Digitisation in Manufacturing


In last 20 years majority of the large manufacturing organisation has adopted some sort of digitisation and accomplished large increase in productivity and simplification of business process. But India Growth story wont get impacted if the rest does not follow suit . The article below is some form of a key initiatives the manufacturing companies should take systematic way depending upon the budget available.

Improve Plant Networking & E- Connectivity

In my opinion this is the most critical and important steps which organisation must take. Whenever we approach any automation vendor and discuss any grand digitisation plant the able plant network becomes a bottleneck. Traditionally Plants are located in tier 3 cities where the infrastructure development has not happened as desired. and also even if it happens getting a stable internet connection of at atleast 10 MBPS is a distant dream. The Promoters should approach a renowned ISP and ensure that this is achieved first. I am aware even through RF or EVR now a days decent last mile connectivity can be provided.if the plant is close to any National Highway or State Highway many ISPs have laid Optical Fibre and that tapping can be made. All efforts needs to be taken for an underground connection and if that is not possible for some river or canal a structured limited slag overhead laying to be planned.

the next focus to be given to improve the plant local network connection . In Indian context we see lot of organic growth of business and that leads to very unstructured plant LAN layout and use of media converter and out dated switch /hub/firewall etc. These give rise to lot of night mare for IT operation and also is a serious deterrent to AV usage,VC usage and also machine to machine or machine to ERP connectivity. Thus approaching the problem with a reasonable manner is must

Employ a qualified person or contract a capable outsource team who will take care of Network Security. Network is a single point of vulnerable resource for cyber criminals and if not secured adequately will leave a scope to major attack.

Design the Automation Architecture

  • Every business typically has a plant or machine level layer which are deployed for ground level action ,some what a supervisory layer which ensures that these machines have coordinated effort and a ERP or business layer which handles Sales,Despatch,Finance,HR ,Quality management and Production process. Depending on the complexity of the business one has to decide if the Supervisory layer needs to be automated or left manual. But since every business is unique it is necessary that we carefully design the Automation Architecture as suitable .The main objective has to be seamless command transfer from Top floor to shop floor and similarly information gathering from shop floor to top floor. While the standard practice of deploying Manufacturing Execution System( MES),Process Automation ( Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition,PLC,DCS..) has been serving the purpose for majority of the organisation but the modules necessary for each layer has to be carefully crafted.
  • Gone are those days when the customers demand comes in repetitive manner. I remember in 90s when I was part of Steel Plant Supply chain we were always in a commanding mode and customers used to beg for material. then came a era when the standard products are being roled out and most of the supply chain used to drive MTS( Make to Stock model). But post 2004 these processes do not work and every manufacturing process to be aligned for a critical Engineered to Order process where Customer demands are always changing and changing very frequently. Unless the process are agile the business model can not survive. Pandemic has brought in more challenge where the new type of product,new variant of same product, finding alternate supplier, managing shop floor with fewer manpower etc are new challenges. To manage this situation, high level of process automation Smart Factory ,Smart machine etc has been a necessity. But these solutions are capital intensive and many business put off these costs as they are unsure of the ROI. Here the internal IT Team ,OT Team and Plant Business has to play a critical role .A collaborative approach for preparing a 10 years road map and accordingly taking a baby step is the need of the hour. 5 years before I used to see Command and Control centre being deployed only for very large organisation or Municipalities but today this is being thought in many places. Similarly the IIOT hitherto was limited to FMCG and Aviation is now a critical part of manufacturing. Given this situation my recommendation of following steps:
      • deploy PLC,SCADA as much possible
      • look for IOT hardware which can make your old machines smart
      • deploy a MES layer which can accept these IIOT data with less ease
      • Invest in a State of the art ERP and a PI system to connect to lower level automation
      • Invest in a meaningful BI technology
      • design Dashboard which are critical
      • adopt mobility using FIORI or equivalent solution
      • Data Analytics,Data Science route to find insights

Cloud or On Prem

this is another subject which needs to be considered with great care. While many cloud vendors promise moon reality far from truth . it is important to identify what is the growth of business,data and what can remain crucial for business for which dependency of Cloud vendor can be a challenge. Even some SAAS based solutions like SFDC,C4C etc provide lot of benefit for customer handling the core manufacturing process in my opinion better to be On Prem.

Also the design of cloud architecture needs to be done thinking the future changes scenario and also ability of organisation to the needs of being agile

there are many organisation which have already invested in on prem servers,HA,SAN,Storage and other network infrastructure. Moving to cloud needs a large chunk of rethinking on the investment ; on the contrary in a scenario where manpower becoming scare for pandemic managing a large data centre on prem has its own risk as well.

Cloud Security is another critical point. Although many cloud partner promises robust system but in reality they may host their solution on a shared tenant and our own VAPT,WAPT ,Audit scope may be missing. Hence the cloud consideration is next critical path to be thought off.

IT Security is Important

Last but not the least the organisation has to deploy a solid IT Security framework which should include policies and method of adhering to policies and monitor deployment. Although there are many ways we can start but each organisation has to start from the Organisation DNA and then plan the journey . Again thought has to be put in place for a well known quote that ” Cost of Accounting should not be more than Cost”. a few area which are important and needs to be worked on:

  • Classification of Data and identify the criticality of the information
  • Email Security
  • Network Security
  • End Point Security including mobile devices
  • dependable Data Base Security
  • identify the BYOD devices and the possible leak
  • Data Leak Protection
  • Background check of all employees and contractors
  • Security awareness for all ( the most problematic are top management if they are not aligned)
  • Audit of new software and also
  • OT Security to protect the plant infrastructure
  • Compliance and Risk of all Software

There is hardly any right or wrong approach in digital journey of a manufacturing organisation. But someday all of us have to embrace. It is important that all investors/promoters think in this direction and also take appropriate steps to ensure that the business remain viable. India can only progress if Manufacturing industry grow and therefore both IT Fraternity and also Business group have equal responsibility to take it forward.