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It is important for manufacturing organisations to get their priorities right when they undertake the all-important journey of digital transformation

The recently concluded Pro MFG Technology Leadership Think Turf in association with Nanoprecise Sci Corp highlighted the key focus areas for the chemicals industry while adopting digitalization. Here’s an overview of the virtual event that witnessed participation from industry leaders who contributed with their valuable inputs. The session was set rolling with an informative welcome by Sunil Vedula, Founder and CEO, Nanoprecise Sci Corp. While speaking about the significance of production uptime in the context of the event theme, he also underlined the role of machine health in achieving the same. The esteemed industry speakers included Atul Govil, Chief Transformation Officer and Head - IT and SAP, India Glycols Limited. Sharad Joshi, Head - Smart manufacturing, Asia, BASF, Pankaj Shrivastava, Head - IT, Gujarat Fluorochemicals Limited, and Anil Singh, Director - Operations, Sika India. The discussion was adeptly steered by Manish Kulkarni, Director, Pro MFG Media.

Key objectives of digitalization

Considering the growing trend of digitalization, the panellists shared their viewpoints on what matters the most to each one of them. Atul Govil, Chief Transformation Officer and Head - IT and SAP, India Glycols Limited, pointed out what digital transformation entails for manufacturing and particularly for manufacturers who are predominantly into chemicals and allied sectors. “The first one is to look at the levers around improving profitability. How do you improve profitability? Basically, you have to make sure that you drive efficient operations in terms of improving bad cycle times, improving turnaround times, reducing wastage, and, of course, ensuring workplace safety. So these are the key aspects that need to be taken care of through the digital tools,” he said. He further stated that if you were to invest in some technology, you need to have some kind of ROI that is either tangible or intangible. Secondly, he highlighted the importance of digitalisation in the context of remote working. “Today, you can’t have all the experts at all the time because of various reasons. So there is an increased focus on understanding how do we deploy and use technologies in such a way that the reliance on the personnel is minimised,” he added.

Safety and performance

Pankaj Shrivastava, Head - IT, Gujarat Fluorochemicals Limited (GFL), underlined the importance of safety in the chemicals industry. “Safety is of prime concern to us. Last year, we have implemented a safety programme under which we have conducted several training sessions for our people. So our digitalization journey has been primarily driven by the safety concern. For example, all our EHS portals and EHS processes have been digitized. Accordingly, we have given open access to all our employees to the system so that they can immediately report any untoward incident whether it involves people or plant,” he shared.

Secondly, he also explained how GFL was implementing digital transformation to improve employee performance. “Yes, there have been a number of challenges while doing some projects on Industry 4.0 but it has also given us good employee performance through adoption of new technologies and the digital transformation journey. In the next three months to four months, we will complete the first phase of this journey and we are expecting good efficiencies on the machine side as well as improvement in the employee efficiency,” he explained.

Impact on the value chain

Sharad Joshi, Head - Smart manufacturing, Asia, BASF, said that when you look at the speciality chemical industry, digitalization has a widespread impact across the value chain. “When I say value chain, it starts from the supplier of the raw material and up to manufacturing and then finally having the finished product out for the customer. We see it specifically in three big areas that we work on. One is our customer experience; it is more of a digital business model now. The second important area is manufacturing and supply chain. And the third important area is our research and development work. Today, it is more of digitalization in research and development, or you can call it digital innovation.”

Speaking in the context of manufacturing, he further identified three key areas. “The first focus area in the context of digitalization for manufacturing is efficiency improvement in terms of workforce efficiency as well as work process efficiency. The second key area is about the reliability and the availability of the plant. And the third area is EHS or Environment Health and Safety. It is important for us to ensure that we send our workforce home safely at the end of the day,” he said.

Closing the loop

According to Anil Singh, Director - Operations, Sika India, operational excellence is the key focus area in the journey of digital transformation. “We all know that each plant has different complexity but even within the same plant the complexity is increasing day by day with the various process requirements or with the input data, which has to be converted into a relevant output,” he said. While pointing out that a lot of data is getting generated every day at the plant, he said that it is important to convert this data into a statistical platform and to correlate it with practical problems of the shopfloor employees or the people who are working on the ground. “So the loop has to be closed with a statistical solution. Only then I think this data relevance or digitalization would be there. Based on my experience with different organisations, I can say that the machines are there and the technologies are being developed. However, we are still facing challenges with how to make the most of it. So here we are talking about two things, efficiency and productivity. Therefore, I think the key focus area would be related to operational excellence,” he explained. He further identified sustainability as well as people efficiency as the other two priorities in the digitalization journey.

Different priorities at different stages

Highlighting the correlation between humans and machines, Sunil Vedula, Founder and CEO, Nanoprecise Sci Corp, said that we want the maximum out of our machines. “Yes, I will worry about the productivity aspect. But before that, I want to make sure that my machines are healthy,” he remarked. Explaining his thought process, he said that if machines stop all of a sudden, everything comes to a standstill. “So I need to ensure that my machines are always up and running. The next step is to make sure to tie this up to productivity. The big leap in productivity or the return on investment comes when you tie the improvements in predictive maintenance and predictability of the health of the machines to basically power consumption and GHG emissions.”

He further added that companies in the very early phase of digital transformation want to make sure that their predictive maintenance is first completely solved. Those who have achieved it want to make the most out of the data that they already have. “The third is the type of customers who are basically saying that we have everything in place and now we want to do productivity gains and so on. So, the priorities are different for everyone because everyone is at a different stage of digital transformation,” he explained.

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