Advanced technologies are essential for green manufacturing: Phanindra Karody

  • Interviews
  • Mar 01,24
In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Phanindra Karody, Head of Bangalore Plant, Continental Automotive India, highlights environmental challenges before the manufacturing sector and probable steps to achieve sustainability goals.
Advanced technologies are essential for green manufacturing: Phanindra Karody

With climate change gaining centre stage, corporates are setting targets to achieve carbon neutrality goals across various levels of the organisation as well as the value chain of their businesses. Sustainability has become one of the core elements of the business strategies across industries, says Phanindra Karody, Head of Bangalore Plant Continental Automotive India, who has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing industry. In this interview with Rakesh Rao, he highlights environmental challenges before the manufacturing sector and probable steps to achieve sustainability goals. 

Given the global turmoil, how was the performance of the Indian manufacturing sector (in general) and auto component industry specifically in 2023? What is your expectation for 2024? 
The automotive industry overall experienced a major setback in 2020 because of the pandemic and semiconductor shortage. This also had an impact on auto components and manufacturing sector. But the year 2023 saw a revival in the performance of the auto component industry. Despite the challenges, the manufacturing sector in India showed resilience, contributing to a successful year. 

The automotive component sector presents a significant potential for the nation, contributing approximately 50 per cent to the manufacturing GDP. In the fiscal year 2023, the Indian auto component industry achieved its highest-ever turnover, reaching Rs 5.60 lakh crore (USD 69.7 billion) and recording a remarkable growth of 32.8 per cent. 

Looking ahead to 2024, expectations remain optimistic for the Indian Automotive industry. The global manufacturing landscape is undergoing significant transformations with the advent of Industry 4.0, marked by the integration of advanced technologies such as AI, robotics, and automation. These innovations are expected to enhance operational efficiency that will further contribute to the positive trajectory of the global automotive industry in the coming year.

What changes are you witnessing in the auto and auto component manufacturing sector due to climate change gaining traction? What steps are being taken by your company to achieve the objectives of sustainability?
Sustainability has become one of the core elements of the business strategies across industries. This is especially true as corporates are setting targets to achieve sustainability goals not just at company levels but across various levels of the organisation as well as the value chain of their businesses. 

Continental too has a strong focus in this area. At Continental, we do not see sustainability as a “Feel good”, it is seen as a necessity for the future. We consider it important to factor-in sustainability at all levels of the production cycle, and the life cycle of our products as well. We are actively pursuing sustainability across various aspects of our business including the manufacturing process. 

Our factories are designed for sustainable production that emphasises the efficient use of energy and materials. Over 97 per cent of the power used at the Bangalore plant is derived from renewable sources, contributing to a reduced carbon footprint. Globally, the company is committed to achieving carbon-neutral in overall production by 2040 with a more ambitious goal of eliminating CO2 emissions throughout its entire value chain by 2050. Additionally, the plant was audited and received a gold certification in Green Plant Labeling. The Green Plant Label evaluates criteria such as energy efficiency, water consumption, emission control, waste and recycling management, and innovations in the research and development (R&D) space. We at Continental believe in ensuring that there are yearly benchmarks to achieve sustainability targets.

Across our plants, we re-use the packaging material and are scraping out one time use packaging material. This has helped us recycle about 3,000 kgs of product packaging at Manesar plant in 2020. The plant also recycled 100 per cent of the 102 tonnne of waste generated in the past years. In the Bangalore plant, Continental has saved close to over 1,468 trees till date by using recyclable bins instead of cardboard boxes.  

With the advent of smart manufacturing technologies, lesser time is taken to produce a product. Automation and digitization of manufacturing processes improves the efficiency of the workers. We have deployed COBOTs at our plants programmed to work along with humans. They take over repetitive tasks which allow the workers to focus on more productive aspects of the production chain. At present we are using 1,600 Cobots globally that are working hand-in-hand with their human colleagues.

Implementing industry 4.0 practices at our plants is helping us revolutionise the way we manufacture, improve, and distribute our products. Smart technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) can assist in remotely carrying out preventive maintenance and helping technicians carry out real-time repairs with remote guidance from experts. For example, a technician wearing AR glasses can stream, in real-time, what they see and hear to a subject matter expert watching on a computer screen from anywhere in the world. Leveraging AR technology, the Bengaluru plant has reduced production time by 25 per cent and managed to bring down the error rate to zero. This also eliminates the dependency of service technicians travelling to the location to fix a breakdown, thus, contribute to reduce carbon footprint. 

Using big data analytics in the manufacturing process can further help manufacturers predict maintenance needs, prevent downtime, and create a safer work environment. They can gain insights into their production processes, optimise their supply chain, reduce costs, and improve the quality of their products. 

Industry 4.0 has presented new opportunities to unlock process innovations to develop sustainable, environmental friendly materials, decarbonise energy, tap digital innovation, and extend the cycle of goods within a “zero waste to landfill” framework. 

Continental is also working towards creating a green and sustainable ecosystem, ensuring that suppliers align with environmentally responsible practices. Waste management is a key focus, with efforts to minimise waste generation and maximise recycling. Overall, sustainability is ingrained in Continental’s business strategy, reflecting a commitment to responsible and eco-friendly practices across all facets of its operations. 

Government regulations and consumer demand for environmentally conscious choices are further propelling these changes in the automotive industry. Automotive companies are now integrating sustainability into their core strategies which reflect a broader industry commitment to address these challenges. Overall, the automotive and auto component manufacturing sector is embracing a paradigm shift towards greener, more sustainable practices to align with global efforts in mitigating climate change. 

How is your company helping your customers (the auto makers) to achieve their Net Zero emission targets? 
Continental is actively supporting its customers, the auto makers, in achieving their Net Zero emission targets through a multi-faceted approach. For Example, Continental introduced the “Net|Zero|Now” program which propagates immediate action for climate change mitigation, reducing the global carbon footprint. The program aims to enable customers with ambitious sustainability goals to neutralize the remaining carbon backpack of their relevant business with Continental.  

Sustainability is the key driver in the company’s corporate strategy for innovation. Continental’s sustainability goals are divided into four categories namely, carbon neutrality across the entire value chain, emission-free mobility and industry, a circular economy, and responsible value chains. This is what the organisation aims to achieve by the year 2050.   

How critical will be “green engineering/manufacturing (sustainability)” practices for India to gain competitive advantage in the global marketplace? 
As the world focuses on environmental concerns and climate change, consumers, businesses, and governments are prioritizing sustainable practices. Embracing green engineering not only aligns with global sustainability goals but also enhances India's reputation as a responsible and forward-thinking manufacturing hub. 
 
For many years now, Continental India’s Bengaluru plant has been using energy-efficient procedures to increasingly optimize the manufacturing process. The plant not only uses a host of 500KW panels installed on the rooftop to aid the electricity needs but has also set up a 5MW solar plant that results in 94 per cent of energy consumption happening through renewable sources, the rest of which is provided by the State Government. 

Continental is looking to achieve carbon neutrality through its manufacturing processes by 2040 and extend this to its entire value chain by 2050. With a firm eye on this target, processes across the organisation are swiftly implementing more sustainable practices.    

Integrating green engineering and manufacturing practices is not only critical for addressing environmental challenges but it also provides India with a strategic advantage in the increasingly competitive global marketplace. It aligns with global trends, satisfies consumer preferences, ensures regulatory compliance, and enhances efficiency, ultimately contributing to a more sustainable and competitive future for Indian industries.

Why is it necessary for Indian manufacturers to adopt modern technologies & automation for improving competitiveness and “green manufacturing”? 
Adopting modern technologies is essential for improving competitiveness and achieving "green manufacturing" goals. Incorporating these advanced technologies enhances efficiency, precision, and speed in production processes, enabling manufacturers to stay competitive in the global marketplace. Automation reduces manual labour, minimises errors and increases overall productivity, which is crucial for meeting the demands of modern supply chains. 

Moreover, these technologies contribute significantly to "green manufacturing" by optimizing resource utilisation, minimising waste, and reducing environmental impact. Automation allows for precise control over energy consumption, leading to more sustainable operations. Digitalization allows real-time monitoring and data analytics, enabling manufacturers to identify areas for improvement in energy efficiency and waste reduction. 

Utilising robots, AI, and 3D printing in manufacturing processes promotes sustainability by enabling the production of lighter and more energy-efficient components. This, in turn, aligns with global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. 

These modern technologies have been deployed at our plants as well. At the Bangalore plant, COBOTs are deployed to carry out risky activities such as handling sharp, pointed or hot workpieces or dangerous screwing. These cobots work side by side with humans and take over repetitive tasks which allow the workers to focus on more productive aspects of the production chain. 

The adoption of modern technologies and automation acts as a dual strategy for Indian manufacturers – it enhances competitiveness by improving efficiency and productivity while simultaneously supporting "green manufacturing" practices, aligning with the global shift towards sustainability in the manufacturing sector. 
 
How do you plan to scale up your business “sustainably”? What kind of growth opportunities are you looking to tap in the coming years? 
Consumers are becoming more aware and conscious, and they expect businesses to adopt sustainable manufacturing practices. Creating awareness and imparting knowledge on sustainability at the grassroots level can help new-age manufacturing companies to meet these changing consumer demands and stay competitive in the market. 

Continental looks at sustainability from an all-encompassing perspective, including respecting the law, conserving resources, climate protection, fulfilling responsibilities towards employees and the wider society. 

For example, since 2020, we have been purchasing green electricity for all plants globally. Further, we rely on self-generated energy, specially designed green power purchase agreements, and energy attribute certificates (EACs). These certify from which sources and from which locations the green electricity originates. Coming closer to home - In India, we have adopted various measures to take us closer to our goals. 97 per cent of the energy used in Bengaluru plant is from renewable sources.   

Continental is also taking decisive steps to increase workforce diversity. After all, a sustainable society has equal representation from all ethnicities, gender, and demographics. For many sectors, workforce diversity might not seem like a challenging goal. But manufacturing in India has typically had fewer women. This is one of our core commitments, and we have achieved this over the last few years in some parts. We also strive to hire all our workers, especially on the shop floor, from local communities. While we provide them with standard facilities like canteen, recreation, transport, there are also skill development programs that enable them to upskill and look at better opportunities. We are also ensuring more women representation at all levels of hierarchy. 

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