the organisation.”
Focusing on the topic of discussion, ‘Leveraging Digitalisation for Building Smarter Machines & Equipment’, Vineet Warikoo, Marketing Manager, Siemens PLM Software, stressed the need for manufacturing high-end machines in India. He cited an industry data on the export and import figures of machines in the textile, plastics and machine tool sectors and noted that for high-end technologies, the Indian industry is mostly dependent on imported machines. To take the next step forward in building such machines locally, he handed over the discussion to the panellists from Coimbatore: Sushanta Pattnaik, CEO, Lakshmi Ring Travellers; Balachandar Jagannathan, VP – Technical, Penguine Engineers & Director, Lorandi Silos India; Srinivas Rao, CEO, Indian Manufacturing Academy; K Sundararaj, General Manager, Kasthuri Machine Builders, along with Nilotpal Kumar, Industry Consultant, Siemens PLM Software. The discussion was moderated by Shekhar Jitkar, Chief Editor, EM.
Challenges in adopting new technologies
Giving an overview of the discussion, Jitkar opined that growth in the industry sectors and domestic consumption are increasing day-by-day, though the local production output is not sufficient enough to support them. Speaking on the technological disparities, Jitkar asked the panellists on the challenges faced by Indian manufacturers in order to compete globally. Answering this, Kumar specified that mostly Indian manufacturing is all about building equipment. “We never invested in developing the design and doing the R&D ourselves. This led to a gap and today we are seeing a great difference in the quality. This gap is also due to multiple reasons, such as lack of finance, skilled manpower and government aid in terms of policies favouring manufacturers,” he added.
Sharing his thoughts on the challenges, Pattnaik mentioned that running the business and surviving is a different aspect altogether. “We have to focus on the future. Today, the manufacturing plant is modifying itself as per the market demands. As such, there is a need to handle the amount of data being generated from the shopfloor. Thus, technology plays a major role here,” he stated. On similar lines, Jagannathan observed, “Bringing a change in the entire manufacturing ecosystem as per Industry 4.0 requirements is one of the prominent challenges. Currently, the awareness level for this transformation is quite naïve in the Indian market.”
Moving ahead, Rao pointed out four key elements to leverage technology as knowledge, intent, imagination and implementation. “Knowledge and intent do exist. However, the difficulty arises with the imagination and implementation,” he remarked. He also believes that Coimbatore entrepreneurs can adopt technology quite well. Similarly, Sundararaj was optimistic about the technological capabilities of Coimbatore entrepreneurs. However, representing the SME segment that manufactures SPM, he pointed out that in the areas of CNC controllers, there is a lack of support from electronic system suppliers. “Training our employees to suit to the particular needs of the machine is a major challenge. We need support in terms of training, making technology affordable, after sales service, etc,” he added.
Managing customisation needs
There has been increasing pressure from customers to manufacture the product as per their requirements to add more features, functionalities and also have excellent service support. When Jitkar asked about the approach to handle customisation, Pattnaik emphasised on constraint management to address the limitations faced while meeting customer requirements. “If the pressure arises due to a market change, then it needs to be addressed,” he said. Adding his thoughts, Jagannathan described that customisation can be of two ways. Citing an example in a production environment, he explained, “Sometimes the customer demands a varying requirement at the production of the 50th product. In this case, instead of opting for native moulding, we can work with 3D modelling. With this, there is a possibility to meet the requirements, keeping in mind the latest technologies available. The second situation can be in terms of servicing the machine because the customer expects quick maintenance. As such, with the help of digital technologies like Augmented Reality, one can service a machine via mobile application from a remote location.”
Pointing out the current industry scenario, Rao emphasised that some companies in Coimbatore view customisation as a challenge and some see it as an opportunity. “Lot of efficiencies can be improved if companies learn how to handle customisation in the design and manufacturing stage. The knowledge of managing customisation differs from company to company. If any manufacturer has to be efficient, there has to be a regime in their manufacturing,” he perceived. Further, he recommended that companies can manage customisation by not applying standardisation at the product level, but at the sub-system or part level.
Sundararaj opined that the demand for customisation in terms of servicing is growing within the SME sector. “This demands that in future, a proper coordination between mechanical and electronic components suppliers is much needed to ease the service. This can also enable SMEs to come up with advanced technologies in CNC machines and robotics,” he added. Talking from the technology perspective, Kumar opined that his company offers certain solutions to manage customisation. He suggested that developing internally and coming up with a modular approach will address this issue. “The manufacturing processes are common. You can have different machine variants in a modular way and maintain this complexity through certain design tools,” he said.
Improving efficiency in product development
Connecting product development with the manufacturing process effectively is a major requisite to meet business needs. Stressing on this, Pattnaik said that there is no fixed approach for a new product development (NPD); it depends on the culture of the organisation. “Design engineers have to take the responsibility in finishing the NPD projects within the timeline and also ensure the specified tolerance mentioned by the customers. At times, customers’ expectations are dynamic: they may put forward new requirements at the middle of the project. So, designers should be flexible enough to adapt those requirements. Finally, by using design application tools, predictability can be increased. Therefore, going digital will certainly help with the NPD process,” he added.
Rao said that currently the NPD with the Indian companies has not yet matured. There are few companies that emphasise on NPD by developing the design originally and their products are much better than overseas companies. “However, majority of the manufacturers are not aware of the power of developing the design originally. In this space, Siemens and other companies can do quite a lot and I think government support is also required here. The engineers have to be exposed to the good practices of design,” he noted.
Kumar added that Siemens in collaboration with government is trying to address the needs of the small scale industries. “We have collaborated with educational institutions in Gujarat to set up a centre of excellence. We have also established a technology and application centre (TAC) in Peenya, Bengaluru to address the challenges faced by SMEs in making new technologies affordable to them. It may take some time, but we will try to address such challenges across India,” he averred.
Right time to go digital
According to Jitkar, many manufacturers believe that whatever they are doing presently is enough to bring them business. When asked about the need to adopt and invest into new technologies to move towards digitalisation, Kumar answered that instead of a complete transformation, manufacturers can consider a small incremental digitalisation. “Your company is doing multiple processes. So, you can choose an area, which will give maximum return on investment if you are going to digitalise it,” he explained.
Pattnaik emphasised that Indian companies have already delayed in adopting digitalisation. “We have to follow a holistic approach in adopting digitalisation. With the help of guided experts, we can take forward the digital journey,” he averred. According to Jagannathan, digitalisation as a trend will continue growing in the next 5 to 10 years. “If your customer demands, then you should move towards digital. If not, you need to seek the opportunity to get a new customer,” he said.
Taking digitalisation ahead, Rao opined that it is not a single process, rather, it is a journey. “There are two things that drive this need: customer pressure and profit pressure,” he added. As per Sundararaj, moving towards digitalisation should be a
Industry 4.0 as a vision
After the panel discussion, there was a presentation from Kumar who shared a framework on how to manage complexity and how to digitalise the entire manufacturing processes for machine builders using technology offerings from Siemens. He explained that Industry 4.0 should be viewed as a vision and IoT (Internet of Things) as an enabling technology to progress towards this journey. “There are multiple technologies which make up Industry 4.0,” he noted. He also clarified the difference between digitisation & digitalisation and cited an example of ATM as a digitised process and Paytm as a digitalised process.
Further speaking on the challenges in machine building, he mentioned that earlier machines were built upon mechanical components. “Now, we have electrical and electronic components inbuilt inside the machine, which raises complexity in building and servicing them. Also, energy-efficient machines have become a demand globally. As such, when you design the machine, processes have to be efficient and the engineering specific challenges should be addressed. For this, we offer a platform to help you to design the process in a completely digitalised way,” he concluded.
Jitkar urged the panellists and the audience to take the discussions forward and turn them into reality. He also opined that since the global manufacturing companies look at India as a manufacturing destination, we need to tap this opportunity and get the benefits out of it.