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Manufacturing a Digital Future
Manufacturing a Digital Future

Charting out a digital future in Manufacturing

  • The latest episode of Mint CXO Dialogues, ‘Manufacturing a Digital Future’, powered by Microsoft discusses at length the impact of digitization to improve efficiencies across the manufacturing domain.

With the country still reeling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, digital is fast becoming the new buzzword across industries and the manufacturing sector is no exception. So, from innovations that can regularize the supply chain to digital tools that can boost customer engagement, there are multiple opportunities by which organisations are manufacturing a digital future for themselves.

The latest episode of Mint CXO Dialogues, a virtual panel discussion powered by Microsoft and Livemint, titled ‘Manufacturing a Digital Future’ calls upon some of the top names in the manufacturing space to discuss the impact of digitization across this domain and what the future looks like.

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For an industry like manufacturing, where remote work is not an easy solution and one needs to be physically present at the plants to roll out stocks, the pandemic and the lockdown that was imposed by the government thereafter came as a real shock. But, organisations were quick to adapt to new ways and means of functioning to stay afloat and keep employee morale high.

“We have been made to realise that you can convert challenges into opportunities. When the lockdown started, we thought that it is impossible for the manufacturing industry to function from home. But, within a few months we realised that many of our processes are possible using remote collaboration tools and the dynamics of how we should do business in the future has changed forever," said Atul Paranjape, Vice President - Group Digital & IT, Larsen & Toubro Hydrocarbon Engineering

When operations restarted, it was about achieving targets for 12 months in just 9 months, which meant using digital tools like IoT to improve productivity. Companies had to fundamentally look at each and every activity in the value chain and think of ways to do it digitally.

“The first learning was embracing change. Since the pandemic is here to stay, it was not about makeshift arrangements, but making changes that are going to be here to stay. We have to realign our complete business strategy and change our business model accordingly to move from physical to digital," said Devendra Jain, Head - Digital Transformation, RPG Group – Raychem RPG Ltd.

Discussions in the RPG boardroom were centred around ‘Can we offer an Amazon-like service to our B2B customers’ or ‘can an engineered to order product like a transformer be configured and bought online’?

Some organisations that started their digital journeys before Covid struck are already seeing the impact this can have in the manufacturing space.

“Today, we are reaping the benefits of a lean and thin supply chain. All our suppliers from the frontend to backend are connected. As soon as my product gets sold in the market, it gets produced in the factory tomorrow and the components get ordered day after tomorrow automatically. They are all automated and we are already seeing the benefits," said Sanjeev M Nimkar, CEO & MD, Kirloskar Group.

In an era where customer engagement is of paramount importance, organisations came back quick on their feet with digital tools to create personalised consumer journeys where the personal touchpoints and physical meetings had gone out of the equation due to the pandemic.

“We see two major trends in the manufacturing sector – companies transitioning from selling products to selling products as a service and secondly, companies moving from a reactive way of doing things to predictive AI in their customer journeys. Five years from now, there will be two kids of companies – those who leverage AI and others who don’t exist," said Naveen Gupta, Director Business Apps (Dynamics 365), Microsoft India.

Companies like Pidlite who have a global supply chain were hit more badly and are now devising ways and means of using technology to build more resilient supply chains.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is a spread out supply chain with multiple plants and distribution centres. What we found during Covid times is that we lack a central command centre for all the plants. I think technology can play a clear role in bringing visibility on the processes in a manufacturing company in terms of production as well as safety parameters, a traceability of products in the markets and a digitization of the complete supply chain," said Pradip Menon, CFO, Pidilite Industries.

While experimenting with these new innovations, there are some best practices you need to bear in mind. “There is a triple ingredient recipe that I need you to leverage – business, technology and organization. These form the main pillars which support any digital journey. You are not doing digital because it is a buzzword. It has to be focussed on the problem that your team is facing and you need to form the right solution for it using digital," Jain further said.

With Industry 4.0 on the anvil, digitization will have a key role to play to help build agile factories as there is only a limited enhancement in productivity that can be achieved by making the manpower more efficient.

“By streamlining the processes and supply chain, you will ensure that the worker does not have to wait for anything and that takes away the major issue in the manufacturing industry. After the pandemic, there are three key words – protect, innovate and opportunise," said Paranjape.

The last few months have been about the acceleration of digitization across industries. There are several learnings from this and some changes, such as a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour, are definitely here to stay.

“The key trends are exceeding customer expectations at all times, increasing reach vs retention of customers through active engagement and from an aviation perspective, a focus on the craft experience – that’s the need of the hour. Digitalization has seen immense growth in all areas and has become the first touchpoint for the customer," said Nitin Sethi, VP - Digital, Indigo Airlines.

“Online web check in numbers were at just about 50 per cent before the pandemic. During Covid, this hit 90 per cent. What would have taken years happened in a month’s time. What needs to evolve across industries is the multilingual and voice experiences," he added.

The pandemic has been a big booster shot for digital even in industries like manufacturing and retail, which were not so common in India before Covid.

In the manufacturing sector, one area that needs to be touched upon is self-service customer experience and that will fundamentally change the face of the industry. “There has been a theme of localization in a big way during the pandemic, which needs to be built into the analytics of the entire supply chain. Also, improving visibility of the end to end supply chain will be very useful," Menon said.

So, can technology help build a roadmap for the future to help us be prepared for such an exigency again? “Our Teams portfolio globally has seen a 100X increase in Covid times. Our solutions reflect the uber trends shaping the industry from selling products to selling products as a service and from analytics to predictive AI," said Gupta.

As Paranjape rightly summarised it: “Look at the past, predict what is going to happen and then act today. That is the power of digitalization."

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