Sunil Mehta, General Manager, e-F@ctory (IIoT) Promotions, Factory Automation & Industrial Division, Mitsubishi Electric India

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. Sunil Mehta, General Manager, e-F@ctory (IIoT) Promotions, Factory Automation & Industrial Division, Mitsubishi Electric India Private Limited, Chairman, CLPA India, 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 ICT trends that are currently shaping the manufacturing sector are leading towards digitisation and Industry 4.0 is gaining momentum. Manufacturers are prioritising technology that includes Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning, 5G services, IIoT, Cybersecurity, Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality, and Cloud Computing. Industry 4.0 is not just about investing in new technology and tools to improve manufacturing efficiency; it’s about revolutionising the processes that start from the shop-floor and goes all the way channelising information for data analysis and production management.

Mitsubishi Electric has created a solution to support smart manufacturing and helps manufacturers in utilising the existing resources to build IoT based systems. Smart factories are created by ’e-F@ctory’ that utilises cutting-edge control like the iQ-R platform and high-speed networking technologies like CC-Link IE and CC-Link IE TSN (Time Sensitive Network) to visualise information and coordinate with high-level Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) to improve productivity while reducing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). In India, Mitsubishi Electric’s e-F@ctory provides smart manufacturing solutions through its more than 20 alliance partners. The e-F@ctory Alliance addresses the need for smart manufacturing for industries like automotive, pharmaceutical, food & beverage, among many others. In addition to this, we are currently in the process of introducing “Edgecross” – an open edge computing domain software platform based on our MELIPC (Industrial PC). Edgecross enables collaboration between FA and IT that contributes to the improvement of production sites, with various solutions that utilize production site data.

How do you think technologies like AI, IoT, robotics, AR/VR, cloud, etc, are transforming the sector? Are you deploying any of these at present?

The world has transitioned from an era of Industrial automation to digital transformation and Industry 4.0. We are already witnessing the next stage with the emergence of intelligent enterprises. Applications of technologies like AI are now impacting many sectors, blockchain is simplifying and optimising erstwhile complex multi-party processes while IoT continues to push the boundaries of data exchange and consequent actions by machines and humans. As the application of these technologies mature, businesses across industries will adopt them to reimagine their business processes.

‘e-F@ctory’ enables digital transformation of the manufacturing industry through digitalisation and eventual integration of IT & FA/OT systems. For this, our FA product like supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) that combines with products like robots, programmable logic controllers, and variable frequency drive and helps to boost efficiency and productivity at the shop floor. Apart from our range of industrial robot, we have also recently launched collaborative robot – MELFA Assista to support a high standard of safety and increased efficiency. MELFA ASSISTA and RT VisualBox can be used by the customers to realise more efficient production, reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) of robotic manufacturing systems, and meet new needs for adequate distancing of workers at manufacturing sites. We are all set to present the advanced form of interactivity and collaboration at manufacturing sites, which will lead to driving the long-term market growth.

Nowadays, AI is an important technology supporting our society. Machine learning is one field of AI, and deep learning is one type of machine learning. Deep learning applications are used in industries from automated driving to medical devices.  We are also working towards embedding AI – MAISART technology in our products and solutions like Collaborative Robots and Edgecross, which will help in elevating the manufacturing experience. The improvements in productivity through innovative technologies including machine learning, artificial intelligence, VR and AR are more important than ever. The AR helps monitoring screens in an augmented space, enabling intuitive operation via a user’s real-world field of vision. An intelligent automation system can be obtained through artificial intelligence as it helps to enhance the machine vision, natural language processing and machine learning. Further, it improves customer service through better efficiency and reduces cost.

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 set to change the landscape of the manufacturing industry in India. However, people are still sceptical and very few have adopted Industry 4.0, even though they know that it is imperative to improve efficiencies.

At Mitsubishi Electric’s ‘e-F@ctory’ helps to connect sensors and equipment controllers to the ERP system and enables smarter factories. It starts with the shop-floor where it correlates production/equipment data acquisition, followed by product execution and sensing. Then, it connects with edge computing that helps to give real-time feedback to shop-floor, processing, and analysis of shop-floor data for creating seamless connectivity between factory automation (FA) and IT. So, we create Smart factories through integration of FA systems with IT systems which results in improved productivity and quality, sustainability, safety, and security.

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

After carefully examining the situation and supporting India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the promise of uncompromised safety and unmatched convenience, Mitsubishi Electric, a global leader in FA products has gradually started work operations at the Pune manufacturing facility, while closely adhering to the advisory issued by the central and state governments and guided by the sole objective of securing health and safety of all its stakeholders.

We quickly shifted the entire network to contactless service processes through increased digitisation. Our main aim was to minimise customer and staff physical interaction, while being connected to the customers through digital services mode. We still support our customers physically, wherever there are urgent needs, with the necessary precautions taken. Also, we continue to provide after-sales service support to our customers and channel partners using the digital interactivity tools. Our FA call centre is equipped to handle customer queries and our repairs and services activities have been continuously providing much needed support for our customers across India. We have also organised a variety of trainings to enhance the knowledge, and to support our customers, and channel partners.

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

Due to the prevailing Covid scenario, the OEMs and suppliers are now increasingly becoming aware of the value of focusing on creating differentiated capabilities for the future. They should leverage low valuations to acquire or co-create capabilities in the space of digital tools like automation powered by AI and IIoT, mobility platforms, EVs, and advanced safety systems. These systems will become increasingly important in the post-Covid stage and will help them address the gradually increasing consumer demands, powered by the recovering economy. Companies, who will use this as an opportunity to restructure and rewire, will emerge as winners. Given this, even with current levels of somewhat low capacity utilisation, the demand for automation systems is still prevalent.

Smart manufacturing, powered by ‘e-f@ctory’ utilises cutting-edge FA products based on its high-speed networking technologies like CC-Link IE and CC-Link IE TSN to visualise information and coordinate with high-level manufacturing execution systems (MES), to improve productivity, while reducing TCO. Smart manufacturing initiatives like these will allow manufacturing and monitoring from remote areas as well. For example, an engineer need not come to the shop-floor to troubleshoot. He can access all the data from his remote location. Also, efficiency productivity can be assessed and improved by the engineer from a remote location. Thus, decreasing physical dependency.

This pandemic situation calls for greater use of digitisation and integration of the existing systems and processes.