Navigating uncertain times with Digital Manufacturing
July 12, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has led small and medium-sized businesses in India to join industry giants in accelerating the use of technology and analytics to transform their manufacturing processes. Rightly so, “future-ready” organizations are 1.7 times more efficient and 2.8 times as profitable compared to companies at lower maturity levels, as revealed by recent Accenture research involving 1,100 C-suite executives from 11 countries.
Accelerated by the pandemic, there are multiple factors driving the digital enhancement of the manufacturing sector. The waves of the pandemic are leading to significant demand variation. For manufacturing companies, this means:
In the wake of the pandemic, businesses are also witnessing a scarcity of skilled workers. Nearly all manufacturing plants were running with limited on-site presence, during the peak of both the COVID-19 waves, due to employees and/or their families being exposed to the virus. In addition, the experienced workforce in India is ageing and will eventually retire, taking with them precious knowledge and skills. According to a recent Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) report, the share of workforce older than 40 is rising steadily.
To address these challenges, companies are utilizing digital technologies to improve operational efficiency of their manufacturing processes to drive better safety, throughput, quality, yield and cost structures. Some of the broad trends include:
To holistically process data to enable intelligent decision making, manufacturers are streaming data from OT sources (Distribution Control System, Programmable Logic Controllers, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and IT Sources (Enterprise Resource Planning systems like SAP) into one database. These databases are typically stored in a cloud environment, making intelligent computing and decision-making possible remotely. A leading oil and gas company recently developed an integrated command and control platform that integrates data from across its countrywide network, including fuel retail outlets, fuel trucks, oil installations and depots, LPG bottling plants and additional industrial and commercial locations. The platform uses machine learning (ML) techniques with the data to trigger automated alerts and actions, in case of equipment failures or hazardous situations.
Machine learning-based models can help leverage historical data to run a manufacturing plant with the optimal efficiency. These help reproduce historical best-fit actions taken by experienced control room operators.
To reduce dependence on onsite presence and localized decision-making, companies in multiple industries, including those in the utilities, oil and gas, metals and mining sectors, are considering setting up remote operations centers. Today’s remote operations centers are based on connected real-time asset management, predictive analytics, and process optimization. Remote operations centers typically help in growing revenue, achieving operational excellence, and improving capacity utilization.
The above transformation-led activities are now supported by technological advancement in 4G, LTE and 5G networks as well as edge computing. India is witnessing the beginning of a new era for digital manufacturing and it will open a world of new opportunities.
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