COVID-19 has brought in inevitable disruptions in business supply chains & product portfolios. Ease of production, safety and agility have always been the ultimate goals from digitalisation. But under the pretext of COVID-19, managing businesses with less workforce on the shop floor and business continuity have joined the list of expectations that digitalisation has to now fulfil. Organisations will have to ingrain the fact that smart manufacturing is here to stay, and it is the only pertinent solution to evolve and become pacesetters in the business.
Reverse & reset of global manufacturing stature
The US-China trade war and China’s position in the global supply chain, which is challenged today and will change going forward and several other issues the world is facing today, will lead to a big reset across the global economy. Supply chains will need to start focusing on improving agility, customer focus & concentricity, supply chain resilience, speed & productivity and eco-efficiency. Viren Joshi, CEO & President, Sigma Electric Manufacturing Corp, asserted, “Everyone of us, not just the leading companies, will need to work with new operating models, which revolves around business transformation applying it to processes and management systems for reskilling, training, Virtual Reality, etc.” Organisations will have to tide through the changes in ways of working, loss of labour, digital commerce, localisation of supply chain and adoption of new technologies, environment & climate change factors, emerging debt burdens and deglobalisation/reverse globalisation, while ensuring business continuity and resilience. Neeraj Singh, Director, KPMG India, ascertained, “Technology underpins all these new challenges. It helps one pave a path for recovery, and without technology, none of these things can be fully enabled.”
Unchanged business basics
The fundamentals of business never change. Companies that failed to have running credit lines due to COVID-19, as they come out of it, will need to figure out cash possession that will enable them to tide through any other crisis. The whole idea of a business is about capital investment, debt structuring and figuring out how to keep growing through absorbing all the right things into the business. “If capital is not invested, technology doesn’t move forward and if the technology does not move forward, one will not get enough revenues. It is going to be a balancing act for companies to figure out how to push and pull the right levers as they move into the future,” explained Kishore Jayaraman, President, Rolls Royce India & South Asia.
No one size fits all
Monolithic manufacturing set-ups have certain characteristics, like it has a unidirectional flow and things are in sequence, which is how manufacturing has been operating. But today, ways of working need to change. Infrastructures need to become more flexible and possess machines that cater to the changing demands. Focus needs to shift onto overcoming the current volatility and unpredictability in a two-phase approach of one, analysing the short-term actions, i.e. what can be done immediately and secondly, bringing in a framed structure for more fundamental changes. Parag Satpute, Managing Director, Bridgestone India, connoted, “As a company/organisation, we need to become more agile. We need to sense what is happening in the market and respond very quickly.” This requires monolithic work to be broken down into flexible work. Gautam Dutta, Senior Director of Marketing, Siemens Industry Software, emphasised, “Every product is a promise to the customer. But our functions are not attuned for the promise; our functions are tuned inwards towards the skills we have. The time has come that we keep customers in mind and the promise that we make through the product so that we have project & product-based functions.”
Overcoming the barriers of technology
While technology is and will be an enabler, currently, technology adoption and implementation are barriers for organisations because –
Fragmented digital infrastructure: Organisations have fragmented digital infrastructure. Only some functions have a digital set-up; for example, a lot of people use CAD. But if one is using CAD & CAE technologies to develop new products and the manufacturing system is conventional, it is just shifting the bottleneck from design and engineering to manufacturing.
Ineffective closed loop: Since organisations are not getting data back, companies are unable to keep tabs of resulted improvements. Organisations need to have an infrastructure which helps them quantify the output and keep track of what they are doing.
Single-purpose linear processes: Linear processes do not hold capabilities of solving the problems of tomorrow. Companies need to become flexible and have multiple processes moving forward.
Ineffective transformation: The transfer of raw data to information builds up inefficiencies within an organisation. Many believe if they possess IIoT and analytics, they would be able to improve. But unless analytics are not acted upon, one would not be able to improve. Data needs to elevate itself in context to become information; information has to turn into knowledge, which can help in decision-making.
Inefficient production data sharing: Data that is generated from the shop floor is today limited to a few people/functions. Whereas, it has to get democratised and be used by multiple people for smoother shop floor functioning.
Understanding the changing narrative
COVID-19 has proved to be an awakening for people who never had any digital strategy to start doing something. Krishna Bhojkar, Head of Manufacturing Engineering, Skoda Auto Volkswagen India, opined, “People who don’t have any strategy at the moment, need to begin formulating a strategy for themselves. People who already had the technology and strategy in place, need to fast track their implementation.” It is necessary to define & understand the baby steps so that the risks of adoption are limited. Understanding the problem one wishes to counter can help in smoother adoption. “Given the current situation, companies need to identify what is ‘must to do’ than what is ‘good to do’. Before adopting, companies need to answer the question if adopting a certain technology will help them make their decision-making faster, better or cheaper,” advised Ravi Kharul, Chief Technology Officer, Endurance Technologies.
Organisations need to adopt digital architectures that not only connects one to the cloud but offers a system that can be extended into the existing MES & ERP systems. IoT devices connected with an automation objective can deliver impactful automation & transparency. Jagganath V, Business Head of m2nxt (a BFW Company), “Virtual automation can help acquire the data, analyse and then gauge the champion output that can be acquired from a critical cell to govern the throughput of the shop floor. Once identified, to sustain that output, companies can get into the physical automation to see the feasibility of sustaining the champion output for optimal productivity and better output.” Rajesh Mrithyunjayan, Vice President, 3D Products & Solutions, Monotech Systems, asserted, “There is a high degree of individualisation in personalisation of products that have to be catered to, especially due to COVID. Technologies, like Additive Manufacturing, can help connect production and high-quality services, which could lead to hybrid products, that can help production become flexible.”
Digital integrators & middle layer transformation
Bringing in different types of solution is not just enough to ensure digital success. Having a digital integrator to merge all the facets of an organisation is a crucial part of a connected enterprise. “If one has not connected their various disparate systems, then the data is not connected. Disconnected data leads to disconnected information, which then leads to a lack of insight, leading to lack of action,” accentuated Vivek Saha, Director & Head, Digital Transformation, Nasscom CoE. An integrated system can help audit information that is circling one aspect of the whole system. Rajesh Nath, Managing Director, VDMA India, deemed, “The integration of the supplier with the manufacturer is important to have a conducive flow and to have a system which can have the flexibility of mass customisation and changes in the flow of the system.”
While many have brought into understanding the benefits of digitalisation/smart manufacturing, what ensures the success of it is the full binding of the middle management i.e., the layer between the management of the company and the operating workforce. Vivek Bhatia, Managing Director & CEO, Thyssenkrupp Industries India, stated, “Success of an operation depends on the workforce feeling comfortable and confident in the environment they are working in. An integral focus on one’s supply chain and supporting it with the required cash flow, sourcing and manpower can ensure unabridged operations.”
Cross-skilling for efficiency
Both upskilling and cross-skilling are important for a manufacturing shop floor. But with the new manpower regulations for the shop floor, cross-skilling is of absolute necessity. It will help people become empowered to perform various activities with a 360-degree insight into manufacturing processes, making them multi-faceted in all domains. With a multi-skilled workforce, organisations can optimise workforce on the shop floor and automate the administrative-supporting technology by using bots. “In labour-driven industries, companies should focus on improving skills of the existing workforce and merge in silos of departments to bring a more collaborative approach to use data for the better functioning of processes,” advised Sureshbabu Chigurupalli, Plant Head, Operations & Maintenance, Balasore Alloys.
Flip side of the coin
While analysing the pros of smart manufacturing, there might be many, but it is important to address the cons of it, too.
High cost & investments: Smart manufacturing tends to require heavy investments in its set-ups. Companies need to analyse and prioritise their investments.
Loss of skills over a period: There is a possibility of a person’s skill level to diminish due to machines doing the job for him. For example, an operator who could easily identify a defect might weaken his skills due to over-reliance on technologies. To overcome this, companies need to bring in more training and awareness initiatives constantly.
Garbage In or Garbage Out (GIGO): Machines, in its true nature, are not smart; all the ‘smart’ factor of a machine is built-in by humans. If humans understand a need well, only then would they be able to translate better into machines. Humans performing the function must understand the function better and monitor the machines to work in its best efficiency, which can be done by having teams with individual experts in their domain.
Misuse & mishandling: While technology may bring in benefits, someone could use it for personal gains. Supervisors and managers need to be vigilant and aware of what all can be misused and mishandled and set-up systems that ensure manhandling of technology is prevented.
Low tolerance to variation: Most technologies implemented have a low tolerance to variations in comparison to humans. Managers need to ensure that they take care of this ‘tolerance’ factor and alter it for the process that one is trying to implement/automate.
Baby steps for the long haul
The shift is inevitable. There is no one formula or silver bullet which is going to solve all the problems. Companies need to measure their work delivery and keep improving on it to stay competitive. Practising flexibility, with a continued process of unlearning, relearning, upskilling and cross-skilling, will help them be ahead in the game. Smart manufacturing cannot be implemented in totality, but baby steps can be taken pertinent to each business case and the benefits can be deployed in other areas. While implementing, a top-down approach in embracing the change can go a long way.