The manufacturing sector has seen an increased uptake of ICT solutions in the past couple of years. New age technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain, data analytics and cloud are being adopted by manufacturing enterprises to improve business efficiency and streamline operations. However, their deployment entails challenges. Moreover, with the emergence of Industry 4.0, there is a need for companies to take a relook at their existing business models and strategies. Sanjay Gupta, Chairman, APL Apollo Tubes Limited talks about the emerging ICT trends, the evolving technology landscape, challenges and the future outlook…
What are the key ICT trends that are shaping the manufacturing sector?
When it comes to the manufacturing sector, we are at quite an interesting juncture. People are proclaiming that Industry 4.0 is here. Technologies like IoT, big data and cloud computing are now making it possible for companies to analyse the entire production life cycle in real time so that they can make data-driven decisions at every stage of the production process.
While companies are experimenting with technology adoption – especially with things such as advanced analytics, building information modelling (BIM), AR/VR and AI – we have some way to go before we can see disruption across the entire value chain. The advancement is currently more evident in areas like AI where most of the operations are done through the use of robots.
What ICT solutions are deployed by your organisation? How are these helping in enhancing business performance and efficiency?
We are currently experimenting with some exciting technologies that could prove to be game changers over the next few years. We are conducting a proof of concept for implementing RPA within our current ERP, which is SAP. We have also started using a state-of-the-art analytics tool called Qlik Sense to help us get real-time, data-driven insights into our business. Employing advanced analytics has meant major improvements in the quality of data and, therefore, decision-making. Implementing RPA has helped us realise significant gains in speed and simplicity. We are definitely looking at the scalable implementation of these and other futuristic technologies on an organisation-wide level.
What are your views on the adoption of emerging technologies such as AI, IoT and cloud in the manufacturing industry? What is your company’s future roadmap with regard to these?
These technologies are definitely disrupting industries, and manufacturing is no exception. They not only help in the core function of improving manufacturing productivity, but are also useful in a number of auxiliary ways – from improving customer service to achieving better financial performance. We are seeing some very promising results of the implementation of cutting-edge RPA and data analytics tools. Over the next few years, our goal will be to scale this implementation across different functional areas to ensure that we continue to maintain market leadership as our industry goes through this tech-driven transition. We are also looking at implementing an organisationwide manufacturing execution system, which will be powered by futuristic AI- and ML-based algorithms.
What are the challenges faced in managing the existing IT/telecom infrastructure and deploying new technologies?
Legacy infrastructure has certain inherent complexities, which often get exacerbated as more and more deployments take place. This creates a lack of flexibility that makes it painful to deploy new technologies quickly. Further, given the baggage that legacy infrastructure carries, the increased management and overhead costs tend to offset the benefits of new technology deployments. Today, there are multiple vendors for a similar infrastructure solution, and the evaluation process for finding a quality vendor at a competitive price point takes some time. There are multiple WAN providers at multiple locations to consider as well.
How do you see business models transforming with the emergence of Industry 4.0?
While most organisations look at Industry 4.0 from a purely technological perspective, the fact of the matter is that it will transform business models in fundamental ways. Here are some important transformations that will take place:
- Industry 4.0 is likely to bring about extensive automation and networking – RPA is a good example. This means that there is major scope for efficiency and cost optimisation.
- Industry 4.0 means that the boundaries between physical products and services will rapidly blur. This means companies will have to start thinking about the value addition that they need to bring to existing products in order to provide a more holistic offering.
- Emergence of IoT means that smart connected products will become the norm.