The year 2020 was no ordinary one for the enterprise segment. Covid-19 completely altered the way organisations conducted business operations. The pandemic led to a dramatic uptick in the use of digital technologies across enterprise segments and accelerated the shift towards automation. Going forward, technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and big data will see higher rates of adoption as enterprises adjust to the new normal. Zurvan Marolia, Senior Vice-President, Godrej & Boyce, discuss the key technology trends and challenges in embracing digitalisation, and the way forward….
What were some of the key information and communications technology (ICT) trends that shaped the enterprise segment during 2020?
The two key ICT trends that helped shape the enterprise segment in the past year were AI and IoT.
AI was largely being used in machinery to control and self-regulate the machinery’s operating parameters. Machine manufacturers are at a forward-thinking stage, adding optimisation through self-correction of minor faults in the system in order to make machines think like a skilled operator. AI is also being utilised to incorporate predictability in the processes, which can help in the easy identification of possible quality failures. Meanwhile, IoT brings in the “communication” aspect and describes the network of machines that is embedded with sensors, software and other technologies, connected to exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet. IoT was used extensively to eliminate human involvement in manufacturing; from sequencing of operations to despatch, the entire cycle could be controlled by machines communicating with one another and passing on information needed to conduct the next operation, according to a predefined order.
In project-related manufacturing, IoT plays a critical role in ensuring the transfer of designs to the shop floor and also facilitates offline machine programming and even transfer to machine memory, which ensure no corruption of data in transmission by eliminating the possibility of human error.
What has been the impact of Covid-19 on the digitalisation journey of enterprises? Which are the key technologies among cloud, AI, IoT and AR/VR that have seen higher adoption amidst the pandemic?
Adjusting and adapting to technology has become smoother for the manufacturing industry with increasing access to affordable devices, combined with cloud computing and analytics. The Covid-19 pandemic has only acted as a catalyst to accelerate the adoption of digitalisation within enterprises.
Customers today expect quick delivery of products and impeccable quality customisations, which can be achieved by the manufacturer by adopting progressively competitive processes. In order to satisfy this, players in the manufacturing industry are compelled to explore technologies such as AI, IoT and robotics, in order to fulfil customer satisfaction and remain competitive.
How did your organisation leverage new-age technologies to respond to challenges posed by the Covid-19 crisis?
As part of our expansion plans at Godrej, we have set up a couple of new manufacturing greenfield projects. This has allowed us to build smart manufacturing systems from the ground up. Each of our successive manufacturing facilities have been built over the past five to seven years, thereby increasing our “smartness quotient”. This has culminated in the setting up of a manufacturing execution system that can smoothly handle various daily tasks right from planning/scheduling of various machines/operations, taking real-time feedback from devices to enabling quick action and controlling information and material flow throughout the processes.
All shop floor machines are connected to a central server from where they get relevant information, and can give feedback to the system. Other devices such as meters used to monitor utilities are also linked with the system to provide real-time data to generate alerts/ alarms for any deviation. Quality control equipment such as measuring devices are also connected to the system.
AR/VR technologies are also being introduced in order to enable the customer to do a virtual walkthrough of the entire showroom. This technology is also being leveraged for training teams for various operations such as site installation work.
What are some of the key risks and challenges in transitioning to new-age technologies?
A major risk factor, as in the adoption of any new system, is a transition in half measure. First and foremost is the selection of the right technology, which is most suitable for operations. The implementation of these new technologies requires a large investment upfront, whereas payback is dependent on various factors that could make or break an enterprise. Over-the-counter digital solutions come with the risk of not having a proper fit and, therefore, require customisation and localisation for adaptation. The adaptation and implementation of digital systems require, in many cases, a complete revamp of existing business processes, especially if the enterprise has not taken initial steps towards digitalisation. Having taken the decision to invest, it is crucial to create a critical mass of trained users who would be able to extract the maximum from the system.
Going forward, what will be some of the key digital trends that enterprises would embrace as the new normal unfolds?
Digital trends will primarily be seen in the area of reducing avoidable manual intervention in manufacturing processes. Developing and using sensor-based applications can ensure safe practices and prevent avoidable spread of infection through physical contact. Even with the vaccine around the corner, the use of apps such as AarogyaSetu, along with temperature and oxygen level checks will most likely become hygiene practices and a part of our daily existence.