Shopfloors are becoming more agile, efficient, and competitive

  • Interviews
  • Oct 31,23
In this interaction with Rakesh Rao, Shubhankar Chatterji and Manish Jha of Cummins India highlight how automation and digital solutions are elevating efficiency and productivity in the manufacturing industry.
Shopfloors are becoming more agile, efficient, and competitive

Shopfloors are undergoing a significant transformation to cope with the requirements of globalisation, shorter product life cycles, changes in market, demand, and rapid technology advancements. In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Shubhankar Chatterji, Chief Supply Chain Officer, and Manish K Jha, Director - Engine Business, Operations and Supply Chain, of Cummins India, highlight how automation and digital solutions are elevating efficiency and productivity in the manufacturing industry. 

How is the dynamics of the manufacturing sector changing with the arrival of automation, robots/cobots, AI, ML, IoT, data analytics, digital twins, etc?
Shubhankar Chatterji: The adoption of automation, robots, collaborative robots (cobots), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, and digital twins has brought a transformative wave in manufacturing. Cummins India serves as a shining example of how these innovations have redefined our manufacturing prowess.
Automation has brought a profound shift, substantially elevating efficiency and productivity by substituting human labor for repetitive tasks. This transition has resulted in consistent quality, higher output, and reduced labor costs. Ubiquitous automation at Cummins India has not only increased operational efficiency but has also improved product quality and enhanced delivery performance. This shift harmonizes perfectly with our core values of Diversity and Inclusion, rendering most of our manufacturing lines gender-neutral.
Robots and cobots have assumed a central role in the metamorphosis of manufacturing operations, emerging as indispensable partners for human workers. Cummins India has recently implemented versatile cobots to handle repetitive and hazardous tasks, resulting in remarkable improvements in shop floor safety and overall operational efficiency. Additionally, our ongoing deployment of Intelligent Mobile Robots (IMRs) is poised to enhance autonomy in material delivery on the shop floor.
Beyond automation, AI and ML algorithms process copious data to uncover patterns and trends, enabling predictive maintenance, quality improvement, demand forecasting, and streamlined processes. Simultaneously, IoT captures and analyzes data in real time, ensuring seamless operations and early identification of quality issues and potential failures. At Cummins India, we leverage ML to analyze data from IoT, proactively detecting machine health, quality, and operational concerns. Further, our expedited IoT deployment ensures real-time monitoring of facilities, machinery, and product traceability, collectively strengthening our processes and resource optimisation, to amplify productivity and efficiency.
Digital twins, which replicate physical systems digitally, have facilitated simulations, bottleneck identification, workflow optimisation, and overall efficiency enhancement. Cummins India's journey into extensive automation, Manufacturing Execution System (MES), advanced data analytics, and predictive maintenance platforms underlines our commitment to managing complexity at the lowest possible cost while ensuring product quality. We are also investing in upskilling our workforce to effectively operate and maintain these advanced technologies, which is crucial for seamless integration into our manufacturing and supply chain processes.

What kinds of transformation have you been seeing on the shopfloor – i.e., hardware as well as software - in recent years?
Manish Jha: Shopfloors are undergoing a significant transformation to cope with the requirements of globalisation, shorter product life cycles, changes in market, demand, and rapid technology advancements. We are witnessing manufacturing companies transitioning from dedicated manufacturing systems to flexible and reconfigurable systems to reduce the lead time between different products. The goal is to connect humans and machines (smart systems) to achieve flawless flexibility and agility at the lowest possible cost. This involves the adoption of both hardware and software technologies including integration of IoT devices, RFID systems, and smart sensors on machinery that allow real-time data collection; along with sophisticated Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software enabling seamless communication, data acquisition and analysis across the manufacturing process. With these integrations, shopfloors are becoming more agile, responsive, efficient, and competitive in domestic as well as global markets.

Can digitalization and automation help companies to achieve their sustainability goals faster and more efficiently?
Shubhankar Chatterji: The strategic adoption of digitalization and automation has become indispensable for companies seeking to excel in their sustainability endeavors. By leveraging state-of-the-art technologies such as Energy Management Systems, Building Management Systems, IoT devices, and data analytics, organizations can not only enhance their operational efficiency and competitive edge but also make substantial strides in minimizing their environmental footprint.
Energy efficiency is at the heart of sustainability. By embracing digitalization and automation, organizations can adopt a comprehensive approach to energy management. Real-time monitoring and control of energy consumption become feasible through intelligent sensors, IoT devices, and data analytics, facilitating resource optimisation. Resource optimisation is another crucial aspect of sustainable practices. Automation in supply chain management can significantly enhance resource management by increasing fuel efficiency, reducing waste, and improving logistics. Companies that leverage automation in their operations can make more informed decisions to optimise their use of resources, thus contributing to their sustainability goals. A pivotal facet of the sustainability journey is waste reduction. By streamlining manufacturing processes and day-to-day operations through technologies like automation, sensors, and predictive maintenance, companies can optimise resource use and minimise industrial waste. 
With a legacy spanning over six decades in India and guided by a global PLANET 2050 environmental sustainability strategy, Cummins exemplifies the power of digitalization and automation in sustainability. In line with our sustainability goals, we are actively working to centralize data collection on energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage, instilling a data-driven ethos. This enables us to meticulously monitor pivotal sustainability metrics and set annual goals, ensuring continuous progress toward our environmental objectives. We have also wholeheartedly embraced supply chain automation processes to amplify fuel efficiency and optimise resource management, reaffirming our commitment to becoming a resilient sustainability partner within the ecosystem.

High upfront cost is a big put-off for companies (especially small and medium enterprises) who intend to adopt automated/digital solutions. Are there low-cost entry routes into digitalization/automation?
Manish Jha: Economies of scale play a key role in this case. With the widespread adoption and the pace of digitalization across the country, several technologies like GPS, camera tracking systems, RFIDs, etc. are available at reasonable costs today. This can enable entry-level players to invest and adopt automated and digital solutions. Further, the scalability of these solutions by the technology providers is going to be a game-changer. There are several low-cost entry routes into digitalization and automation, particularly designed to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) adopt advanced technologies without a prohibitive upfront investment. There is ample open-source automation software and hardware available. Effective strategies and approaches can make the transition to digitalization and automation more affordable for SMEs. A suggested approach is to analyze existing processes to identify inefficiencies. Often, optimising processes without major investments in new technology can significantly enhance productivity and cut costs. Here are a few recommendations:
‘Start Small’ begins by automating specific processes that yield high-efficiency gains or have a direct impact on product quality.
Deploy cobots, which are designed to work alongside humans. These are easy to program, and generally have a lower upfront cost compared to traditional industrial robots. 
Explore local and national programs that provide financial assistance for technology adoption. Collaborate with universities, research institutions, and institutes like CII to access expertise and resources, often at reduced costs or through government-funded initiatives. 
Through focused efforts in the area of adopting effective strategies and exploring available resources, SMEs can find cost-effective ways to embrace digitalization and automation, improving their competitiveness and long-term sustainability in the market. Investing in training and upskilling existing employees is also crucial. A knowledgeable workforce can optimise existing technologies better, ensuring that the SME is making the most out of its current resources.

What are the emerging trends in the manufacturing sector with respect to technologies and digital manufacturing?
Shubhankar Chatterji: Within the evolving manufacturing sector, shaped by a dynamic business landscape, several pivotal trends are emerging. Notably, AI and ML algorithms find increasing application in predictive maintenance, quality control, demand forecasting, supply chain optimisation, and process automation. Furthermore, there is a growing reliance on IoT devices and sensors for real-time data collection from machinery and equipment, aiding predictive maintenance, process optimisation, and remote monitoring. The integration of IoT into manufacturing processes is facilitating smarter decision-making, while the increasing prevalence of digital twins, used for simulations, testing, and predictive analysis, is of particular significance. Edge computing is employed to minimize latency and enable real-time data analysis. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies are leveraged to enhance training, maintenance, and assembly process design. The integration of blockchain technology enhances supply chain transparency, traceability, and product authenticity, while additive manufacturing (3D printing) is embraced for rapid prototyping and customisation. These trends collectively drive efficiency, innovation, and competitiveness in manufacturing, offering companies the chance to excel in this evolving landscape.

With companies (i.e., your customers) looking to make their facilities Industry 4.0 compliant, how is your company supporting them in their efforts?
Manish Jha: As our customers enthusiastically embrace Industry 4.0 and connected factory initiatives, we have endeavored to support this transition and upgrade our systems, and processes to meet their requirements. As a provider of automotive engines, we have incorporated telematics to offer connectivity and predictive maintenance, empowering end-users to minimize costs and reduce breakdowns. We have aligned our daily scheduling with our customers' operational sequences, driving us to elevate our manufacturing quality standards. This shift has significantly curtailed in-house defects and inventory levels throughout our supply chain. Extensive automation in demand management has further refined our order commitments, considerably reducing inventory across the supply chain, and streamlining throughput timelines. This ensures timely availability of finished goods in the market, prompting our transition from a "Make to Stock" approach to "Assemble to Order" or "Make to Order,” while maintaining the same lead time for order commitments. This shift has also resulted in reduced cycle time for product development and introduction.

Why adoption of digital manufacturing will be crucial for India to become a $1 trillion manufacturing economy?
Shubhankar Chatterji: As we witness the Indian economy growing, it will be considerably driven by the growth of the manufacturing sector. The digitalization of Indian shopfloors and related operations will be a linchpin in India's pursuit of a $1 trillion manufacturing economy. Digital manufacturing technologies, including predictive maintenance to reduce downtime and repair costs, data analytics for leaner supply chains, and advanced AI for proactive quality control, not only empower environmentally sustainable production processes but also introduce unprecedented flexibility for customization based on customer demands. This digital transformation acts as a catalyst for innovation, fostering experimentation with new products and services, supported by state-of-the-art technologies like 3D printing and rapid prototyping. By enabling efficient, high-quality production processes, digital manufacturing elevates the competitiveness of Indian products in the global arena. However, the success of this digital transformation hinges on a skilled workforce. Industry 4.0-focused training programs and educational initiatives empower the workforce, making them more productive contributors to the economy.
At Cummins, we are preparing to embrace this future growth and meet the ensuing demand with a strategic approach that optimises asset utilization and enhances capacity without significant capital investments.

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