Like most industries, manufacturing was hit hard by the pandemic of 2020. There were forced shutdowns, production slow downs, supply chains were shaken and questions were raised whether companies could navigate the disruptions. This pushed the manufacturing sector to accelerate its transformation journey moving towards industry 4.0, and the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices.
Let’s hear from Soumyadip Chakraborty, Head Digital Transformation, Vikram Solar, how companies responded to the pandemic. Also, let’s explore how Vikram Solar, a company that provides solar energy solutions and specialises in photovoltaic manufacturing and EPC solutions became more agile and flexible to thrive in the new normal.
Head Digital Transformation
The unleashing of the pandemic was absolutely unprecedented and enterprises across industries struggled considerably. Preparedness and quick responsiveness became the two weapons for all sectors, including manufacturing. Adapting to the changing circumstances, most manufacturing companies, including ours, sought to adapt quickly to the situation by undergoing digitalisation with the adoption of Industry 4.0, IoT platforms and application of analytical tools to respond to the situation in a constructive and comprehensive manner.
On one hand, we focused on industry 4.0 implementation across the various manufacturing facilities. On the other hand, we went for a digital response mechanism. We started with some of the basic changes like the application of video analytics to ensure adherence to all covid related norms. Additionally, we adopted a quick and nimble approach in terms of the supply chain response by connecting the SAP system with IoT to make the entire ordering system paperless. There was also a move to transform quality management, which eliminated the need for physical inspection. Quick responses, vigilance and agile practices kept us in good stead. At the same time, there was a lot of focus on employee health and safety assurance with the application of digital technique to every extent possible.
Unlocking the power of collaboration
While quick responsiveness became a strength, many companies struggled with the conventional silos and lack of collaboration, especially in demand forecasting, production planning, logistics planning as they are all handled by separate teams. Fortunately, organisations, like ours, which already had various digital collaborative mechanisms, implemented, and practiced across the management in place, found themselves ahead of others. However, the pandemic accelerated it almost 3-4 fold. There was a transition to and adoption of various collaborative tools including Microsoft Teams and as a mandate, over 95% of our meetings moved to such platforms. This was accompanied by creation of groups over other virtual platforms to create a collaborative work environment.
None of our projects were stalled, none of our developmental initiatives were halted even for one single day. That was the kind of dedication, agility with which our organization responded to this particular situation. The other part was having that 360-degree view of the entire manufacturing facility as well as of the supply chain by leveraging several forward-looking mechanisms. For instance, we leveraged IT/OT to create an infrastructure and ecosystem to enable individual machines to send their operational data to a cloud-based platform. This enabled us to create various models around predictive maintenance, availability index, and other factors and facilitated concrete actions. Invariably, we could see transformational results within 4-5 months, which is a typical gestation period for such implementation.
Human interaction completely became virtual with major elements of human activity being automated. IT/OT enabled machines to communicate with one another as well as humans. At the same time, there was a rise in the automation of repetitive and non-cerebral activities. This enabled the application of Robotic Process Automation. This involved the identification that required a lot of manual intervention, were vulnerable to human error, and lacked efficiency and effectiveness. Consequently, these processes were automated one after another to achieve enterprise-wide efficiency.
Focus on resilience and agility
If you look closely, agility and resilience are some of the key driving forces or key success factors for setting up these kinds of systems. Invariably, it is very critical for Vikram Solar to have that resilience in the system. To begin with, automation has always been on the anvil for our organisation. We have different types of machines driven by different models of the PLCs, that interact with each other using various protocols and generate data continuously. Here, automation is imperative to assess, analyse, assimilate, and leverage data.
The success of our IT/OT journey lies in using a comprehensive roadmap leveraging industry 4.0. Our IoT platform is a major step towards it with various predictive models being built on top of that. While data gives you the rear-view vision and you know what has happened already, it is critical to determine what you are going to do based on those insights. There are some critical questions that any organisation should answer in such a scenario:
- How to predict how the machines are going to behave given a certain production problem?
- How to predict whether the systems are going to come to a failure or near failure situation?
- How to move from scheduled maintenance to predictive maintenance and prescriptive maintenance?
The answer to all the above questions has some origin in the rise of automation and its role in post pandemic resurgence. Fortunately, we already had some automated systems and automation in the process. This enabled us to respond to the situation quickly. We already have an internal MIS which is fairly automated. It takes the data from our SAP having the overall understanding of the supplier and complete visibility around the system.
With an understanding of critical as well as the potential failure points, the objective is to apply the pareto analysis and concentrate 20% of the effort around 80% of those impacting areas. Additionally, the question is how to resolve those 20% of the issues which will positively impact the enterprise by 80%. The next step is to undertake a need vs criticality assessment to identify the right and time crucial initiatives. That’s how we identify the various critical innovation opportunities within the organisation. Fortunately, in our organization, everyone is aligned to this approach of agile and quick identification, assessment, and implementation, right from the leadership to the execution team.
However, more often than not, enterprises overlook two critical factors to success, especially for post pandemic resurgence:
- Digital interventions are always going to aid people and not replace them. There is a lot of negativity and misplaced myths and fears that make teams and employees detest digital transformation. It is important to see it as an aid for human capabilities.
- Any agile organisation should always be ready to fail. The criticality will come in the fail first mechanism. So, I would say that if you take 20 initiatives, you may fail in 4-5 of them and that’s ok. Remaining 15-16 will reap tremendous value for you.
These were the two considerations of acknowledging the positives of digital transformation and having a risk appetite to withstand failures that kept us in good stead,
To cut a long story short, it is clear that the future of any industry, like manufacturing, requires reinventing the wheel to facilitate resurgence with the right tools, technology and talent. These three resources can enable organizations to mitigate risks, facilitate resilience and agility to ensure business continuity and accelerate post crisis growth.