Dr Vishad Rahangdale, CIO, Electrotherm (India) Limited

The use of disruptive technologies such as big data analytics, internet of things (IoT), cloud computing, automation, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) across manufacturing functions is helping enterprises transform into smart factories. Several manufacturers in India have started leveraging new-age mobility solutions to digitalise operations and thereby enhance business performance and efficiency. The need for digitalisation of operations has become more pronounced in the wake of Covid-19. Dr Vishad Rahangdale, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Electrotherm (India) Limited, talks about emerging digital trends, the impact of Covid-19 on technology adoption in the sector, and the way forward…

What are the key ICT trends shaping the manufacturing sector at present?

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced decision-makers to go back to the boardroom and revisit strategies. This is particularly true for the manufacturing industry, where there are still many grey areas in processes. The lockdown experience has many takeaways for the manufacturing sector and priorities have shifted from capacity building to capacity augmentation using digitalisation. Business models are going to change dramatically.

How are technologies such as AI, IoT, robotics, AR/VR and cloud transforming the sector? Are you deploying any of these at present?

In my view, the immediate priority appears to be the identification of left-out and possible grey areas in operational processes where dots can be connected digitally using the latest technologies such as AI, IoT, and robotics (with emphasis on RPA).

In general, these technologies have a very promising future in the manufacturing sector. We, at Electrotherm, have already implemented technologies such as AR/VR and are aggressively evaluating IoT, AI and RPA as part of our IT vision to become Industry 4.0 compliant and build a smart factory by 2022 at the group level. However, Covid has changed our priorities in terms of squeezing the timelines. We are anticipating a sizeable investment in digital transformation over the next two years.

What are your thoughts on the advent of Industry 4.0 in India? Are you using ICT elements to make your factories smart?

Industry 4.0 is imperative for the survival of manufacturing enterprises like ours to remain competitive in the evolving market situation. We had already sensed this well in advance in mid-2018 and had started charting out our IT strategy. We have built a state-of-the-art data centre as part of the hybrid cloud approach; built underlined infrastructure to sustain massive data traffic and compute with latest technologies; implemented business applications such as S/4 HANA 1809 (ERP), SAP BIBO (analytics), and mobility application SAP FIORI; and rationalised business organisation structures for more visibility. Simultaneously, a lot of developments are happening on the IoT front by making supplies IoT ready. Many IoT-ready equipment have already been shipped to our customers to test the water from the adaptability perspective. Once this is done, the next step would be to consolidate all the technologies on one platform so that a mesh of systems can interact seamlessly.

I am foreseeing a big storm in the digital space with its eye in the manufacturing sector. For CIOs, the next three to five years are going to be challenging and breathlessly toilsome.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business and what steps have you taken to address the challenges?

Green shoots are visible now, but the past six months were very tough. Morale was down due to salary cuts, no orders in the pipeline, and the trauma of Covid. Industries like ours where physical presence is essential to run machines and operations, have suffered a lot. I suppose, the sector is reconciling with time and has woken up with new vigour. The manufacturing sector is preparing itself for any eventuality. Creating digital twins appears to be the immediate solution. We, at Electrotherm, have already started taking baby steps in this direction.

What are some of the Covid-19-induced digital trends that will shape the sector going forward?

The capabilities of cloud, AI technologies, blockchain, IIoT, AR/VR and analytics are being explored at various levels and I see a major boom in these domains going forward. At the same time, the success of these technologies in the manufacturing sector depends on telecom service providers. 5G will further revolutionise communications and add power to these initiatives. Cyber/Information security and data protection will also be critical in this digital journey. In a nutshell, there are interesting times ahead and we will witness a big shift towards digitalisation as far as manufacturing is concerned.