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MUMBAI : Ashortage of skilled labour during the covid-19 pandemic prompted companies to automate the value chain and reduce human intervention. In an interview, Sanjeev Sharma, managing director, ABB India, said enterprises were spending more on digital transformation as they emerged from the lockdown. Edited excerpts:

How are companies pivoting during the crisis, and how is automation helping them?

Many of our customers, especially in the chemicals segment, had to repurpose and scale up their manufacturing lines to make chemicals and other associated elements required to counter the pandemic. Such agility can only be achieved with automation and digitization. Our Indian team of experts are serving our local and global customers with remote condition monitoring of more than 2,000 connected devices in India and 8,000 robots across 40 countries. They continued working seamlessly and safely during the covid-19 lockdown, while working from home, with application of automation and remote monitoring technology.

Many businesses are cash-strapped. Are you looking at flexible pricing models that can help customers take the plunge?

Automation is an integral part of the investment process of next-level growth. Newer business models, such as Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Robot as a Service (RaaS), for digital, new software and artificial intelligence (AI)-based solutions are part of the strategy. We opened up some remote, digital services for free during this time of urgency, globally, and in India. Many of our value-added solutions enabled us to differentiate in the market and offer better pricing. Customers will invest where they see the right kind of returns, and for automation and digitization, a primary objective is cost and productivity optimization, so it is a virtuous cycle with faster returns on efficiency programmes.

Among the client base, which industries are leading in demand for automation?

We are glad that a combination of industries in different market segments are using Industry 4.0-based technologies as a common base for the next level of productivity gains. In our case, early adopters have included cement, steel, pulp and paper, energy and mining companies.

They have a range of processes and are now looking at optimization of the entire value chain. General ones include process and asset optimization, quality improvement, planning efficiency and logistics productivity on a unified platform from plant to enterprise level. There are others like white goods manufacturing, and food and beverage, with specific segments, such as milk pouch handling, which requires additional expertise for the shape and size, and warrants greater automation and robotics.

Has the pandemic driven ABB to come up with new solutions based on immediate client requirements?

While the technology has always been there, the mode of deployment has been innovative. Just like work-from-home, customer interaction and engagement has also become online and virtual. Our models, which have resilience and agility in-built, have been adapted very well during these times. Different business elements were made online from virtual sales pitches, to packaging service and training sessions together, online factory acceptance tests, as well as tests from third-party labs.

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