The Covid-19 crisis has certainly acted as a catalyst in the transition to automation
Published on : Monday 04-01-2021
Rajesh Nath, Managing Director, VDMA India Services Private Limited, German Engineering Federation VDMA.
Mainstream technologies such as AI and data analytics are present leaders. Or will newer forms of technology dominate 2021? Will 5G become real in 2021?
Digitisation is and will be the topic that will occupy companies in the coming years. While in the pre-crisis era, automation was viewed as a means to innovate, reduce cost and gain a competitive edge, now the purpose has shifted to survival and damage limitation. To mitigate global supply chain risks for future crises, manufacturers will consider bolstering their in-house capabilities instead of out-sourcing manufacturing to other countries.
The need of the hour is to adopt ‘baby steps’ in automation which can generate a faster Return on Investment (RoI) and can be implemented without high capital expenditure. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Robotics would drive businesses to help manufacturers to produce quality products at a better cost and through that to give them the competitive edge to progress and prosper in these challenging times. The important role of automation in manufacturing is here to stay and the journey to enhance automation and robotics in the reboot phase is just beginning.
What will be the wish list of the manufacturing industry in the new normal?
Covid-19 has not only proved a threat to life but has caused unprecedented shock to the global economy. The pandemic hit manufacturers in an unexpected and unprecedented way. For the first time in modern manufacturing history, demand, supply and workforce are affected globally at the same time. The spread of virus has resulted in plant closures (full or partial) in many countries, halting production for prolonged periods, resulting in huge losses and loss of jobs. The virus has highlighted various critical gaps in the manufacturing sector. Companies need to build their business continuity plans afresh, need to review the existing manufacturing supply chain models and explore automation possibilities to reduce the impact of this crisis on production lines in the future.
What could be the ideal plan of action to face the challenges and adopt a safe and stable Covid-19 survival strategy?
The pandemic has intensified the need to automate. In fact the focal point in this drive to automate would be especially in jobs that have the 5 D factor – dull and repetitive, difficult and complex, dangerous and hazardous, dirty and polluting and the new dimension of distancing and safety. Although the degree of adoption may vary depending on the industry and the readiness of the companies to make huge investments at this time, the Covid-19 crisis has certainly acted as a catalyst in the transition to automation, especially in building resilience among businesses for future disruptions.
The challenges in WFH culture for the manufacturing sector and steps to be future ready?
In the present scenario, Work from Home is the only solution possible. However, Work from Home has certain constraints. It is perhaps easier for IT, ITeS and certain service and related sectors to follow this. For the Manufacturing sector however this would not be practical. What I foresee is a change in methods of communication within organisations from regular meetings, project meetings, etc., now moving towards Distance Conferencing like – Video Conferencing, WhatsApp Conferencing, Hangout Calls, Team Share Conferences and similar options.
Even if you’re working remotely – it’s important to ensure that you are set up to be productive. This includes having a designated workspace with the right technology; ways of dealing with kids, pets, and other potential disruptions; and a schedule that allows for the social contact and stimulation that ordinarily comes from being in a workplace with others.
The role of technology in catering to the demand for basic daily life solutions for safety at work and home?
Advancements of modern technology are actually making us safer – not only can new forms of password protection help to safeguard our digital files and documents, advances in voice recognition and gesture control also create a heightened degree of security for our devices and homes.
As remote computer hacking becomes a greater concern, the marriage of data to a local hard drive – or better yet, to a small set of drives – can be the best course of action for any individual or company hoping to keep information safe. Hardware- and software-based data encryption systems encode your information so that only authorised parties are able to retrieve and read it.
In the event that an intruder does manage to breach your front door, ADT home automation technology can send immediate alerts to your mobile device – whether you are in the house or miles away at the time of break-in – allowing you to take the necessary precautions to ensure your and your household’s safety.
The Covid-19 impact on campaigns like Aatmanirbhar Bharat, Startup India and the path ahead in 2021?
When this pandemic came with several unfamiliar names like lockdown, quarantine to a population of 1.2 billion Indians, there was uneasiness, anxiety, and uncertainty among the public as well as in the businesses. Thus, to ease out these challenges, many bold reforms and actions were taken by the government for saving the lives of people while sustaining the economy of the country. In these reforms, the one which was hailed by every Indian was the Prime Minister’s push towards Self-Reliance.
The concept of self-reliance is not new to us but embracing it as our ideology is a long-term vision for the country. The most important element of the Atma-Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan is that India will not cut off itself from the rest of the world, nor will it adopt anti-trade policies or protectionism. Rather, India will identify and promote industries and sectors where it has the potential and capability to scale up and be globally competitive.
To fully realise the vision of the Atma-Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, India will have to implement a series of reforms, policies, projects, and key initiatives in various sectors of its economy and business to foster innovation, growth, and sustainable development.
Are we doing enough in areas like employee wellness, social support, occupational safety and infection prevention?
Regarding industrial safety, India can boast of having one of the best standards and protocols. But, in reality, they are sometimes bypassed one way or the other. Infectious diseases pose an increasing threat to the health and wellbeing of the workforce, thus forcing organisations to re-evaluate their existing health and wellness programmes, a scenario extremely important in India given the size of their workforce.
Organisations, which face diverse human resources (HR) environments, find themselves laying increasing emphasis on engaging and retaining talent by combating high turnover, absenteeism and lost time in order to prevent risks and maintain business continuity. The magnitude and complexity of the workforce required to drive economic growth makes it imperative for emerging economies to focus on occupational health as an integral part of corporate growth strategies.
What are the trends that will shape the way people live and work in the near future?
The work-from-home job force just got a big push from the current global coronavirus pandemic. But even before Covid-19 became a factor, increasing numbers of people have been saying goodbye to their onerous commute to work. Thanks to ever-evolving technologies like Skype, Facetime, Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts, authenticator apps, and cloud computing – not to mention texting and email – it's no longer necessary to be in an office full-time to be a productive member of the team. In fact, many kinds of work can be done just as effectively, if not more so, from a home office.
The next trend I see is WFA – Work from Anywhere. Companies with work-from-anywhere policies can boost employee productivity, reduce turnover, and lower organisational costs. Telecommuting workers with very complex jobs who don't require a lot of collaboration or social support can perform better than their office-based counterparts. Also, in the event of a natural or manmade disaster, a distributed workforce is in a better position to keep operations running, even if some of the group goes offline.
Rajesh Nath has more than 29 years of experience working in various industries in Germany and India. He has been accorded the ‘Cross of the Order of Merit’ – the highest civilian award from the German President, for promoting Indo-German Trade in Engineering Sector. He has a degree in Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) with distinction. He also has a Business Management Degree (First Rank, Gold Medal). Further he did an International Business Program from the reputed Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Joka in 2004.
Mr Nath joined the Indian office of The German Engineering Federation (VDMA) as General Manager in 1999. He was appointed Director of the company in 2002. Since 2008, he is heading the organisation as Managing Director. During this period the export of German machinery to India has increased almost 6 folds and the number of VDMA members in India now stands at around 600.
Mr Nath started his professional career in Germany with Rheinische Kalksteinwerke, Wülfrath where he worked from 1991-93. He then joined KHD Humbold Wedag, Koeln in Environmental Technology Division and worked there from 1993 till 1997. Mr Nath is a Fellow Member of International Council of Consultants, Member of Institution of Engineers in India, Fellow Member of Mining, Geological and Metallurgical Institute (MGMI) and other well know bodies in India. He is also actively involved in social work with the NGO – KADAM which provides livelihood solutions to women and youth in the rural areas. Further he has been connected with Rotary International since many years.