Digital technology is not only transforming how companies in every industry go to the market, but is also re-modelling interactions with customers, thus, assisting them to carry out effective operations. Manufacturers in all segments, from food & beverage to industrial machinery and equipment, are ready to embrace this technology. Today, the market demands maximum uptime on a day-to-day basis while expecting that the products will remain productive for decades.
The new reality for equipment/machine builders is to have configurable, modular systems so as to build products to meet diverse customer demands. Most of the challenges can be overcome today by consistent efforts towards innovation and use of advanced technology concepts like Industry 4.0, IIoT, Big Data, PLM, etc, which in turn call for digitalisation of all the operations. However, the key and challenge with digital transformation is that it involves more than an investment in new technology.
In this context, Siemens PLM Software and EM recently organised a conference with a panel discussion on ‘Leveraging Digitalisation for Building Smarter, Cost-effective Machines/Equipment’ in Chennai, which was inaugurated by T Nandakumar, Director, Wittmann Battenfeld India, who briefed the session on the evolution of digital practices in the industry as well as in the public arena. He discussed the concept in terms of a mobile phone and industrial revolution. “Today, Industry 4.0 has become the most spoken about topic across all industries. It drives smart buidings, smart logistics, smart grids, smart mobility and smart products,” he stated.
This was followed with a guest address by Ethirajan Bhaskaran, Deputy Director—Department of Industries & Commerce, Government of Tamil Nadu, who highlighted the benefits offered by the Indian government to the MSMEs and entrepreneurs. “There have been government initiatives for digital MSMEs with the objective to encourage the sector with new approaches for cloud computing in ICT (Information & Communication Technology) adoption. This includes the adoption of best practices that can help to improve the quality of the product & services, benefit a large number of MSMEs, standardise their products, improve business models and delivery time, reduce inventory time and improve quality of the products through cloud computing,” he discussed.
Moving ahead, Nilotpal Kumar, Industry Consultant—Machinery, Siemens PLM Software, presented on leveraging digitalisation to build smarter, faster and cost-effective machines. He discussed and shared insights on the framework of incorporating digitalisation practices in machine building, while addressing the industry challenges. He also touched upon solutions from his company for design engineering, design management and part manufacturing, along with explaining the concept of synchronous technology and hybrid manufacturing. Explaining Industry 4.0, he stated, “Industry 4.0 is a phase of technology that has impacted manufacturing. This makes the machine unique to customers and as such, is the framework to manage complexity in the industry.”
Overviewing the machine building industry
The highlight of the event was a panel discussion on ‘Leveraging digitalisation for building smarter, faster and more cost-effective machines’. The panelists of the discussion were Murali Chandrahasan, Head—Engineering IT Solutions, L&T Technology Services; KS Ramalingam, DFM & Innovation Consultant, Engineers Innoventures; Dr Balkrishna C Rao, Associate Professor—Dept of Engineering Design, IIT Madras and Nilotpal Kumar, Industry Consultant—Machinery, Siemens PLM Software. The discussion was moderated by Megha Roy, Assistant Editor, EM Magazine.
Acknowledging the transformation witnessed across the manufacturing industry lately, the panel discussion weaved around identifying and analysing the bottlenecks faced in the industry while at the same time inculcating the required level of awareness. The discussion beheld panelists sharing their views on the current scenario of the machine building sector with respect to advanced technologies.
Overviewing the scenario in terms of Industry 4.0 in the current manufacturing industry, Chandrahasan pointed out that a major transformation is required in the Indian market in terms of smart products, smart manufacturing and smart operations & services. “It depends on the maturity level of the design applications and manufacturing operations management, which primarily focuses on automation and manufacturing execution systems. Smart services analyse how the service lifecycle management takes care of product servicing,” he explained. He further focused on identifying the pain points in terms of manufacturing, design and supply chain and, thereafter, adopt the required transformation by initiating smaller steps that will further build a strong foundation.
As per Ramalingam, accomplishing the Industry 4.0 level is a long walk for the Indian industry. Stressing on the current level of awareness, he averred, “Requisite knowledge is not transferred from the knowledge giver to the collaborator. As a result, this has led to a huge gap in the industry, which can be addressed not only by skill development at an operator level but across all levels in an organisation. When India is placed on a global platform, there is certainly a visible difference in terms of operation & productivity level, digital practices and automation level. In addition, the investments are not proportionate to employment generation. As a result, bridging the gap between the ‘bricks and clicks’ is important. This can happen by altering the education system in India right from the elementary level.”
Training—an essential factor for advancement Representing the academia in the discussion was Dr Rao, who emphasised on the reverse brain drain concept happening in India currently. “Many IIT graduates, rather than shifting their base to the western countries are now setting up Indian start-ups. Keeping in mind the climatic change and a large working population in India, technology advancement is essential here,” he shared. He further stated that the education system has evolved itself through the years. “Today, there are some good institutes in the country for providing training with advanced skills. Many educational institutes are training our workforce to use many design tools. I would encourage having a good R&D programme from the industry, which is currently lacking in India. Apart from investments in R&D abroad, industries should also focus on investing in the Indian academia. There needs to be active research programmes that work well with the industry and use the latest technologies to address challenges.”
Commenting on the position of India on a global platform, Kumar pointed out that not every industry in India is at par with the western world. “There is certainly a visible gap and there are multiple reasons for it. In terms of the industrial machinery sector, India needs to take a leap by two stages to reach the desired technology level,” he shared.
Technology as an enabler
Today, the Indian industry is facing challenges, such as, supporting infrastructure, skill upgradation, knowledge enhancement, data security, etc. Amidst such challenges, there is a need for the Indian factories to be real-time ready so as to adopt advanced digital technologies. When Roy asked about the readiness of the Indian factories, Chandrahasan stated that there are three major focus areas to reach Industry 4.0 in the Indian industry—smart products, smart manufacturing and smart services. “While smart products are focused more on the engineering excellence—right from product design to product manufacturing, smart manufacturing focuses on the raw materials to finished goods. Lastly, smart services deal with supply chain excellence. A convergence in IT (Information Technology), OT (Operational Technology) and ET (Enterprise Technology) can help achieve the required level of Industry 4.0.”
Bridging the gap
With a growing economy, the country is also witnessing the growth of the education sector. However, there has been a certain amount of uncertainty in the Indian industry to make the graduates industry-ready. Sharing thoughts on this was Ramalingam, who opined that the Indian industry has been open for competition, only in terms of importing technology and collaboration. “We still have a huge gap existing between design & manufacturing aspects. As such, Indian educational institutes need to focus on the vocational & practical knowhow. Though the industry is resource-ready, addressing manufacturing challenges is a priority, while focusing on innovation,” he added.
As per Dr Rao, the aforementioned gap can be addressed with appropriate skill development and training programmes. “To encourage training programmes, the Indian government has increased the number of IITs in India. As such, we do have the required talent & ingenuity. In fact, IIT-Madras has many programmes actively working with the industry. We have also signed many MoU’s with major industries across the world,” he said. Adding further on the same, Kumar pointed out that his company has been participating in skill development initiatives of the Indian government and has recently signed a memorandum with the government of Karnataka to setup a centre of excellence, wherein engineering students are trained with the latest software. “Owing to the highcost of software, we have also developed a cooperative model, wherein several companies have joined hands to form a cluster for using our latest technologies,” he added.
Besides these, other areas like investments in new product development also plays a vital role in re-shaping the entire industry. When asked, Chandrahasan recommended on identifying the pain points at the working level. “One needs to identify the potential use cases after identifying the industry pain points. Then comes the investment for these use cases and figuring out the relevant ROI respectively. After developing a maturity matrix, one can immediately apprehend the focus areas, which will trigger the kind of technologies that can be used. Technology is primarily an enabler and all the business pain points will drive to Industry 4.0,” he said. Adding to new product development, Ramalingam averred that technology needs to fine tune itself with suitable solutions to be ready for the market demands.
Adopting digital transformation
The panel discussion concluded on the cognizance of manufacturers becoming future-ready, which also helps them to achieve competitive advantage. Taking this ahead, Chandrahasan pointed out the evolution of software and explained, “Earlier, ERP was a huge set of software, where people were not ready to embrace the software, but today one can even use a module of ERP on a subscription basis. Such innovations are also developing on a technology level with PLM and MES. Primarily, the business pain points are going to drive technology. We need to identify such platforms and analyse the innovative business models that can be adopted. This will help us fasten our progress towards Industry 4.0.” Speaking on the investments in this regard, he further suggested to form business consortiums that can help address challenges.
According to Dr Rao, India is positioned at a point where Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and Big Data have become major areas of consideration. Also, upgrading skill development and adopting vocational knowledge, right from an operator level will help Indian manufacturing operations achieve the level of required excellence.
The discussion was concluded with Kumar’s suggestion to become the agent of change so as to adopt the journey of digital transformation.
Digital transformation involves more than an investment in new technology. Primarily, one needs to have an understanding of which technology investments will have the biggest positive impact on the business, what is the value potential, ROI, and risk of investing in these technologies, and how to maximise the outcome.
Roy summarised the discussion in terms of analysing the challenges of Indian manufacturers and, thereafter, taking small steps to pave the roadmap for the next technological leap. They need to embrace smart products and concentrate on the maturity of design and PLM applications. In addition, to bridge the existing gap, appropriate skill development and R&D programmes are the need-of-the-hour. This will let the Indian industry conceptualise innovative business models, which can pave a setting stone for undertaking the required transformation.