Strategic Planning and Execution in the Automation and Digitalization Journey
Published on : Wednesday 03-01-2024
Ramnath S Mani, Managing Director, Automation Excellence.
What are the key aspects to consider for a typical company that wants to switch over from a traditional manufacturing process to an automated environment?
The first step towards moving towards modern manufacturing methods is to incorporate Automation in a traditionally operating manufacturing process. One needs to identify areas of manufacturing where the traditional manufacturing process is inefficient and less productive. In discrete manufacturing, this is generally in repetitive manufacturing where speed, consistency, reliability and quality are important factors. For continuous process manufacturing, in addition to the above, the flow, ratios of materials and the timing of its mixing, etc., is an important factor. Generally one would start with Sensing devices, PLCs, Drives and Monitoring & Display devices. Once this is stabilised, then one could move further up the automation chain.
How scalable are automation and digitalisation solutions for different sizes of manufacturing facilities?
Different manufacturing facilities have different needs and one has to understand the needs, be it the manufacturing process, the product profile, manufacturing resources, the customer base, the served market and future plans. While the scalability would depend on the above factors, there is technically no limit to scalability with present day technologies. What limits scalability is the vision of the top management and the approach it takes towards the selection of platforms, vendors, ecosystems and the technology. The prudent way forward would be to have a vision and an end goal and move towards it in steps and see improvements and stability in each step before moving forward. For this selection of the technology, the platform, vendor ecosystem has to be planned well in advance, consistent with the market needs. Today’s move into automation and digitalisation is a journey to be well planned and executed in a well coordinated way.
There are many large corporations that have not only automated and digitised their standalone plants, but have connected all their plants in various locations on the cloud and are getting maximum benefits of scale.
What are the initial costs associated with implementing factory automation and digitalisation?
The cost is entirely a function of what one wants to achieve in what time span. One could start from basics and move up the chain in automation and digitalisation with minimum costs to begin with. However, the full benefits will be available only when the journey is completed.
How does the adoption of automation and digitalisation impact the skills required for the workforce?
Obviously, the adoption of Automation and Digitalisation needs different skills compared to the traditional skills the manufacturing is used to. Skill development is a major area of thrust for the future of manufacturing. While the engineering colleges and technical institutes are changing their curriculum to cater to the present needs, the practical understanding and hands-on experience is not available easily. While the government is doing its bit through the Skill India initiative, organisations like CII and FICCI are also pitching in to augment this area. It must be understood that while the present day youth is very familiar with the latest technology through their use of mobile, cloud, social media, etc., they need to understand the domain of manufacturing and the analytics associated with it. With Artificial Intelligence and Generative AI becoming common, the need to enhance the skill of the workforce has become mandatory.
What regulatory considerations should manufacturers keep in mind when implementing automation and digitalisation with respect to safety and security?
As we move towards Automation and Digitalisation, especially towards Cloud based technologies, we have to be aware that cybersecurity breach could be a threat. Safety and Security forms the basis of a successful implementation of Automation and Industry 4.0. With a view to ensure operation and maintenance of the plant and associated equipment is improved with greater efficiency, safety, reliability and risk management, a number of Standards have been formalised through IEC, ISA, ANSI, ISO, etc. In the US, Homeland Security has set up formal standards for cybersecurity for manufacturing to avoid external threats. The Indian government is also working on similar lines to protect manufacturing.
How can existing machinery and systems be integrated into a digitalised manufacturing environment, and the challenges in the integration process?
In spite of the technological advancements in Automation and Digitalisation, the fact is there are millions of Legacy Machinery and systems that are operating all over the world. The challenge is to incorporate the latest technologies in such an environment. This is what is being done mainly at the sensing and data collecting end which, in IT terminology, we call the Edge. These Edge devices collect Information and Data and convert them to IT relatable language. Once this is done, the normal process of Digitalisation of integrating Data, segregating them into meaningful information and displaying them either in-house or through Cloud is implemented. When a large number of such messaging has to be processed simultaneously with subscribers and publishers, MQTT Server protocol is used. The success of any manufacturing is the use of advanced technology in strengthening its Value Chain vertically and horizontally to cater to the varying customer needs efficiently and at competitive costs.
(The views expressed in interviews are personal, not necessarily of the organisations represented.)
Ramnath S Mani is a 1969 B.Tech (Hons) graduate in Electronics & ElectricalCommunication Engineering from IIT Kharagpur and a pioneer in the field of Industrial Automation in India. He was part of the initial team that set up Allen Bradley India (now Rockwell Automation) and was its Vice President from 1985 to 1990. He was the Founder Managing Director of Emerson Control Techniques India, for offering Digital Drives and Automation systems for the manufacturing industry. He has been Chairman of Emergys Software India and Managing Director of Automation Excellence.
Mr Mani has been past President of IIT Kharagpur Alumni Foundation India and past Chairman of Pan IIT Alumni India from 2018-20. He is the Founder Managing Trustee of Dharaneeswarar Educational Trust, a NGO, which runs a school Sankara Matriculation School, for underprivileged and first generation school going children at Thandalam Village in Tiruvallur District, Tamilnadu.