The lines were not running, but the minds were running
Published by : Industrial Automation
Rajesh Kumar Sharma, Director in Operational Excellence at Whirlpool India.
Six months into the pandemic and still no sign of abatement. What is the present operational status in manufacturing industries, in general?
Being associated with manufacturing and operations since long, I understand the importance of keeping the lines and processes running continuously. Never before has there occurred such a situation where things came to a complete standstill. This is a new experience for all of us. But during the time when the lines were not running, at the backend minds were running. Strategies were being discussed, best practices from across the globe were being understood closely. Skilling up was being done. Everyone were putting their plans in such a way that they were getting ready to come back to normal in the minimum possible time once they get the go ahead from the government and the administration, and this helped. Lines started running with all the precautions and norms of social distancing and hygiene. Numbers started coming, not in full but at a satisfactory level. Going forward, everyone one is facing the same challenge of migrated manpower. Once that is taken care of, life – and operations – will be back in action like the good old days.
What is the experience at Whirlpool in this regard?
We at Whirlpool worked very hard as a team to understand the new requirements and the challenges. Re-planning of processes to maintain the social distancing were worked out. At a few places adequate infrastructure were created to meet the social distancing requirement. A culture to work with proper PPEs, hygiene across all the plants became very important and the results have been great. As safety of our people is the top priority, this will continue to keep everyone safe every time, every day.
Safety measures like social distancing are not factored in regular automation of plants. What are the possible solutions here?
From every challenge we learn something, going forward process planners will certainly keep in mind to maintain optimum distancing in there planning part.
The disruption of supply chains is adding to the woes with various states and regions having a different approach. Does this call for policy initiatives?
This is a very vast and an important topic. This will require discussions at depth with actual case studies across the industries to learn from each other. Some disruptions were due to specific strategy and planning of the individual organisation, but the common concerns will certainly require relooking of the policies at a broader dimension.
Even if industries are now ready for more automation, do we have the ecosystem to help them scale up the ladder rapidly?
The requirement of automation will always be there. Depending upon the requirement, benefits expected, meeting targets and improving the system every organisation will have their own plans for the level of automation they need. The question of ecosystem does not come into play here.
For MSMEs, the problem is not just funds but also the legacy equipment and systems are a big issue. What is the way out?
Again automation should not be done for the sake of doing. It should serve a purpose. If the legacy system is working fine, giving all the merits it should continue. I have seen many such systems working perfectly fine.
There is this very recent case of a global auto major facing cyberattack that affected production across several locations. Another reminder for stronger cybersecurity?
Today cybersecurity is one of the top priorities of IT action plans. Organisations will not survive without it. Whole company will get crippled if it is compromised. IT folks are dead serious about it. That’s why you will find CISOs in the hierarchy.
What are the key lessons from this crisis for industry as well as the society at large?
This is life, you will keep on experiencing the good times and the challenging times. You get to learn more from the challenging times. So learn and become strong so that next time when the challenging time returns, don’t allow it to become a crisis. It should pass without any effect.
Rajesh Kumar Sharma is currently Director in Operational Excellence at Whirlpool India and is part of the leadership team involved in the strategic planning of new technology/product introduction and mega projects. He has more than 24 years of experience in automotive industry and has held technical and leadership roles in organisations like Fiat India Automobiles Pvt Ltd, Honda Cars India Ltd and JBM. During his tenure across the industry, Rajesh has been instrumental and part of the core team for the industrialisation of multiple new car models in India. He has also led the team for the installation and commissioning of new body shops, major capacity expansions in paint shop and general assembly lines besides implementing latest technology for process and quality optimisation. Rajesh is well versed with smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 concepts, and also an expert in WCM methodology and way of working.
#July 2020 Magazine Cover Story
Digital Transformation – The Next Wave The Covid-19 pandemic has achieved what CEOs and CTOs failed to do – struck a blow for Digital Transformation like nothing else did The only constant in life is change, wrote Heraclitus of Ephesus (circa 500 BCE), who famously asserted that Life is Flux, and to resist change is to resist the essence of existence. Yet, most people spend a better part of their lives resisting change. The concept of digital transformation dates back to the time PCs became mainstream and digitisation began, paving the way for digitalisation and then, transformation. To read the full cover story Please click here