Sekar Udayamurthy is the Co-founder and CEO of Jidoka Technologies, a new-age start-up specialising in the field of cognitive inspection in manufacturing. The organisation leverages AI/ML, Deep Learning, Machine Vision and Industrial Automation to deliver ‘Quality Control in a Box’. With more than 25 years of experience in building product and digital platforms in North America and India, Sekar is known to be a hands-on engineering leader with a passion for technology, high performance driven architecture and building of high-performing teams.
Covid-19 virus significantly changed the manufacturing landscape
Different waves of the pandemic mercilessly battered the manufacturing companies across several industry verticals, expect those serving healthcare and digital technology. The distressing situation caused by the virus, forced manufacturers across geographies to pause their production, especially the non-essential products and services with some left with no choice but shut down their operations completely. However, the supply chain disruption was a nightmare every manufacturer struggled with and is yet to be addressed in many cases. With governments across countries calling for lockdowns, this led to all means of transportation coming to an abrupt halt. Connection chain between raw material suppliers, manufacturers and customers were broken.
The consumption pattern suddenly showed huge variations with essential goods such as food, grocery and healthcare products and services, taking top priority. The textiles and other non-essential products and services, physical retail stores, had their inventories piling up, as the demand for them plummeted.
As social distancing and lockdowns continued, manufacturers struggled with shortage of labour with understaffed production lines, adversely impacting the bottom lines of various manufacturing companies. The situation no doubt led to productivity and related financial losses. Exodus of migrant workers who lost their jobs or unable to remain gainfully employed during the intermitted long-term lockdowns, led to capacity underutilization on shop floors.
Job losses, negative consumer sentiment still continue to drive weak demand across several industries leading to liquidity crunch. Some MSMEs are unable to pay back loans and meet fixed overhead expenses, such as rent, electricity bills and employee salaries.
The good news is Covid-19 pandemic period and hopefully the beginning of the post pandemic era, currently, is driving manufacturing companies to adopt more sustainable practices bringing a paradigm shift in production and supply chain ecosystem.
Automation leads the way in sustainable production and practices
Protection of workers’ health and safety, facilitating lesser human contact and ensuring production lines run 24X7, can come to fruition predominantly with automation by leveraging new-age technologies. Businesses, already burdened with liquidity crunch need not opt for a complete digital transformation at one go, but focus on a couple of areas to begin with. Largely, Industry 4.0 applications can be used in sustainable manufacturing for different activities and chosen on priority. These applications use digital technology to transform ‘data’ the ‘new gold’ into actionable insights across the value chain for better business outcomes. New production systems that are data driven, intelligent and automated can be introduced on the shop floor.
A host of benefits are observed when manufacturing companies adopt technologies, such as AI, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, IoT, Big Data Analytics, Cloud Manufacturing, Augmented Reality among others. Quality of products and throughput dramatically increases and can be very advantageous for goods that are in high demand. Operation processes get streamlined leading to increase in efficiency and productivity. Reduction in costs, increase in customer satisfaction and better business outcomes are observed. Higher flexibility, scalability, reduction in error due to automated visual inspection, lesser wastage and elimination in downtime, makes the adoption of these techniques and tools a sustainable practice. When the industrial safety management system is additionally integrated, it eliminates shop floor accidents too.
The China + 1 policy has created a never before golden opportunity for Indian manufacturers to increase production and export goods and cater to the international market.
AI and Robots, combined with other technology applications act as a boon to manufacturers to address shortage of workers, restart manufacturing operations, establish business continuity and ensure sharp increase in productivity. AI/ML driven automation can detect even minor defects of products and processes on an ongoing basis without the burden of human fatigue factor. These technologies improve efficiency, reduce down time and support in the delivery of supreme quality products. Robots can be trained to perform repetitive tasks in production environments.
Addictive manufacturing can support in the manufacturing of products that are in high demand. With cloud-based solution, operations and equipment can be monitored and maintained remotely. Shop-floor performance can be captured on dashboards with IoT, and Big Data Analytics used to gather insights for better performance and forecast demand during these uncertain times. Thus organizations can be in the forefront for their employees’ productivity and help them work smarter and not harder to meet its goals in the post covid world.
The fallout of supply chain disruptions has accelerated the shift of bringing suppliers closer to the manufacturing companies – global to local. Factories are becoming smaller in size and getting automated to match the change in overall metrics and to optimise manufacturing performance. New-age technologies combined with manufacturing green practices can define industry’s readiness for the quick economic recovery post pandemic. Manufacturers are now getting ready to restart operations in the transformed landscape by putting automated processes and best practices in place. Training employees in Industrial 4.0 technologies and tools can address skills’ shortage. Shop floor personnel can be trained to play creative roles in managing AI-based applications rather than performing mundane tasks that would be taken over by automation. Like any transformation Manufacturing organizations should pace the adoption of Industry 4.0 based on current challenges create short terms goals instead of a big bang approach to adoption.
With today’s customers on the constant lookout for better choices and faster deliveries, manufacturers should innovate or modify their products and ensure the manufacturing processes are flexible to accommodate variations.
True, despite the challenges faced by manufacturers caused by the unprecedented pandemic, it is still an exciting and interesting time to bring about a permanent shift in manufacturing operations. Innovation with digital transformation and sustainable practices are the most appropriate routes manufacturers have to take on the journey towards the next normal. Yes, the pandemic will certainly leave behind these fundamental changes in the manufacturing ecosystem.