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DIGITALISATION Disruption – A gimmick or testament of digital manufacturing?

Mar 8, 2021

The industrial revolution has had its phases. It has now reached a point where it has turned into a revolution. The four phases of its change have only made it better and helmed to a position where companies cannot make-do without it. It brings a much-needed all-inclusive approach for the shop floor productivity. But has the true meaning of Industry 4.0 failed to establish itself? Its concept of open architecture, does it make companies more vulnerable? And with the Digital India initiative and the Budget, has enough been done by the government? The Viewpoint, with insights from companies like Schaeffler and Ascent Intellimation, offers answers to these questions and more.

The industrial revolution, at present, is at the fourth phase of creating change. The first industrial revolution, which happened between the late 1700s and early 1800s, was focused on manual labour performed by people and aided by animals to optimise the chore. As the industry moved into the second term of the revolution, i.e., by the early 20th century, it was all about using steel and electricity in factories to enable manufacturers improve/increase efficiency and make machinery more mobile. By the onset of the third industrial revolution, being the late 1950s, it was all about incorporating the new-found computer at work and reducing the emphasis on analogue & mechanical technology. It was there the idea of automation started coming to life. By the time the industry reached the fourth revolution or Industry 4.0, it was all about interconnectivity, intra-connectivity, automation, robotisation, collaboration, cost optimisation, etc – a holistic approach to manufacturing.

A misjudged hero?

In a definition given by Deloitte, ‘Industry 4.0 refers to a further developmental stage in an organisation and management of the entire value chain process involved in manufacturing. What the terms Industry 4.0, fourth industrial revolution, Internet of Things, the internet of everything or the industrial internet have in common is the recognition that traditional manufacturing and production method are in the throes of digital transformation.’ But for many, the term ‘Industry 4.0’ was a hyperbole, misjudged and probably a marketing gimmick, which has been proven otherwise with the pandemic for some while its true meaning still remains misunderstood for some. In a time where budgets are scanty and need to be used wisely, it is important to adjudge where and how we invest when it comes to digitalisation. One needs to eliminate the thought of Industry 4.0 being a disruption of existing technologies. The digital revolution does not mean plucking existing technologies and replacing them with new solutions. While talking about the need to digitalise, companies need to assess three questions – why? What for? And what value can one generate with it for one’s company and customers?

Being 'smart' while using smart

Smart manufacturing is all about data and real-time analytics, leading to proactive models. “The key for companies is to line up ‘connectivity’ models that will cover the entire or almost entire assets' base. Next to assets, it is important to manage the ‘cultural’ shift from a person-based reactive culture to open and data-driven sharpness. In this domain, changes are essential and must be managed correctly,” asserts Dr Arvind Tilak, CEO, Ascent Intellimation. While a cultural shift entails, it is important to manage it correctly. Tilak suggests, “It will be important to identify use cases & scope and phasing of the same to ensure that the adoption moves definitively and in bite-size pieces rather than one big sweep. Working on the same path, Ascent Intellimation recently started working with a large company with 245 identified use cases. They have now been phased, and the first phase is a small set of 13 use cases where returns will be most visible and measurable.

Today, data has become of primary importance for optimisation. “During the initial industrial revolution, the adaptation of IT & OT convergence was very low,” mentions Meenu Singhal, Global Distribution Head & Vice President – Industry Automation Business, Schneider Electric, and continues, “This was because the prime objective of the industry in the past was only to conserve energy, which has now moved forward to optimising the cost of the process, production and assets. This is where data has become very important.” Companies must analyse the data and convert it into a format that enables management to make an informed decision. It has to be driven by the new perimeters of collecting data, end-computing, putting it on the cloud, etc to meet the agenda of what Industry 4.0 was actually designed for.

Keep it open or close?

The operational world is extremely complex and has uncountable processes involved, all of which can optimise results if interconnected with digitalisation. While manufacturing has been habitual of implementing a topdown approach for digital transformation, it must implement digitalisation bottom-up with OT on the priority board. But does implementing digitalisation mean disrupting the existing technologies for new? It doesn’t necessarily have to be so. The cost of replacement is way more than readjusting and stabilising the existing assets with new technologies. Tilak suggests, “Replacing old assets just for connectivity enablement is the worst mistake one can make. Every asset that is working is proven and well-integrated in the manufacturing chain.” According to the paper, ‘What is open architecture – What are the benefits?’, there are two types of infrastructure design for manufacturing –

  1. Open architecture – This means any jack, patch cord or cable, regardless of manufacturer, should work together and deliver the specified performance level with no loss.

  2. Close solutions – This means all components are designed by the same manufacturer (or sometimes a couple of manufacturers) and are optimised to work as one complete system.

While close solutions have been preferred/normed, they can, in many ways, be restrictive despite being comprehensive. Though it helps to keep inferior products/installers from interacting with warranted products, it doesn’t present the benefit of presenting other options for customers, which could be better or economical or advanced. Singhal explains, “In case customers are looking towards enhancing their architecture towards a better state-of-the-art, open architectures are not bound by few choices. They can give the liberty to choose & download applications developed by third-party companies and plug-and-produce on that. This makes the enduring time of new adaptations minimum and ensures that these are proven architectures that work.” Embracing an open system ultimately delivers high output in less time with improved quality output.

Digital begins at home

When the Union Budget 2021-22 was proposed, it was unique, not just because it was the first digital budget ever but because it stayed true to the government’s testament for Digital India. Its Digital India initiative was lived up to, at least on paper or rather on the tablet. The government has a major role in terms of open policies and providing a levelled playing field. This is exactly what was done for maps data recently. Indian manufacturing companies need to step up their game and take benefit of all the opportunities. Tilak suggests, “We should not and need not expect ‘subsidies’.” He also adds that the growth of manufacturing is a stepwise approach, and the steps taken are in the right direction.

The government’s investments in digitisation and tackling the country’s geopolitical issues ensure the Aatmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India drives pick up. Digital India will play a major role in the coming time. “Digital India does not mean connectivity only at the consumer level, it also means connectivity at the manufacturing level where products can talk to products, products can talk to processes and processes can talk to people,” Singhal explains and continues, “We are seeing this type of enablement. These budgets are helping create money for improving infrastructure, creating good network availability and skill development and reskilling people, not only in the tier one but also in tier two and three cities.” These initiatives are certainly helping in building a strong digital manufacturing base and even enabling Industry 4.0 for the MSME segments.

Industry 4.0 – Not a leisure walk but a journey

While Industry 4.0 may seem like a plate-full for the manufacturing industries, adopting it, keeping in mind the necessity of oneself, can make the journey easier. The World Bank’s Global Economic Prospect projects India’s manufacturing growth at 5.4% for FY 2021-22 and 5.2% in 2022-23 after an expected contraction of 9.6% in fiscal 2020-21. The growth this year or in the future cannot happen if companies decide to work with a ‘to each its own’ mentality; there need to be collaborations, cooperation and digitalisation throughout the network. So, brainstorm on that new solution, ask for that help from consultants or technology companies, be more accepting towards the ‘new’, hesitate, contemplate, decide and bring in what’s best for one’s company and don’t fear the impact of digitalisation; be a prominent part of the industry journey towards automation.

Image Gallery

  • It is important to manage the ‘cultural’ shift from a person-based reactive culture to open and data-driven sharpness - Dr Arvind Tilak, CEO, Ascent Intellimation

  • Digital India does not mean connectivity only at the consumer level, it also means connectivity at the manufacturing level where products can talk to products, products can talk to processes and processes can talk to people - Meenu Singhal, Global Distribution Head & Vice President – Industry Automation Business, Schneider Electric

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