‘There should be a will to go for digital transformation’
Published on : Thursday 01-07-2021
Vipul Parikh, General Manager, Transpek Industry Ltd.
What are the factors that make companies wary about digitalisation in their plants?
Mostly the people who are decision makers in the companies, are not updated with the technologies which go into digitalisation. Also the advantages, which could be availed because of digitalisation, are intangible at times – in terms of quality, quantity, process cycle time, process safety, etc., which makes it difficult to evaluate the benefits vis-à-vis the RoI. It also attracts a significant Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) and needs competent people to implement and maintain the system, which makes it difficult for the stakeholders to make a judgment. Sometimes being a stakeholder of manufacturing industries, people are afraid of process or data theft through digitalisation. People in pharma industries also hesitate to adopt digitalisation as they need to comply with FDA regulation 21 CFR part 11. But in reality it is not difficult, it can be done easily with the help of OEMs.
How can companies ensure their digital transformation succeeds? What measures do they need to put in place?
First of all, there should be a will to go for digital transformation. Sharing from my past experience, 20 years back I have worked with a chemical industry which has implemented a process automation system through digitalisation during new project inception to avoid dependency on human labour and reduce the number of people to operate the plant. In other chemical industries where I have worked, they had computerised systems for all their plants at all locations, be it Agro or Pharma plants. In this case the owner of the company was tech-savvy. It started as the company was having a commercial tie up with foreign company where they insisted on installing a computerised system for that plant. After seeing the advantages of digitalisation, it is now an integrated part of the plant in the company. For sustaining with digitalisation, companies need to have competent people to do maintenance, who can operate the same and as a by-product, digitalisation captures the data for analysing the process and outputs to the company’s advantage.
In one of the organisations where I have worked, the SCADA system was installed in all plants to operate the chemical manufacturing processes. All PLC tags from those plants were brought into a central monitoring room through optical fibre where one person can monitor all process parameters of all plants/locations from that room. Even when one of the sites was 20km away, it was connected to the central monitoring room. This digitalisation had given an advantage to improve process safety as the alarm was being generated if there was any deviation in any process parameter beyond defined limit or failure of safety device like a ruptured disc. So there was always a second eye to monitor the plant processes with respect to safety and quality. It also had a feature of generating shift reports automatically and mailing it to concerned stakeholders in the company at the end of each shift. Even in this shift reports, the upper limits of each process parameters were defined so any process parameter exceeding that limit was highlighted with red colour automatically to have a quick look for any abnormalities. This centralised system also had connectivity with the main IT server in order to store data for analytics or refer and identify the patterns and problems. This also helps forecast and the same data can be analysed for developing the algorithm to get consistent quality with optimised process timing.
Another great example of digitalisation is using IoT for power consumption monitoring on a real time basis. Through IoT, all major power consumers can be monitored on a real time basis thus can operate the machinery at optimal efficiency. Even the real time water consumption can be monitored through IoT to conserve the same.
What are the common mistakes companies make while embracing digital transformation and how can these be avoided?
There is an old saying, ‘The right person for the right job’. So we need to upgrade existing employee skills or recruit new employees from outside who are competent to upgrade, integrate, maintain and operate the digitalised system.
The world is now well into the second year of Covid disruption. How has digital transformation helped the industry during this period?
As far as the IT/software industry is concerned, this pandemic is a boon for them as they could operate from home as they are already an integral part of digitalisation. However, even manufacturing industries have identified the activities that can be performed remotely with IT connectivity without compromising on the top line. As far as chemical manufacturing process activity is concerned, industries through digitalisation with a close loop control system and automation for material handling, have managed with less people without compromising on process safety and quality. And in the industries where the digitalisation is not done, management has got an opportunity to identify the scope to reduce the dependence on humans to make the plant safer, productive and economically efficient by adopting digitalisation and process automation.
In the Indian context, despite government initiatives, the digital divide persists which risks leaving large segments of the population outside. How can these issues be addressed?
Digital divide can be addressed by interconnecting the people through the internet. As a next milestone in the road map, India is moving towards the same by making cell phones, data plans and data speed more affordable. During the pandemic, even the government has resorted to digital means by transferring subsidies directly to the people’s accounts. Many digital applications supporting government initiatives have been launched such as Aarogya Setu or the CoWin Portal. There is also a requirement to adopt digitalisation in the agriculture sector which is a main backbone of the rural population where they can use the information for crop farming and sale of agri-products online.
The bottom line is “There is no end to Digitalisation”. From early morning to going to bed, digitalisation can make you more productive with a global exposure and builds globalisation.
Vipul Parikh is a Mechanical Engineer, having a total experience of 28 years in chemical process industries. He started his career with Tata Chemicals and has since worked with other reputed companies like Atul Limited, Lupin Limited, Sun Pharma, Aurobindo Pharma and many more. Parikh is presently working with Transpek Industry Ltd, as a General Manager – Engineering services. During the journey, he has got exposure to many technologies and techniques to conserve energy. Comments welcome on email: firstname.lastname@example.org