Industrial Automation Magazine India



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After the disaster, time to rebuild.

As a measure for effective containment, the lockdown was inevitable, but it also closed down most industrial activity, and disrupted supply chains. Even as the industry was debating the benefits of digital transformation, the pandemic appears to have made the decision, achieving what the consultants failed to do. More automation, less dependence on manpower seems to be the emerging consensus, and no longer merely an option.

With the government now keen on resuming some economic activity in regions deemed safe, what are the things likely to change and what are takeaways from the crisis? Industrial Automation shares viewpoints of experts:

About the industry expert

Disclaimer: The views expressed in interviews are personal, not necessarily of the organisations represented.

As “Head – CoE Gurugram & Director – Technical Solutions” with NASSCOM Center of Excellence – IoT & AI, Sudhanshu leads the overall operations of Gurugram CoE and is also responsible for driving the solutioning of the problem statements brought by CoE partners. Vertical focus includes Automotive and Standard verticals for CoE-IoT. The key responsibilities include: a) Driving the solutioning of the problem statements brought on by CoE partners b) Driving the Automotive and Connected Vehicle activities for CoE c) Driving standard body participation from CoE-IoT for Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) and Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) d) Driving academic research engagement activities e) Niche partner engagement like Indian Army, Railways, PSUs etc

Barring a few engaged in essentials, the manufacturing sector has come to a near standstill in past weeks. What are the dimensions of impact of this lockdown?

There is no doubt that the lockdown has severely disrupted the manufacturing sector. Apart from the demand slump, the supply chain has been disrupted which has been aggravated by the manpower dislocation. As the lockdown starts easing, the manufacturing players need to consider the impact of lower workforce, social distancing requirements, availability of their suppliers, interstate movement restrictions and the demand slump. MSMEs sector which is the largest manufacturing job generator, will face biggest disruption as it has the less capability of withstanding such losses compared to large enterprises. Government is focused on helping this sector withstand the current crisis and be able to continue when things start easing.

Since different companies in supply chain will gear up at different rates, how is a plan for kickstart of regular operations after lockdown to be evolved? How do you plan to cope with shortage of skills in this phase?

Post lockdown the manufacturers will need to build capabilities for closer monitoring the capabilities of their suppliers. Digital technologies like IoT, AI provide such capability and large number of players will insist that their suppliers incorporate these technologies in their operations. Real time tracking of shipments will start being more and more crucial, apart from the need for localization of suppliers, as much as possible.

Shortage of skills will cause shift towards the automation and enhanced role of digital technologies like AR/VR on the shop floor. Workers will have to be reskilled in being able to use these technologies. All this will cause much higher level of digital technology adoption by manufacturing players and consequently higher productivity / efficiency in medium term.

Going forward, what strategies should manufacturing companies adopt to minimise the impact of lockdown like situations in future?

First step will have to be the mindset change. Planning for the unexpected will be necessary. There are costs associated with implementations but at least the planning has to be there about what to do when your assumption about your supplies / work force don't materialize.

Automation and remote working will get increasing level of acceptance. Manufacturing companies have already started seeing the benefits of remote working in terms of cost saving and they will embrace this more in future.

COVID-19 has reshuffled the pack, as far as preferred destination for outsourcing is concerned. How should India gear up to derive maximum advantage?

While Make In India was launched years ago, the success so far has been lukewarm. There are structural issues because of which the manufacturing sector has not taken off. Issues like land acquisition, uninterrupted power supply, transportation, approvals & clearances and simplified tax regime are necessary perquisites without which manufacturing can't take off.

Government has recognized the problem and is addressing the issues by working with different state governments. It is hoped that the companies looking to relocate will find India an attractive destination for setting up their units.

In what way has COVID-19 changed the parameters for evaluation of digital transformation in terms of cost, RoI, and man power?

Crisis usually accelerate the changes which were happening already. This defines the fundamental change in digital transformation in the manufacturing sector on account of COVID impact.

Companies were already exploring the digital technology adoption but there were reservations in terms of investment required, ROI that would be realized, availability of skilled manpower to manage the change etc. With the crisis, there is much greater willingness on part of the management to explore the digital transformation. They are more willing to spend energy on understanding the ROI and ready to make the investment if there is benefit to be realized.

Will this lead to an increased demand for robots and cobots?

Automation is definitely going to go up. As lockdown starts easing and companies start addressing the challenges associated with opening up, demand for robots and cobots will go up. This will especially open up opportunities for Indian startups as they will be much more willing to work with users and do the required customization, apart from supplying the solutions at much more attractive price points.

Since the future is going to have many people in the “work-from-home” status, how do you plan to change your recruitment, training and other HR policies?

Not directly relevant from NASSCOM CoE perspective. However it is expected that basic IT skills will start becoming mandatory for the workers when being recruited. Those already recruited, will have to undergo the training sessions to build up the skills.

NASSCOM Center of Excellence - IoT & AI has partnered with ACMA to help promote the digital transformation of ACMA members. We have already seen the bottlnecks being faced by manufacturers as larger parts of their operations are managed remotely and are working to identify suitable digital solutions as well as training requirements to address the challenges caused by remote working.

#April 2020 Covid Special

To say the world is passing through trying times is to state the obvious. Also evident is the fact that for too long the world has been ignoring the warning signs of environmental degradation fuelled by human excesses and greed. But this is no time for ifs and buts, nor recrimination. Instead, the crisis should be used as an opportunity to make the required course correction to make the world a safer place for all living beings, and the ecological balance, restored. Industrial Automation invited a cross section of industry leaders to offer their views and possible course of action as a way forward from this situation, even as governments across the world and the people are trying to make sense from the still evolving scenario. To read the full cover story Please click here