We are not too far from Industry 4.0 but we are not there yet
Published on : Wednesday 04-01-2023
Atul Marwaha, Executive Vice President, DesignTech Systems Pvt Ltd.
Smart manufacturing is not a concept getting relevant in conjunction with Industry 4.0; even more, it begins with use of basic automation and control from Industry 3.0. Do you feel that India has finally caught up in deployment of automatic machines and processes at all levels of Industry? Which verticals are ahead and which are lagging?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. The thought that India is falling behind the developing nations in adopting and implementing advanced automation, smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 is not entirely accurate. While we still have a long way to go for fully adopting industry 4.0 practices, we have nonetheless started making headway into integrating and implementing smart manufacturing, especially in the area of automation, robotics, and proceeding towards digitalisation of product design and manufacturing processes. The application of Industry 4.0 and smart machines, particularly in the areas of automatic testing, computer vision, vision-based testing and validation of the production lines, etc., has already been extensive in various industries, such as pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, and industrial machinery. Nearly every piece of equipment in the automation sector, and more specifically in the area where people are building plant automation solutions, includes some sort of integrated smart sensor and smart feedback loop. Thus, these industries are leading the way.
Some traditional industries, such as heavy engineering and large existing conventional manufacturing setups, are still lagging behind, but I believe that's where Industry 3.0 is still catching up pretty well and Industry 4.0 is something that is just around the corner. India also has a very large skill set of AI/ML programmers, people who have been working with sensors, and retrofitting, a need of the hour if we are to best implement Industry 4.0 into current processes. So, we are not too far from Industry 4.0 but we are not there yet.
Manufacturing has operated for a long time in silos of the verticals. Smart Manufacturing actually tries to change this idea towards networking and collaboration. What are the big stumbling blocks in M2M communication and also sharing of data between departments?
Traditional manufacturing processes were iterative and worked like a relay race, where after one department let's say, design has done their job, they will send the drawings to manufacturing, only to encounter challenges or feasibility issues in manufacturing the product. Then we had to go back and re-work on the designs to get the issues addressed. Today we are living in the time of concurrent engineering. This means, various teams will be working cohesively, collaborating in real time, and contributing to ensure minimum iteration, and faster productivity to get the designs right the first time. Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 is next level. It is complete digitalisation of processes. This, not just breaks barriers, but gives everyone a seat at the table to collaborate, and make valuable contributions. It brings in greater transparency and visibility of the status and quality of work.
So naturally, one of the most crucial factors in digitalisation, live monitoring of systems, data analysis, and M2M communication is – fast internet speed. That is key. The lack of a reliable high-speed network is still one of the major roadblocks, particularly for M2M communication in larger equipment factories and manufacturers. The majority of the plants, which are typically situated far outside of the city limits, do not have a high-speed Wi-Fi network, and if they do, it is only available in the office complex and not in the production complex, which severely restricts the ability to conduct high-level M2M communications.
In addition, when companies are building new plants, they can set-up machines and systems that are compatible with and work effectively with the new age Industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing hardware, e.g., sensors. However, enabling an old manufacturing plant to get Industry 4.0 ready is a challenge, as then you have to retrofit the sensors or other hardware to the older systems and machines. Effectively being able to do that is a challenge.
Another factor to reliably implement smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 is assurance of the safety and security of systems and data. You are talking about a bigger software and IT component in M2M communications, or any programmable systems. When you talk about IT and software, it is also vulnerable to many risks that cannot just lead to machine downtime and affect the functioning, while also endangering your data. The other challenge that also comes is the awareness of the security protocols with machine-to-machine communication, which requires a lot of firewalls, a lot of cybersecurity protocols, and a lot of secure network protocols to be established. And because most of the Indian manufacturing companies are not geared up or haven't experienced something like that, much like what the IT industry was, that pretty much remains a big stumbling block.
So, to sum it all up, the three main barriers to communication and data sharing are the availability of high-speed, dependable Internet connectivity across remote plants and production sites; the challenge of retrofitting older production equipment with these, Wi-Fi enablement and data acquisition protocols, and the need for data security and cybersecurity to ensure that whatever you are doing and storing is secure.
In Smart Manufacturing, two topics find frequent mention. The first is OEE – which can be measured by through-put or capacity utilisation. The second topic is Quality. Is the emphasis same for different types of manufacturing?
When you talk of maximum productivity of a manufacturing plant, you predominantly talk about OEE or overall equipment effectiveness. Minimum machine downtime and optimum machine utilisation will definitely result in greater productivity. That will always continue to remain in the main focus. From any manufacturing standpoint, the idea that the equipment should be used to its fullest potential and in an efficient manner while also having the highest possible throughput is always the main driver. However, despite this, the Indian industry is live to the overall quality as well. Quality will ultimately have an effect on the success of the product. Hence quality of the output is equally important. While approaches such as Kaizen will help companies improve their manufacturing practices making them leaner and more efficient, the practices like GMP (good manufacturing practice) will help companies also consistently maintain the product quality, which is at the crux of product success. The underlying philosophy is that, as we increase our OEE through robotics, smart manufacturing, and automation, the quality should be consistent and continue to improve going forward.
Additionally, I believe that OEE has an indirect or somewhat direct effect on quality as well. If your equipment has much higher utilisation and uptime, this means that your setups are more reliable, your production facility runs more smoothly, and there are fewer breakdowns, which will automatically lead to a lower rejection and better PPM (parts per million) output. In essence, this means that one thing will lead to another. OEE will be the industry's primary priority due to its business requirements, which will unavoidably have a cascading influence on quality. Time and costs of development will determine the market price of the product; the quality will determine its success in terms of consumer preference. Thus, OEE cannot be achieved at the expense of quality. Company has to give requisite weightage to both.
Many manufacturing industries have a machine shop at the core for generating structures and products. There are new technologies for metal cutting like lasers, water jets, etc. How does this affect the traditional machine tools industry? Secondly, would additive manufacturing make a mainstream impact or stay restricted to rapid prototyping?
Manufacturing tooling directly contributes to the end product quality. So it is only natural that the manufacturing industry places significant focus on developing the right quality, and grade of manufacturing tooling. Metal cutting technologies like laser metal cutters, water jets, etc., are not new to the industry in the current context; they have been used incredibly widely and effectively by various manufacturers for almost a couple of decades now, and have found a significant place in mainstream applications. Saying this, the majority of manufacturers are also utilising new disruptive technologies in their manufacturing practices. Traditional technologies like CNC are subtractive in their approach, that is, they cut or carve out the parts from a solid sheet metal to achieve a desired shape. Rapid prototyping, 3D Printing, or additive manufacturing on the other hand is additive in nature, which means they build the product layer by layer.
3D printing offers a clear advantage in building custom tooling such as jigs and fixtures. They offer more flexibility in design modifications and help build the part faster. Where traditional injection moulding might not help or might not make sense for specialised applications, 3D printing makes for a more prudent approach for batch size productions, or for customised applications such as mould inserts. 3D printing as a technology has now evolved to a place where it can build parts for end-use applications. With 3D printing technology becoming more affordable, and offering a larger choice of materials besides the traditional plastic, we can see it solidifying its place in the mainstream manufacturing applications as well.
Various automotive jigs and fixtures have already been printed using additive manufacturing as a process to be deployed directly on the shop floor. Also for the aerospace industry, where you require very complex and lightweight structures, additive manufacturing is contributing significantly. I would say that additive manufacturing is going to follow the suit of technologies such as laser jet and water jet machining and is quite likely to become mainstream.
Industry 4.0 brings with it the concept of small batch size manufacturing to cater for a wide range of product spectrum. Traditional machine tools are geared for large volume high speed production and not so well suited for short production runs. What will change?
While small batch size manufacturing is expected to pick up, that does not necessarily mean that large volume production will not prevail in that proportion. I believe large volume production will still retain a larger portion of the pie in the new and changing landscape of the manufacturing industry. Small and batch size manufacturing will widen the purview of product offering, but large volume manufacturing will still continue to cater to the standard market requirements, e.g., consumer appliances, earth moving machinery, automobiles. These industry verticals will continue catering to the larger, standard market demand that will continue to propel the large volume manufacturing industry as well.
Saying this, Industry 4.0 gives you capabilities to run small batch size manufacturing, and quickly monitor and cater to various setups during a single shift or day of production. It thus improves the flexibility of any organisation to take up different batch sizes, which was not practical before. But it may be incorrect to say that the traditional machine tools are only geared for large volumes, and high speed production. In order for them to upgrade we are already seeing a large amount of retrofitting done on traditional machine tools to make them connected to Industry 4.0 technologies. Additive manufacturing also provides a clear advantage for batch size productions. The industry is already focusing on spending more on CAPEX, which is buying the appropriate kind of equipment and using it for a much longer time to achieve more flexibility. Going forward we would definitely expect people to have only smart machines available which are more flexible. I believe that over time, you will start to see smaller manufacturing shops coming up, which are able to cater to a much wider variety of products because they have sophisticated and well-connected Industry 3.0 equipment machinery. The traditional machines will also undergo a lot of retrofitting, enabling them to be a lot more flexible than what they were perceived to be.
Are the concepts of Smart Manufacturing predominant in private industry? Do they equally apply for public sector manufacturers? Do large companies actually nudge their vendors to imbibe these concepts and technologies?
I will answer this question in 2 parts. Yes, the smart manufacturing concepts absolutely apply to public sector manufacturing as well. However it's also true that the private players, because they are constantly under pressure of performance, profitability, holding shareholder value, and such other imperatives, are obviously the early adopters of new technologies that are found to generate more returns or are more efficient. Saying this, the public sector, also in many areas competes with the private sector, and in order to remain relevant and competitive they will have to adopt the practices that will make them more efficient. For example, dairy products; the government runs many dairy products manufacturing establishments. But in order to compete with the likes of Nestle and Amul, they will have to implement practices that will make them more competitive, and efficient while providing good quality products. Also, today, the public sector utilises the capabilities of the private players more frequently than before, and ultimately the focus is on the quality and time parameters of manufacturing output. Thus, the large PSUs definitely need to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies and smart manufacturing in order to stay competitive.
So indirectly there is a push that is automatically coming because of the inherent process being followed by the public sector manufacturers. But it may not be the case where they are actively nudging vendors to take over smart technologies and Industry 4.0. PSUs themselves because of their own size and process limitations, and other constraints under which they have to perform and operate, may be a little slow in adopting them.
But there is definitely a push that is created by the process itself which is facilitating the adoption of smart manufacturing in the public sector undertaking, through the private industry.
Atul Marwaha is the Executive Vice President, DesignTech Systems Pvt Ltd, a leading engineering services and solutions company and is responsible for driving the overall business strategy for the organisation in the US, European and South East Asian market. He has over 17 years of experience in working with the SME segment across different industry verticals ranging from automotive, suppliers, machinery and equipment, heavy engineering, etc.
An engineer by qualification, he has spent time on all aspects of manufacturing including shop-floor, design, and tool room and has worked with numerous suppliers across North INDIA to set up and implement digital design and manufacturing initiatives.
Prior to his current assignment, Atul was the head of technical support division providing implementation services to organisations for state of the art CAD/CAM/CAE/PLM technologies. He specialises in computer aided manufacturing and was awarded directors gold medal during his engineering studies. He has made several presentations at various forums on the advantages of technology in manufacturing and its implications.
(The views expressed in interviews are personal, not necessarily of the organisations represented)