Home / Industry / Manufacturing /  Factories banking on digital push to get over covid blues

If the manufacturing sector was taking measured steps to embracing robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and big data analytics, the covid-19 pandemic only accelerated it.

However, it is the integration of these technologies with one another that is key to transforming businesses, said experts at Mint’s Pivot or Perish webinar on the manufacturing sector on Thursday.

“A digital revolution is unfolding in front of us. Within the factories, all our investments on robotics, IoT (internet of things) and data analytics really helped us. However, the ability to connect with 6,500 people on the field was helped by platforms that we have already invested in," said Deepak Shetty, deputy CEO and MD, JCB India.

The company invested in an app where customers could order machine parts, Shetty said. During the lockdown, customers of JCB India used it and there was a lot of positive feedback from the remotest parts of the country.

“Two months ago, we would never have understood how digital can be used across the business but we do now. I am sure we will not go back," he said.

The Indian manufacturing sector has historically focused on building physical capital to set up plants and get production going compared to western companies who have adopted digitalization early on to improve their processes and businesses.

However, many companies that began walking the digitization path since 2017-18 came out unimpeded through the pandemic.

“I think we should follow the western world to drive higher valuation, profitability in the sector and make it attractive for young talent," said Rajkumar Ravuri, director, industry strategy, manufacturing, Salesforce.

The top 100 manufacturers have only 4% of their assets in intellectual capital, which includes patents, software and digitalization initiatives, according to Fitch ratings.

Software-driven intelligence services are key for Indian manufacturers, but it is the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that are facing a challenge adapting to them. The shift from product manufacturing to service-based manufacturing has to happen, but organizations require new-age digital skills for this.

“Our customer base is primarily MSMEs in the textile downstream field. However, we have seen that either they do not have the capital or the inclination to digitize. This has been a bit of a drawback. We are trying to digitize our own processes, so that we can increase the productivity of the machines," said Suresh Khurana, CEO, polyester, The Bombay Dyeing & Mfg. Co. Ltd.

By FY22, India needs 120 million workers to learn new-age digital skills and the industry, government and academia need to come together for this, said Ravuri. India needs talent for intelligence design of products across AI, IoT and machine learning as the overall return on investment from digital is now being achieved much faster.

“The digital interface we have created with our end customer, whether it is doctors, stockists or retailers, is going to add or complement to what the company already does. However, post-lockdown, we know there are some areas where the absolute man-man interface will be still required," said Aditi Kare Panandikar, MD, Indoco Remedies Ltd. In future, companies may not need to increase their salesforce because of digital technologies, she said.

Leroy Leo contributed to this story.

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