Zurvan Marolia, Senior Vice President, Godrej & Boyce

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. Zurvan Marolia, senior vice president, Godrej & Boyce 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 Key ICT trends that are shaping the manufacturing sector are ….

1. Artificial intelligence is largely being used in machinery to control and self-regulate the machinery’s operating parameters. Machine manufacturers, too, are at an advanced stage of adding optimisation through self-correction of minor faults in the system in order to make machines think like a skilled operator. For example, correction of temperature or of alignment or auto sharpening of tooling which is all based on data that is captured through a battery of sensors which relays this information back into a controller.

Artificial intelligence is also used for adding a layer of predictability in the processes which can help in identifying possible quality failures. This is based on sensors which can detect changes in noise, smell, temperature, current drawn or even vibrations, thus indicative of potential quality deviations and the need for attention or self-regulation.

2.The internet of things (IoT) brings in the “communication” aspect and describes the network of machines that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies, connected to exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet. IoT is being used extensively to eliminate human intervention in manufacturing; from sequencing of operations to despatch, the entire cycle can be controlled by machines communicating with each other and passing on information needed to conduct the next operation according to a predefined order.

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?

With the increase in access of affordable devices combined with cloud computing and analytics, it is now easier for the manufacturing industry to adopt technology that aids in pushing forward a company’s journey towards smart manufacturing.
Today’s customer expects quick delivery of customised products having impeccable quality which the manufacturer has to achieve by adopting increasingly competitive processes. In order to satisfy this, players in the manufacturing industry are compelled to explore technologies like AI, IoT, robotics, etc., in order to stay at the cutting edge of customer satisfaction and to remain competitive.

IoT is a key enabler in driving an organisation’s digital transformation and greatly helps in achieving operational efficiencies. The advances made in Artificial Intelligence, connectivity, and real-time communication aid in weeding out non-value added activities and inefficiencies.

As machines and products have started communicating with each other human intervention gradually minimises. This leads to better and faster decision-making, predictive analytics and automation, and reduced opportunities for errors.

Deployment of technologies at Godrej

IoT – As a part of our expansion plans at Godrej we have had the opportunity to set up a couple of new manufacturing greenfield projects. This allowed us to build smart manufacturing systems from the ground up. With each successive manufacturing facility built over the last 5 to 7 years, we have increased the “smartness quotient” which has culminated in setting up a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to handle various daily tasks right from planning/scheduling of various machines/operations, taking real time feedback from the devices to enable the quick action and controlling the information and material flow throughout the processes.

All shop floor machines are connected to a central server from where they get relevant information which they can act on and give feedback back to the system. Other devices such as meters used to measure the utilities are also linked with the system to provide real-time data to generate alerts/alarms for any deviation. QC equipment such as measuring devices are also connected to the system.

AR/VR – We are introducing AR/VR technologies to enhance the customer experience. This will enable the customer to do a virtual walkthrough of the entire showroom and help us to showcase certain key aspects of our products.

This technology is also being leveraged for training teams for various operations such as site installation work.

During the current pandemic, we have interestingly noticed that AR / VR has also been used as a replacement for physical training of user operators and maintenance personnel by machine manufacturers.

Robotics – Presently, at Godrej Interio, we deploy robots to perform repetitive activities and in high precision activities such as welding. We have also developed our own in-house AGV technology for material movement between the machines, using IoT for communication between the machines and the AGVs. Using robotics, AGV and ASRS helps us in enhancing productivity, with quality while keeping the cost of production in check.

What are your thoughts on the advent of industry 4.0 in India? Are you using ICT elements to make your factories smart?

India has moved very quickly in adapting technology and indigenising it to suit local conditions. While learning from the west, it is very important to make the technology suitable for Indian conditions and to have a control on costs. Low cost sensors and embedded technology coupled with high end technology from leading market providers has made the journey not only exciting but also an enriching process.

The backbone of the manufacturing industry however is not the large companies, but the SME sector. This remains the largest challenge as they need to be taken through the initial steps of digitisation which then become the building blocks for adapting to Industry 4.0. This is a journey which large companies have gone through over the years well before Industry 4.0 became common parlance.

The implementation of the MES at various locations for Godrej Interio coupled with IoT has led to our factories becoming smart. The load of manual planning and communication has been taken over by MES as the data is now fetched from the ERP and planning for all machines is done by the system. Information is shared through various communication and networking of production machines, automatic storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) and AGVs to move material from station to station. They interact seamlessly to produce the planned quantity for the day. The standards for coding of each product have been set to ensure correctness of supply in full.

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

Needless to say there have been no exceptions to businesses being impacted by Covid-19.  The immediate impact of the lockdown with supply chain being affected for the first two months had an overall dampening effect on the business.

As the lockdown opened, it became more than evident that there were changes in the customers’ priorities particularly due to a drop in their disposable income as also the experience of having to work from home. This had an impact on the definition of necessity and what is known as discretionary spending. In the immediate aftermath of the lockdown, it was noticed that certain product segments saw a significant rise of demand – home appliances was one of those categories and its rise could possibly be attributed to its impact on making potential future lock downs easier to handle for the consumer. However, product segments such as furniture came partly under the segment of discretionary spends, however, work from home furniture became high demand category in the segment.

There have also been changes in the customers buying habits – the shift in buying online vis-à-vis visiting physical stores in malls and other crowded areas. This is is likely to stay and actually bring about changes in customer buying habits as customers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of buying higher involvement goods online.

The takeaway, therefore, has been to…

  1. Re-look the product offering portfolio and explore opportunities to identify the unsatisfied needs of the customer by introducing new products
  2. Enhancing the online presence with the new products available and redefining the supply chain systems to address the same.

The manufacturing plants’ supplies of incoming raw material, too, were affected by the lockdown.  This necessitated the building of buffer stocks apart from supporting our suppliers to take adequate precautionary measures to prevent infections. We also are working on digitising transactions to reduce paper flow.

In the manufacturing operations, the major challenge faced was to ensure social distancing at all times.  There was a conscious drive to identify all areas where two people have to work together in close proximity and creatively solve for eliminating that way of working.  An effort of this magnitude cannot be manually controlled and therefore a method for using digital controls has also been developed to ensure compliance with safety protocols that protect individuals from possible exposure.

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

Covid-19 has forced the industry to take a leap of about 8 to 10 years in terms of adopting digitisation.  It will unfortunately widen the gap between those who had taken the early steps in digitisation over the last 5 to 7 years as compared to those who are yet to do so.

Covid-19 induced digital trends will be primarily in the area of reducing avoidable manual intervention in manufacturing processes through areas such as process parameter control and reduction in purely manual and/or repetitive processes by converting them to robotic processes.

Developing and using sensor-based applications can ensure safe practises and will prevent avoidable spread of infection through avoidable contact. This can help in reducing physical contact in situations such as ensuring social distancing, simple operations such as contactless faucets and sensor-based door operations. The use of apps like Aarogya Setu along with temperature and oxygen level checks will most likely become hygiene practises and become a part of our daily being.

For players in the industry who have already been ahead on the curve of digitisation, Covid-19 has reinforced the belief in technology and that investments done in ICT (technology and connectivity) have helped sustain businesses during this tough time.

This would spur industry players to enhance their commitment to digitisation and look at end to end solutions which can ensure that their complete pre-order to installation and billing processes can be digitised thereby reducing time taken as well as the potential for errors. In sum and substance, this would help improve competitiveness and transform the Indian Manufacturing Sector into significant players in the global market.