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MACHINE TOOLS Manufacturing operations post-COVID-19 – From survival to revival

Jun 18, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic had, not very long ago, brought businesses and daily human undertakings around the world to a halt, and this is still partly the case. It has affected the manufacturing sector due to lockdowns across numerous countries worldwide, including India. While some businesses have started functioning partially and now that the lockdown has been moderately lifted, it’s time for the industry to figure out how to get back on track and how businesses can make it out there in the current pandemic that still lingers about us. Keeping this in mind, EM magazine recently organised a webinar on ‘Manufacturing operations post-COVID-19 – From survival to revival’, in association with Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence India. The webinar brought to light the approach towards deployment of advanced technologies in the current situation, why there is a need to go slow, how demand is of prime importance right now and how people will have to find a new way of doing things.

Ever since the coronavirus has hit the world, it has affected almost every business one can think of, including the manufacturing industry. It has seriously disrupted both, the demand behaviour as well as the supply and competence of companies to deliver goods. It has put manufacturers across the country in quite a fix due to the lockdown. But now that the lockdown has been partially lifted, businesses have to go back to work again and the industry has to start functioning normally, too. And that would be the real test – about reviving and going back to functioning sturdily. In this context, EM magazine recently organised a webinar on ‘Manufacturing operations post-COVID-19 – From survival to revival’, in association with Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence India, which discussed the industry surviving and reviving post-COVID-19 pandemic, how staying viable in the next one to two years is going to be more important and how we have to do more and more digital.

Value skills even more

The webinar kick-started with the guest address by Chandrakant Salunkhe, Founder & President, SME Chamber of India. Salunkhe averred that without survival, the industry cannot revive. “COVID-19 has given us a good educational system, because at home, we have to think of the future. Because most MSMEs are not planning for the future and are not putting efforts into what they will do if something happens tomorrow,” he told the viewers. He also said that some subsidy should be provided to the industry so that manufacturing can survive and labour laws need to be withdrawn for at least two years.

This was followed by the next guest address by Vijay Kalra, Head – Mahindra Institute of Quality and Former Chief of Manufacturing Operations, Mahindra & Mahindra. Kalra asserted that when we restart, layout may require change because of social distancing and it makes a huge difference if rhythm is lost. “There is a need to go slow, or else we can suffer,” he cited and added, “Value skill even more. It’s very important to communicate adult-to-adult. These are the things that will make it or break it.”

Choose to be innovators

Up next, Sridhar Dharmarajan, Executive Vice President & Managing Director, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence India and MSC Software, Indo-Pacific, gave a technology presentation on ‘Reinvention thanks to disruption: New manufacturing practices in the post-COVID era’. Dharmarajan divulged that India is in a good shape to recover and things aren’t going to be the same. “We need to redefine the customer – he might be changing, so prepare your workforce for the new world and strengthen capital efficiency,” he informed and continued, “Also, growth doesn’t have to be at the expense of the planet and we need to see how we can boost the sustainability factor as well. Let’s choose to be innovators.”

It was then soon time for the most awaited part of the webinar – the panel discussion on ‘Manufacturing operations post-COVID-19 – From survival to revival’. This discussion was moderated by Shekhar Jitkar, Chief Editor, EM and A&D India. The esteemed panellists were Indradev Babu, Managing Director, UCAM & President, IMTMA; T K Ramesh, Managing Director & CEO, Micromatic Machine Tools; Shailesh Sheth, Corporate Advisor & Past President, IMTMA; Dharmarajan; Sonali Kulkarni, President & CEO, Fanuc India and Ravi Raghavan, Managing Director, BFW. The panellists deliberated on the short-term and long-term implications of COVID-19, the immediate actionable growth strategies and the approach towards deployment of advanced technologies in the current situation.

Live, learn and progress with COVID-19

Jitkar directed his first question at Ramesh, asking him what would be the short-term and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and what would be the challenges that manufacturers would be facing in the coming months. To this, Ramesh responded that demand is of prime importance right now. “The short-term is about getting used to the fact that there’s a routine to get back to. The long-term will perhaps be March 31, 2021,” he explained and went on, “The new normal will perhaps get way into the second half of this year in the picture. We’re all in the storm in different boats and we need to know which boat we are in.”

The same question was posed to Babu, who returned that we need to look at ways and means to sustain. “Long-term is about being innovative in all your aspects of moving forward,” he elucidated and continued, “The dynamics are changing and we need to adopt each month. We’ll have to live, learn & progress with COVID-19 and it’s not going away anytime soon.”

Understand what the customers need

Jitkar then turned his next question to Raghavan, asking that since they have started partially recently, what would be the new normal for best practices going forward in the manufacturing sector. Raghavan clarified that it’s like a race without a finishing line; so, we don’t know when and how it’s going to end. He explicated, “I don’t think there would be any standards or practices that would be relevant to everybody. So, at this point, I am trying to understand what I am good at and weak at and see how I can get away from those weaknesses and practise something that I am not into. It’s going to be a combination of managing social distancing and at the same time, being very productive. People will have to find a new way of doing things – so, even some things that look interesting today may not look interesting tomorrow. Plus, we will go for something that’s cost-effective.”

Likewise, Fanuc had started their operations partially, hence, the same question being asked to Kulkarni as Raghavan. Throwing light on this, Kulkarni expounded that even though we talk confidently, we are still swimming in the dark. “But we believe that if you have conviction, you should play for the long-term and try to understand what the customers need,” she put across and continued, “We should listen, learn and of course, there is no question about following government-set norms. We should work towards being meaningful and have to experiment and keep progressing.”

Do more and more digital

Turning the focus to emerging technologies, Jitkar shot his next question at Dharmarajan, asking him that while emerging technologies will definitely play a role in helping the industry to come out of the current situation, what exactly would that role be in continuing businesses with the same efficiency and profitability as before. Plus, what should be the approach towards deployment of these advanced technologies in the current situation?

“We have to wait and watch where we are,” Dharmarajan responded and went on, “We seem to be growing, but at a much smaller space. We have to do more and more digital – there has to be a digital transformation in the company. Also, the whole plant has to be connected. I would say that Industry 4.0 and smart connected manufacturing is the way to go. And today, we have the technology, hardware, software and people with the knowledge available to really implement some of these technologies. So, I think COVID-19 is really accelerating all the companies out there to adopt Industry 4.0.”

Taking up another aspect on technologies, Jitkar then turned to Raghavan again, mentioning that while adopting or investing in new technologies, any manufacturer might think that demand being less, why should he/she invest in automation technology or digitalisation technology. So, what should be the approach towards these technologies?

To this, Raghavan responded that people were into digital in some form or the other but they did not see much of an incentive in that. “This may help companies to move into value creation through digitisation in a much faster way,” he said and continued, “People will think of different ways of doing it and I think, that is going to bring the big change in the way it is going to happen.”

Coming to why people should do it, Raghavan asserted that the way they will look at it will be more sensible now. He cited, “They will also innovate ways to adopt this. Plus, the dependence on labour is now going to be more and more difficult – we can’t be so open anymore that people are easily available and get anybody & use them. So, automation will be used there to be more reliable to their customers. The premium will be on the reliability of the whole supply chain and not just the product. Companies that will have a strong relation with the customer, but also with the supply partners, will succeed. And that’s where digitisation will help. We’ll find newer views and applications of digitisation; the same vanilla application will not work.”

Being flexible – An important mantra

Jitkar put his next question to Sheth, who has been a veteran in the industry and has seen the ups and downs in it for a long time. Jitkar asked that what should be the attribute for navigating the industry post the pandemic. To this, Sheth highlighted that in the next one to two years, staying viable is going to be more important.

“A lot of things will have to come back to the table for discussion,” Sheth went on to explain and averred, “You have to do some out-of-the-box thinking to see how you want to manage your enterprise. Do not treat your past success as a certificate for your future success. Being flexible is a very important mantra to follow. Moreover, changes are happening very fast, which means that your response has to be equally fast or faster. One should make his/her organisation agile enough to respond to that change in a rapid manner.”

To this, Ramesh aptly added, “It’s about staying alive to fight another day. And, this is where I believe that not the government or anybody else makes the changes, but we have to do something about it. At the end of the day, whatever has to be made has to be consumed. Now, where is consumption going to happen? Consumption is going to happen where there are people. Yes, this movement has been happening eastward and people are in the east. There are markets & people here, and that is the long-term strength we will have after survival. What’s more, you need to understand where your competitive advantage is. And in case someone is confused about what their competitive advantage is, these hard times will make it very clear to them about what it is. Then they really need to build on it and make full use of it.”

Ramesh went on to explain, “Use of technology and digitisation needs to happen, and people are beginning to realise it. From organisations to individuals creating value, the ability of individuals to connect, being away and creating value – these are the mindset & behavioural changes that we really need to bring about. For example, if a customer has a problem, then somebody gets on a plane or in a car and rushes there to make sure he/she supports the customer. There is a cost of a person coming, a loss of time, etc. By these digitisation tools, that could be saved. So, perhaps COVID is going to reposition and help us and our customers look at it.”

Turning disruption into an opportunity

Jitkar put his final question to Kulkarni, asking her that what could be the road ahead to turn this disruption into an opportunity for India so as to emerge as a manufacturing destination for the world and for succeeding in the ‘Make in India’ movement. Kulkarni answered that the road ahead, indeed, can be very promising. “We can be the next manufacturing destination and it is up to us – the players. We will need to return to fundamental principles and be flexible,” she averred and added, “The number one thing that will help us succeed is hunger & focus.”

This brought the panel discussion to a close, with Jitkar giving his final remarks. He observed, “I am sure, going forward, we will definitely come out of this situation. The countries that are suffering have suffered the most, in comparison to India. So, hopefully, we’ll have the chance to make our country the world destination for manufacturing, with government support and as well as the industry’s own efforts.”

Votes at the polls

The webinar also conducted three polls. The first poll addressed the question – Do you think the ₹20 lakh crore stimulus package announced recently by our PM will give an immediate boost to the Indian economy? To this, the poll received a response, where 61% of the audience agreed that, yes, it would, while 39% responded in the negative.

The second poll raised the question – Do you think India has an opportunity to emerge as a manufacturing destination for the world and boost the ‘Make in India’ movement? The result to this poll was 95% of the audience voting in the positive, while 5% begged to differ.

The final poll of the webinar put across the question – How do you think the current situation will affect the adoption of advanced technologies, like digitalisation in manufacturing, to which the options were – ‘adoption of advanced technologies will increase’ & ‘adoption of advanced technologies will decrease’. This poll saw a result, where 96% chose the former option, while 4% chose the latter.

Do not let the crisis go to waste

The webinar put across that things are unquestionably going to be different in the industry from what they used to be before the COVID-19 crisis arose. While it has set the industry quite a few steps back, businesses have to now look at the situation from a different perspective, set the right priorities, think innovatively and make the most out of this crisis, without letting it go to waste.

Image Gallery

  • Jitkar in conversation with the panellists during the panel discussion on ‘Manufacturing operations post-COVID-19 – from survival to revival’

  • The panellists deliberated on the short-term and long-term implications of COVID-19, the
    immediate actionable growth strategies and the approach towards deployment of advanced technologies in the current situation

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