Rajesh Kumar, Head, Group IT Services, Jindal Steel & Power Limited

The manufacturing industry is witnessing technological disruption that is changing the entire factory set-up. A robust information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure is central to this transformation, with organisations deploying various new-age mobility solutions to enhance business performance and efficiency. Manufacturing companies are also warming up to the use-cases of technologies such as cloud, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and internet of things (IoT). However, the deployment of these technologies comes with its own set of challenges. Industry 4.0 is the new buzz word, which is all about intelligent, interconnected and smart machines. It incorporates various technical advancements to automate the various production processes. Experts from the manufacturing industry talk about the emerging ICT trends, the evolving technology landscape, challenges and the future outlook…

What role is ICT playing in the manufacturing industry?

ICT is playing an important role in the manufacturing industry, as advancement of technologies has allowed faster and more flexible communications on the factory floor, efficient production of goods, and real-time decision-making. Technologies can offer innovative ways of improving effectiveness by providing sophistication without relying on automated machinery.

What are the telecom, enterprise and mobility solutions used by your organisation? How have they helped in enhancing business performance and efficiency?

Enterprise mobility is about accessing the enterprise systems/application anytime and from anywhere through mobile computing devices. We are using systems such as e-mail, enterprise resource planning (ERP), supplier relationship management, customer relationship management E-NFA and dashboards, which can be ac­cessed by the entire workforce anywhere, anytime to execute day-to day activities. Users are accessing real-time information like production, stock, delivery and sales for better decision-making. They can approve electronic NFA from anywhere after getting alerts, promoting the concept of paperless office with no hard copy circulation. Our vendors can submit their quotations online from anywhere and keep track of their orders. Our customers can also check their order status online.

What is the scope of new and emerging technologies such as cloud, big data analytics and IoT in the manufacturing industry? Are you leveraging any of these technologies?

Cloud, big data, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain are some of the technologies that can change the future roadmap of the manufacturing industry. Machine-to-machine communication through IoT can play a significant role in manufacturing au­to­mation. The behaviour of machines can be recorded on the cloud and used for maintenance, analysis of breakdowns, etc. The information from different platforms such as, ERP, DCS and social media (big data) can be stored on cloud, and used for better business decision-making and analysis of market trends, etc.

“Cloud, big data, IoT, AI, machine learning and blockchain are some of the technologies that can change the future roadmap of the manufacturing industry.” Rajesh Kumar

What are the challenges faced in managing the existing IT and telecom infrastructure, and deploying new technologies?

In the new digital world, there are some challenges associated with managing/ deploying new technologies. These include improper network connectivity, inadequate data storage, poor data security, and lack of knowledge. Providing internet connectivity in remote plant locations is a challenge, which leads to inaccessibility of enterprise applications. The quantum of data generated is increasing at a rapid rate, and  huge data storage and backup facilities are needed, which will result in increased costs. Data security is also a big challenge given the growing threat of data leakage. Lack of knowledge is another big concern in the deployment of new technologies. Organisa­­tions face challenges in accessing competitive manpower.

What are your views on Industry 4.0? Which technology trends will shape the future of the manufacturing industry?

It is a new name for automation and data exchange in the manufacturing sector. Smart factory is another name for Industry 4.0. It is a mix of new technologies like cloud, IoT, autonomous robotics, big data analytics and cognitive computing. Industry 4.0 makes it possible to gather and analyse data across machines, enabling faster and efficient processes to produce high quality goods at a reduced cost with a much greater efficiency and reduced manpower.