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RENOVATI0N IN HARD TIMES The augmenting ‘smart’ cult: Automating today for resilient tomorrow

Nov 19, 2020

With COVID-19 bringing a momentary stop to supply chain functioning and the world in general, in contrast to other subsets of manufacturing, it has brought a boost in the adoption of digitalisation as smart technologies offer solutions to the problems posed by the pandemic and for the future. Its qualities of optimising, streamlining, and increasing efficiency & performance has proved to be a solution for revival and restoration normalcy. The Viewpoint, with opinion from companies like Birlasoft, Dassault Systèmes, ifm electronic India, B&R Industrial Automation, Red Lion Controls, Manhattan Associates and Aeris Communications tries to analyse intelligent automation in pre-COVID times, how COVID has affected digitalisation, renovation in the times of COVID and how it can help meet uncertain demands & huge cost pressures

The success of manufacturing-of-the-future lies in end-to-end automation - Ajit Singh Chawla, Senior Vice President (SVP) & Global Head – Digital Transformation Business Unit, Birlasoft

The manufacturing industry was already on its journey towards digital transformation, but COVID-19 has worked as a catalyst to accelerate the adoption of technology. Moving towards digital is not a choice anymore but a necessity for survival. Digitalisation goes beyond operations in manufacturing and starts from the design stage, followed by the make stage and leads to management & service of products.

Technologies in the race of productivity & progress

Digital transformation is preparing the manufacturing industry for future interruptions/black swan events by plugging gaps across production, distribution and management. We are witnessing a transformational vision towards Industry 4.0 with the adoption of digital twins, 3D Printing, AI, ML, IoT and AR/VR. These technologies are helping manufacturers increase efficiency, enable high levels of product customisation, improve speed-to-market and create new business models.

Overcoming the barrier of finance

Facing budget constraints, cost management is a huge challenge for manufacturers today. However, the stimulus package by the Government of India (GoI) is helping in embalming these challenges. The Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India) movement is aligned with a vision to produce locally and become self-reliant, thereby providing an impetus for manufacturers to boost production in India. Post-COVID, manufacturers will give a serious look into restructuring their processes through automation, helping revisit and assess labour-oriented jobs, scale productivity, shrink costs and enhance overall efficiency. The success of manufacturing-of-the-future lies in end-to-end automation, ascertaining parry towards uncertainties.

Pay per use model allows deploying of industry-leading technology - Arun Rao, Senior Director, Sales & Strategy - India, Dassault Systèmes

The manufacturing sector has been one of the most severely impacted sectors from the pandemic outbreak, globally and in India. To navigate through the challenges and to get ready for post-pandemic scenarios, businesses in manufacturing have accelerated their digital transformation across planning and operation models, shop floors, channels and customer touchpoints.

Technology for agility

Manufacturers are turning to cloud-based solutions which enable business continuity during the pandemic. It allows manufacturers to create optimised contingency plans that consider real-time data & conditions and understand the impact of disruptions on supply chains & manufacturing operations. This is where the virtual twin will also play a major role.

Optimising finance

We are observing an accelerated shift in the manufacturing sector towards cloud providers who offer solutions in a package format, compared to individual purchases of solutions. It enables a company to access the plethora of engineering, simulation and manufacturing software integrated under one umbrella on three months/six months/one-year pay per use model. This allows manufacturing companies to maintain a balance between deploying industry-leading technologies while maintaining low costs.

Restore & restart

We have derived a five-point agenda that could be a guide for businesses and plant heads in India to restore and restart manufacturing operations –

  1. Relooking at manufacturing operation’s management strategy for the shop floor.

  2. Multiphysics simulation and Computation Fluid Dynamics of workplaces, plants & assembly lines using simulation technologies of possible scenarios and prevention of coughs and sneezes.

  3. A platform approach to digital manufacturing & unlocking the power of the virtual twin concept.

  4. Investing in cloud and real-time data analysis digitally to ensure remote collaboration.

  5. CXOs could look at a solution that models, plans and optimises their business operations end-to-end to mitigate challenges of restarting manufacturing.

Solutions automating with low investments will help manufacturing - Bipin Jirge, Managing Director, ifm electronic India

It is obvious that digitalisation can help manufacturing facilities in many ways. Now with the pandemic, appropriate digitalisation will certainly help in many applications where there could be a shortage of manpower at least in the short-term. We only need to see the viability of automation for our kind of market situations, which are still very uncertain.

Competing with demand & predictable budgeting

The solutions which can solve simple applications, which can be automated with low investments will certainly help manufacturing operations run efficiently and keep up with the demand cycle today. For example, remote monitoring of critical plant parameters with minimum cost and minimum skill will require automation. With companies facing budget constraints, managing costs is a very challenging balance to make these days, as investments are usually with certain surety of future business potential, which will crystalise only in the coming weeks. A better way to maintain balance could be by investing in steps where small gains are predictable.

Creating & maintaining post-COVID

In the post-COVID times, the narrative of technology is going to change. In general, automation will increase in the future, but appropriate automation is the key, as our kind of a country also needs a big number of jobs to be created/maintained in the manufacturing sector.

Only long-term goals might lead to demotivation - Ninad Deshpande, Head - Marketing & Corporate Communication, B&R Industrial Automation

The current situation has had a dual impact on the approaches to digitalisation. Realising the need for digitalisation by brand owners and management is the most notable positive impact. On the other hand, a reduction in business leading to reduced cash flow has negatively affected implementations. Thus, it’s a catch-22 situation for owners. Additionally, until the clouds of uncertainty for smaller business do not clear, decision making post-COVID on topics of technology and adoption is expected to be slower than pre-COVID times.

Economic, efficient & sustainable

Moving forward, a stronger collaboration amongst stakeholders and partners would be evident for higher success. With demands reducing and inventory costs rising, it is essential to produce goods in smaller batches while ensuring an economical & efficient production. Having a combination of short-term implementation enabling the celebration of smaller successes and staying motivated for long-term implementations for sustained long-term returns is recommended. Only long-term goals might lead to demotivation of team members with no visibility of returns for management, thus, leading to scrapping projects by management.

Balance of investments

Unfortunately, there is no rule of thumb to balance investments and costs. Identifying gaps in their existing processes, evaluating technologies available in the market and then mapping them will help companies identify the actual technologies needed for business growth or costs reductions and the number of investments needed.

Hygienic automation & optimisation

Manufacturing is expected to move towards more hygienic automation with lesser human interference and smaller line footprint. In addition, product handling and product transport, too, would undergo changes, with efficient handling, optimising stations and hygienic designs. Also, easier track and trace possibilities for products will be of utmost importance, making way for RFID-based solutions and audit trails.

Flexibility is important to react to changing environmental conditions’ - Sameer Mudhalwadkar, Head of Sales - SAARC & Middle East, Red Lion Controls

COVID-19 has and will change the world of work. In terms of smart automation, the automation process will take an important step into the future. Industrial data must be accessible in real-time from anywhere or, ideally, it must also be possible to correct & change data directly via remote access.

Digitisation – A necessity for flexibility

Anyone who hasn't dealt with the digitisation of data to date will face cost and productivity problems during the crisis and beyond. Digitisation has become a practical necessity, from live video calls to remote control of production lines. Flexibility will be important to react immediately to changing environmental conditions and to replace the missing manpower on-site when needed. Industry 4.0 topics, such as predictive maintenance and smart factory, which are increasingly becoming a matter of course, will benefit from this. For example, systems can be accessed via IIoT in order to control or maintain them.

Preparing for smooth data flow

A resulting aspect is the networking of the OT & IT environment of a company. A smooth data flow is & will be an important component. Smart automation can only be effectively implemented on the manufacturing level with absolute data transparency, finally monitored and controlled via the IT level. Key figures, such as KPI, OEE and their availability in the company systems will become increasingly important.

Have the flexibility to shuffle & shift to meet the ever-changing priorities - Ushasri Tirumala, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Manhattan Associates

Disruptions in supply chains have been unprecedented in their scale and severity during the pandemic. It has emphasised the criticality of global supply chains. It is imperative than ever before to strike the right balance between efficiency and resiliency for supply chains. Businesses constantly need to rethink their supply chain strategies to fulfil these growing demands. There is a renewed focus on supply chain technologies that allow companies to maximise opportunities in the most seamless, efficient and cost-effective manner.

Rapid change & quick reacting

Modern supply chains need the ability to continuously gather data, analyse in real-time and react quickly to a rapidly changing environment. An often-focused aspect of supply chains is order fulfilment. Robotics and automation have become extremely important in warehouse management operations. Every resource – man and machine – in the warehouse needs to be orchestrated through efficient workflows to maximise performance. An ideal warehouse management system is the one that is designed with the intelligence to specifically meet today’s omni-channel fulfilment challenges. They need to enable agile fulfilment processes by continuously monitoring assets and assigning work as they become available and have the flexibility to shuffle orders and shift resources to meet the ever-changing priorities.

Show agility, support innovation

Only those organisations that exhibit agility and embrace innovation can look forward to a sustainable future. Companies that adopt the right technologies to transform their supply chains are the ones that will continue to have a distinct competitive advantage.

Technology has shifted from a ‘good-to-have’ to a ‘must-to-have’ - Sameer Mahapatra, Country Sales Head-India & SAARC, Aeris Communications

Before the pandemic, manufacturing set-ups were in different stages of the adoption of digitisation, depending on the size & sophistication of the organisation. With COVID, five years of digitisation has been preponed to two years. Plus, organisations that weren’t digitised and not thinking about it, have now started thinking about its adoption & implementation.

Technology preference & smart prioritisation

Today, AI-based smart manufacturing and smart automation along with IoT are taking precedence. For instance, IoT can provide real-time feedback to companies about defects or damaged goods. These critical implementations of IoT reduce both cost and haste, improving efficiency and production predictability by a huge margin of 20-25%. Currently, ‘smart prioritisation’, from a budget perspective, has also been gaining prominence. Organisations, which require the adoption of digitisation, are re-prioritising their spends, and many technology-related investments, which have long-term ramifications, are taking priority. So, the decision of the top management needs to focus on what investments need to be preponed and prioritised, which will have a long-term impact on the production and cost efficiency, while managing the cash flow.

The paradigm shift in narrative

COVID has changed the narrative of IT & technology in manufacturing. It has moved the needle from IT & technology being an infrastructure to being a core driver of both efficiency and cost. Now, not only does one need a technology infrastructure but they also need technologies which drive and manage the business more efficiently. This shift brings in a higher rate of accountability in the organisation. Also, for the first time in many years, many organisations are witnessing an improvement in efficiency because of automation. Today, the language and discussions around technology have shifted from a ‘good-to-have’ to a ‘must-to-have’.

Image Gallery

  • Ajit Singh Chawla, Senior Vice President (SVP) & Global Head – Digital Transformation Business Unit, Birlasoft

    Ajit Singh Chawla, Senior Vice President (SVP) & Global Head – Digital Transformation Business Unit, Birlasoft

  • Arun Rao
Senior Director, Sales & Strategy - India
Dassault Systèmes

    Arun Rao

    Senior Director, Sales & Strategy - India

    Dassault Systèmes

  • Bipin Jirge
Managing Director
ifm electronic India

    Bipin Jirge

    Managing Director

    ifm electronic India

  • Ninad Deshpande
Head - Marketing & Corporate Communication
B&R Industrial Automation

    Ninad Deshpande

    Head - Marketing & Corporate Communication

    B&R Industrial Automation

  • Sameer Mudhalwadkar
Head of Sales - SAARC & Middle East
Red Lion Controls

    Sameer Mudhalwadkar

    Head of Sales - SAARC & Middle East

    Red Lion Controls

  • Ushasri Tirumala
Senior Vice President & General Manager
Manhattan Associates

    Ushasri Tirumala

    Senior Vice President & General Manager

    Manhattan Associates

  • Sameer Mahapatra
Country Sales Head-India & SAARC
Aeris Communications

    Sameer Mahapatra

    Country Sales Head-India & SAARC

    Aeris Communications

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