The pandemic brought out the necessity for automation in the process industry
Published on : Tuesday 10-05-2022
Mahesh Wagle, Co-founder & Director, Cybernetik Technologies.
Cybernetik has over three decades of rich experience in process industries. Tell us something about the early days and how it began.
Dr Nirav Desai and I are both alumni of IIT Madras and the University at Buffalo, New York. In the late 1980s, both of us were working in the States when we realised that the automation market in India was still at a fledgling stage. During that period, it was an unpopular decision to leave the United States and return to India, especially at a time when people were looking to move outside of India and go to the US for better opportunities. We initially set up Cybernetik as a consulting firm but realised that the manufacturing technology required to build high quality systems wasn’t easily available. Taking a leap of faith, we established Cybernetik Technologies in 1989 to design and manufacture powder processing equipment after noticing the gap that existed in the country with regard to process verticals, mainly with the agriculture, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The company thus began manufacturing equipment to cater to these industries, especially the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, given its strict compliance rules which required dust-free operations.
The process group was thus the first vertical to be set up. The robotics manufacturing unit was established around 2007.
What are the main business units of the company? How the business is distributed revenue wise?
Currently, the business verticals include the Process Group, which caters to standardised powder handling solutions for pharmaceuticals, chemical and pesticide industries. The second division, which we call the Auto Group, designs and builds turnkey automation systems and caters to the food-processing including cooking automation and chocolate processing, clean-tech industries including wind, EV batteries, catalytic converters and the end of line automation industry including robotic solutions for the packaging industry. The third division is our Extraction Division, where we build high pressure Carbon Dioxide extraction systems and solvent extraction systems for the flavours, nutraceuticals and industries.
It is hard to classify the revenue split here, since the revenue for a particular unit doesn’t remain consistent given that process automation can be considered our standard business. The revenues have remained standard overall through the years. However, the percentage split between the various business units varies drastically with the weightage of projects under each of them varying every year. For instance, the revenue percentage for the green technology unit can be 10% during a particular year and rise to 30% during the next year. This applies to all our business units, i.e., automation, process, and extraction, where the revenues will vary based on the projects we undertake.
The company has moved from being a machinery manufacturer to an integrated solutions provider. What is the USP of Cybernetik?
The fact that we are an integrated solutions provider can be considered our USP. At Cybernetik, we undertake the tasks of designing, building, and the installation of end-to-end, turnkey automation systems.
For instance, if a project involves the manufacturing of a sugar grinding machine, we will not only provide a system that grinds the sugar but also provide solutions to load the sugar into a bag and finally undertake the stretch wrapping and packaging for all of them, saving the client from the hassle of having to find three different providers for each of these processes.
With regards to automation, we take on several complex projects that most other organisations would generally hesitate to take up. We’ve developed solutions to automate key processes for the players across segments in India, such as BASF, Sanofi, Bayer, Suzlon and auto component giants such as Bajaj Auto and Bharat Forge. Our technological USP comes from the fact that having a presence in a wide range of industries from wind to pharmaceutical packaging, we are able to cross pollinate a wide range of ideas and concepts to come up with out-of-the box solutions for technology problems that aren’t addressed by standard machines.
The company is known for successful integration of robotics in automation. Is this now a rising trend in Indian industry?
At present, Indian manufacturers are entering what can be termed as the ‘maturity stage’ from the ‘growth stage’. In such a situation, it is typical to see a common trend where they are looking to optimise their assets.
The increasing demand for quality products is also a contributing factor to this trend, given that quality and automation go hand in hand. Manual processes also involve a higher degree of risk to the labour force prompting companies to opt for automation processes which can ensure that the process is error-free and safe.
This is also when business owners realise that automating their manufacturing would be a more viable option than starting a new facility which involves the procurement of new equipment, gathering more manpower, and investing in training them. This is where robotics and automation come in handy, saving organisations from the entire hassle.
In this regard, Cybernetik has been working with some of the biggest robotic manufacturers in the world, which include ABB, Mitsubishi, Yaskawa, Epson, etc. We have worked on extremely complicated turnkey projects where complex integration of robots, vision and haptic sensing, servo controls are required. For Green Mountain Firewood, we successfully integrated a cooling tunnel in the processing line to help eliminate bottlenecks, while simultaneously automating key processes such as packing and palletizing, to produce over 4,000 logs an hour.
Therefore, Cybernetik can be positioned as a company that is in the advanced stages of robotics and automation.
The Covid-19 pandemic affected business and the all-other aspects of life. What is the impact on the process industry in general, and at Cybernetik in particular?
As with most other industries, the process industry was pushed on the back foot with the lockdown affecting the availability of supplies and the closure of markets. Even the pharma sector that witnessed an unprecedented spike in demand for some of its products faced a supply shock. The Indian manufacturing industry was resilient though and the Economic Survey places its 2021-22 growth at 11.8%.
As a customised automation solutions provider, Cybernetik too was slightly affected by the pandemic and resultant lockdown. But the pandemic did bring out the necessity for automation in the process industry to continue production even during contagious pandemics. Coupled with our strong reputation, we did more than just recover – we are expanding.
Internally, we encouraged employees of certain departments who could work from home to do so and visit the office only when necessary. Wearing masks correctly and social distancing was strictly followed in the office and even on the shop floor. Sanitizer dispensing machines were installed at multiple locations. And to top all this, we conducted a vaccination drive at the company premises.
The Indian Pharma industry is a great success story but there have also been issues with compliance, etc. How can technology help here?
The Indian pharmaceutical industry is steadily adopting automation systems, such as the automated operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT). Technology allows manufacturers to access a large amount of data through the elimination of human errors by enabling them to create unique molecular profiles of their customers and provide personalised care.
When it comes to compliance, data is essential. It is essential for the data to remain quickly and easily accessible, in addition to being highly accurate. This is difficult to achieve with manual processes where data consistency can possibly be inaccurate, making it potentially one of the most dangerous issues that affects the dispersal of data generated or modified in different locations. This is where automation not only helps in speeding up the processes but also in receiving updates on research in a timely manner.
What, in your experience, are the main reasons enterprises do not take compliance seriously?
Processes are an integral part of all enterprises. With the objective of ensuring consistent and quality service, organisations spend a lot of time and resources embedding processes in their functions. Despite this, there are times when compliance practices are not being followed due to complicated processes and regulations without any immediate benefits, lack of sufficient resources for enforcement or due to lack of guidance.
How are emerging technologies like IIoT, connected plant, digital twins, etc., impacting the development of machinery today?
Technologies like IIoT, connected plant, and digital twins are not really impacting the development of machinery; however it is impacting how companies are actually designing their manufacturing processes.
At Cybernetik, IIoT plays a major role because when you're dealing with food products, the right quality is extremely important. If there is a batch of products, every product today comes with a barcode on the packaging. So, traceability becomes imperative. Using the bar codes can actually trace if there is a complaint that has come about one batch and you can use the barcode to track the entire batch.
Whereas, with manufacturing processes becoming increasingly digital, the digital twin is now within reach. By providing a complete digital twin of systems, it enables us to detect physical issues sooner, predict outcomes more accurately, and build better products. This is done at an engineering stage using virtual commissioning software for optimising the line, integrating VR/AR to identify ergonomic issues and simulating real world installation. This in turn, helps Cybernetik to optimise the system at an early stage, thereby reducing vertical startup time as well as creating a digital infrastructure for reducing troubleshooting time and effort.
Mahesh Wagle is a Co-Founder & Director of Cybernetik – an industrial automation company that has been undertaking the designing, building, and end-to-end installation of turnkey automation systems for the Food, Agro, Pharmaceutical, and Chemical industries for over three decades.
Mahesh’s passion for engineering and vision for the future of automation systems enabled him to co-found Cybernetik Technologies in 1989, a period when the automation market in India was still at a fledgling stage. As a technical specialist, he was among the major minds behind the development of several path breaking processes and innovations.
With Mahesh being one of the major driving forces behind Cybernetik’s quest for innovation, the organization continues to broaden globally, with three international offices in Vietnam (for Southeast Asia), Dubai (for Middle East and Africa) and the United States (for North America). It has four factory units and 2 design offices in India, with over 380 employees.
Prior to founding Cybernetik, Mahesh held leadership roles in Keller Technology Corporation, Tonawanda, NY and Buffalo Design Research Pvt Ltd, Pune. He is an alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras, and the University of Buffalo in New York.