Niranjan Mudholkar

There are five levels of digitalization. First, are we digitising it, so that we have the single source of the truth right? Secondly, are we trying to optimise costs after trying to increase the throughput? Thirdly, are we trying to focus on asset availability? Fourth, are we trying to focus on defect reduction? And fifth, are we trying to focus on safety?

The fourth edition of the Pro MFG Technology Leadership Think Turf ‘Let’s Talk Scalability series’ powered by Nanoprecise Sci Corp focussed on ‘Smart Manufacturing and Operational Excellence’. This engaging fireside chat witnessed two esteemed industry speakers in Vineet Jaiswal, Deputy CEO, Centre of Excellence, Vedanta Resources Ltd., and Graham Kawulka, Chief Commercial Officer, Nanoprecise Sci Corp. The discussion was moderated by Manish Kulkarni, Co-founder & Director, Pro MFG Media.

It is said that digital transformation is a journey. Digital transformation has several elements and also many objectives. Could you shed light on the prioritisation of what to focus on first?

Vineet Jaiswal: So digitalization is a journey. The truth of any of these transformations is that it’s a continuous process. There are new technologies, new processes and new approaches, which keep coming up. Digital transformation is all about adding value to the business; either it is a top line value, or a bottom line value. Whether we are doing it through technology or a process, or with the ‘people’ side of it, it’s a digital transformation. Some people can also call it business transformation. But it is all about adding to the top line and bottom line of the company. And it can be done through many ways. I have seen places where it has been achieved just by up-scaling or cross-skilling people. There are places where we need to just change the process. People have also achieved it by using six sigma lean concepts. Technology is another enabler or a tool to achieve transformation.

There are different elements to this transformation – people, process and technology. Let’s start with the ‘people’ side of it. At our organization, we make zinc, aluminium, copper and so on. We are in the process of manufacturing or making stuff which is sellable in the market. We are not in the process of hiring people with digital or IT skills; those kinds of expertise are not core to us. That is not natural to us. And what we are trying to do is that we are trying to make these things naturally a part of our culture and a part of our behaviour. So that is a cultural transformation. On the ‘people’ side, we are trying to drive their transformation.

On the process side, we are trying to apply TQM, Lean Concepts and Six Sigma to help with the transformation. On the technology side, there are all Industry 4.0 technologies that we are using. At the end of the day, if it adds value to the business in terms of top line and bottom line, then it is valuable. Otherwise, it’s just a paper which you can throw away.

In terms of prioritization, there is no rocket science here. It all depends on what the purpose is. First we try to identify where the low hanging fruit is; something which you can clearly identify can add value to. Technologies should solve business problems. Technologies are there for businesses; businesses are not there for technology! So we try to understand the business problem. Every leader is trying to define what the pain area is. Once the pain area is identified then try to understand how it can be addressed and resolved. It can be done by just changing the process or by enhancing people skills or through technology intervention where you need to have an end to end visibility. There are times when we do not have the data and so we cannot explain why it is happening. Many companies in the world are currently trying to make sure that the dark side of the world is visible to them. They are trying to get the data around; that’s the first thing. My first job should be or anyone’s first job should be to make sure they have the data. If data is available, then everything else can be done. That should be the first priority.

There are five levels of digitalization. First, are we digitising it, so that we have the single source of the truth right? Secondly, are we trying to optimise costs after trying to increase the throughput? Thirdly, are we trying to focus on asset availability? Fourth, are we trying to focus on defect reduction? And fifth, are we trying to focus on safety? These are the five things which I see on the bottom line side of it or the digitalization side of it. Digital transformation is all about the top line. How can we sell more? How can we make more money? So these are the questions it should answer.

Today, more and more technologies are evolving at a very rapid pace. So what kind of digital technologies excite you the most that you would want all the plants to implement in the next couple of years?

Vineet Jaiswal: When I was talking to one of our partners, I was telling them that I would like to create a digital twin of the entire company so that I know what’s happening and where and when. Currently, we do a review based on how much is the EBITDA. What is the cost of production? Whether the production went up or down right? This is on a plain Excel sheet or a paper right or PowerPoint. I would love to have that review happen on a dashboard. A dashboard would provide me with more of an insight and an overall process view. Where are the customers coming? Whether that customer sizing has gone up or down? If it was a pandemic time, the customer sizing had gone down. How much did it go down? This should be visually shown. Basically, I would want everything visible on a single page with the entire process. And this is for the management level. But the people in the operations should get an alert of what’s happening or what the problem is. They should know what we can improve. They should have an alert; some kind of a predictive maintenance alert. So I love this concept of digital twin and process digital twin.

Graham Kawulka: It’s a really interesting area. We as a technology company are always pushing the envelope ourselves. A lot of what Vineet mentioned is similar to where we see some of the things going. We also see a few more of the direct things happening related to the maintenance and the operational world more often. Something that I would love to see more of is the automation of inspection through drones and robotics. We are starting to see a lot more trials. Everybody’s seen the dancing dogs in Boston Dynamics, which seems trivial but even five years ago, that was not something that was ever possible.

From a maintenance perspective, the ability to generate that insight - which Vineet is mentioning about an alert - is something that excites me. Wouldn’t it be great if there was connectivity to a drone or a robotic device that could go out and do a number of inspections without anybody or ever having to be involved from the human side? That way, when a professional and a highly skilled trained person, who makes the decisions, has this more depth of information that doesn't require anything to do with a work order or a scheduling. Just none of that is even applicable anymore. It is just ready to go; the team is going to come together and make some decisions. We are starting to see more and more of that and it excites me a lot because it is not going to eliminate people; it’s just going to make us more productive. Anything that makes a business more productive, adds value. Another thing that really excites is augmented reality and that is not just from even a maintenance perspective. Walking around a plant, you want to inspect something and how do you avoid having to dig through the paper to find out various information about the process. When was the last maintenance record? And if you are in the middle of a maintenance activity, how do you have access to an expert? I think that’s going to be really interesting as a service offering from OEMs in the future.

What are the ideal metrics for optimization specifically for setting the right KPIs? And how do you align your metrics with your organisational goals and operations?

Vineet Jaiswal: KPI is a very basic requirement. One of the CEOs that I was talking to said that if we don’t have the base KPI, what are we trying to solve? That’s a very fair expectation. The most important thing you have to understand is whether we are just trying to apply technology to our business or are we really trying to solve a problem. First we need to understand what the business problem is and convert that into the key KPIs. For example, let’s say asset availability or utilisation is a problem. If availability is a problem, there is a different approach to that. However, if utilisation is a problem, then there may be a planning gap on the quality side of it. Whether it’s an incoming material quality problem or it’s a process quality problem or a finished good quality problem, it will have different KPIs and different approaches to solve the problem. There has to be some baseline to it. Generally organisations look at the data from the best of the years and understand what they did differently and then define that as a base KPI. So it all depends on what the purpose is. If you are able to define the problem well, then you can define the KPI. Importantly, it is not about the people who call themselves the digital people. It’s about the business people because they are the closest to these problems. They understand the process best. The digital team is only enabling them with all these tools. They go with all these tools and technologies and help them really reflect on what the problem is so that it can be solved.

Graham Kawulka: From a global perspective, I don’t think it differs much from place to place. In my experience, whether it is Asia Pacific or Middle East or North America, business is a language of its own, and it’s pretty universal. Lean Six Sigma frameworks are great as a good common language. So if your organisation is looking for how to train people to speak the same language, on how to analyse problems, that’s a great place to start from a cultural perspective. It is necessary to build a common terminology, so that you can analyse problems and create these KPIs. So how do we discuss the problem of building these KPIs so that we can then work on tweaking or adding or even removing certain things to get to where we want to go? The answer may be digital or sometimes it may have nothing to do with the digital or with technology. It has to do with people or processes or other things. Technology is not the purpose; it is the tool. But in terms of setting KPIs, you have to look at the problem itself. If we are talking about predictive maintenance, it comes back to reducing downtime and reducing major failures.