Swaroop Patil, Chief Information Officer, Everest Industries Limited

India’s manufacturing sector has accelerated the pace of digital transformation. Advanced manufacturing organisations are implementing new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), internet of things (IoT), robotics and analytics to enhance growth and profitability, reduce costs and improve the customer experience. Industry leaders share their views on how these technologies are transforming the manufacturing industry in India, the implementation challenges and the way forward…

How are new-age technologies such as AI/ ML, big data, AR/VR and robotics transfor­ming the ma­nufacturing sector and fuell­ing In­dustry 4.0?

The new-age techno­lo­gies are key to re­du­cing the dependence on ma­nu­al effort for all actio­ns/decisi­ons that can be automated. When repetitive tasks or decisions are left to hu­mans, there are a lot of challenges that can creep in, such as personal biases in decision-ma­king, inconsistency of output and fa­tigue, in turn leading to quality and efficiency issues. Auto­mation can address all th­ese challenges throu­gh evol­ved tech solu­ti­ons. For example, AI/­ML solutions can provide decision-making algorithms to automate decisions where large-scale data processing cannot be humanly possible, and big data solutions help faster storage and processing of data in smaller footprint and lo­wer cost of operations.

Another big reason for these technologies being able to fuel Industry 4.0 is their availability and the fact that the open-source and subscription models have de­m­o­crati­sed their usage.

How will the widespread deployment of 5G and IoT/IIoT accelerate the digital transformation of enterprises in the sector?

The key to IoT/industrial IoT (IIoT) sol­utions is the speed of data transfer. The success of IoT/IIoT solutions depends on the speed at which the data is received and stored in the processing environment, the pro­cessing speed and the speed of respon­se post that. While erstwhile internet te­ch­nologies provided this connectivity, the emergence of 5G connectivity and widespread deployment of 5G will enable communication at faster speeds and no data loss possi­bilities. Also, curre­ntly many use cases are technically limiting due to the amount of data that can be transferred to can and the frequency at which the data could be collected and transferred. Now that 5G can provide much better connectivity and communication capability, it has opened up nu­merous possibilities. Many ap­­plications that use image recognition can move to vi­deo analytics, providing mu­­­ch better resu­lts and outcomes. The frequency at which data is captured from IoT devices can inc­rease due to the possibilities of communication at a much better frequency. Further, the edge device footprint can be reduced to transfer edge compute part of the solution to the central resources, thus revolutionising the form factor of IoT chipsets and de­vices, in turn, opening up many more app­lication possibilities.

What are the key ICT solutions deployed by your company? How are these solutions helping in achieving business and operational effi­ciency?

The major ICT products we use can be distributed in the following groups:

  • Software solutions: These comprise email systems largely based on MS O365, and collaboration and messaging tools such as MS Teams and Zoom.
  • Telephone systems: These comprise IP and analogue telephone connections
  • AV solutions: These constitute audio and video conferencing solutions, all-in-one VC systems, large display walls and public address systems.

These solutions provide various means of communication and information collaboration within the organisation beyond the time and distance barriers.

What are the key challenges faced while dep­loying new-age technologies?

The new-age technologies do not have a lot of success stories to refer to as most of them are at a nascent stage and constantly evolving. While some industry leaders are trying to adopt these technology innovati­ons to get an early mover advantage, many are treading a very cautious path. While tech is evolving fast, due to non-adoption, we do not have many use cases that can be referred to, for either terming a particular one a success or a failure.

Also, with new solutions you may need a longer time for implementation and continuous improvement, and that patience may be needed to exploit the true potential of new-age technologies.

Another challenge with these technologies evolving so fast is unavailability of the right talent to harness the accrued benefits.

What are the three key technological trends that will reshape the manufacturing sector in the near future?

The key technological trends in the near future are:

  • Penetration of IoT/IIoT technologies, wh­ich will lead to many evolving practices in the manufacturing process. The­se can be around applications for operational excellence which will be driven by IIoT and AI/ML solutions to get data in­sights, automate feedback loops and ac­ti­ons, and make predictions around dema­nd as well as output quality and maintenance needs. AR/VR technologies can be leveraged by equipment manufacturers for remote complaint handling and assistance/training. IIoT technologies would also be leveraged by equipment manufacturers to collect data on warranty claims redressal, spare parts and service management as well as to design future products.
  • Big data and AI/ML technologies would lead to demand sensing solutions and enable the capturing of demand with much greater accuracy, in turn leading to overall efficiency in the way business is conducted, especially with placing the ri­ght products at the right places at the right time. These solutions would help in improving availability and service levels while still maintaining control on the inventory levels in the value chain.
  •  The third trend would be automation. Most of the repetitive tasks would be automated. Robotics would not be limited to the shop floor but will penetrate at a large scale in the offices too. Digital workforce will be a new norm for many jobs that are repetitive and predictable in nature.