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?
Automation is seen as an engineering activity locally devised for specific needs so far, but very few enterprises put it up as part of a wider strategy. It is often misconceived as luxury for big companies and perceived as an investment intensive activity. However, if it is put forth as an essential part of business strategy with an objective of customer service, then it will change the paradigm by making the product competitive, improving quality and cost. With the advent of Industry 4.0, manufacturing strategies worldwide are getting aligned with automation as part of their Industry 4.0 strategy to remain competitive. In India, however, many SMEs are looking forward to low cost automation.
Furthermore, if the challenges faced while making automation are not countered thoughtfully, it may lead to misunderstandings about the objectives, lack of project management approach and resistance to change from people if proper buy-in is not created.
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 be a part of improvement actions with assured ROI. The approach for execution should be a PDCA cycle – Plan, Do, Check, and Act. In order to make the automation project successful, there should be a structured project management approach defining the objectives, work packages, Gantt charts and review mechanism. There should also be a continuous check on fulfillment of objectives during the process and at the end.
How easy/difficult is it to align business and automation strategy in a manufacturing organisation and ensure the two are closely linked in the long term, especially in the SME sector?
The automation strategy should be fully aligned to business strategy through the customer focused KPIs and long-term growth of the organisation. That makes them truly integrated. The automation initiatives, which are not fulfilling the criteria of customer focus, are no longer needed and should not be adopted for the sake of fascination. This is crucial, especially for SMEs, as funds and resources are scarce and need to be applied diligently.
Consumer demand and relentless global competition have resulted in shorter product lifecycles, a need for reduced turnaround time, and a renewed emphasis on quality and cost reduction. Can you highlight the current trends in automation solutions and advanced technologies available that address these areas?
Consumer demands require a variety of products in short quantities and at the lowest possible lead times. Big set-up alterations requiring high lead times need to be changed to innovations, which permit quick set-up changes. This is why we need automation with priority to set-up changes. This allows more inventory turns, less inventory costs, and improvement in resource utilisation. At SKF, emphasis is on quick set-up changes and very short batches.
The effective execution of your automation strategy requires the right partner to help guide and drive the process. How can the partnership between automation service provider, system integrator and end-user be more effective to further overall business objectives and ensure consistent ROI?
With the advent of Industry 4.0, there are thin lines between software, hardware and analytics. A close cooperation is required between users and process designers to make the automation successful. To have effective plan and implementation, it is essential to choose right partners – automation service providers who have domain knowledge and expertise. If automation is done by a small company or startup, then there is a big risk of aftersales services. Often, the company itself may disappear due to financial reasons. If you go with big, well established companies, then either they will not be interested in such a small automation or they will be interested if the cost is too high.