Automation should be tailored to businesses' unique needs

  • Interviews
  • Nov 03,23
In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Zurvan Marolia, Sr VP & Head - Manufacturing Council, Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co Ltd, eloquently explains steps to be taken by companies to maximise their return on investments (RoIs) while adopting automation
Automation should be tailored to businesses' unique needs

Understanding the customer's specific needs is paramount in any industry and, based on customer demands, each manufacturing unit has unique priorities. Therefore, Zurvan Marolia, Sr VP & Head - Manufacturing Council, Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co Ltd, says, businesses must carefully select automation strategies that align with their core priorities and customer requirements. In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Zurvan Marolia eloquently explains steps to be taken by companies to maximise their return on investments (RoIs) while adopting automation.

How is the manufacturing industry evolving due to advancements in technologies such as automation, robotics, cobots, AI, etc?
Understanding the need for automation is crucial; it's not just a trend but a strategic decision. Choosing the right automation is essential, given the multitude of options available. There are three main reasons why businesses opt for automation. 

First, it enhances consistency, repeatability, and reduces fatigue, ensuring uniformity in processes. Second, it provides predictability and traceability, enabling better control and monitoring. Lastly, automation aids in cost optimisation, making operations more competitive by streamlining processes and reducing lead times.

Customer-centricity is vital in any business endeavour. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated automation efforts due to social distancing requirements, prompting a re-evaluation of processes. Automation addressed customer demands for quick deliveries and competitive pricing. It eliminated unnecessary costs, improved quality consistency, reduced rejections, and minimised buffer stock requirements. 

Moreover, automation facilitated supply chain efficiency, offering customers visibility from order placement to delivery, particularly for institutional clients. Automation also tackled challenges such as the scarcity of skilled labour, especially in remote areas, through robotic solutions, ensuring consistent quality.
However, it's crucial to note that automation should be tailored to each business' unique requirements. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work; an appropriate, scalable operation is a key to successful automation implementation.

How is Godrej & Boyce utilising digital manufacturing tools, particularly, to develop a robust supplier ecosystem?
Several years before the widespread adoption of Industry 4.0, we initiated a movement called 'Beyond Sourcing' approximately 14 years ago. This approach involved collaborating with our suppliers beyond mere transactions, focusing on their development. We implemented a cluster approach, receiving guidance from CII, and formed groups of non-competing suppliers. These groups underwent a series of steps; establishing basic processes and systems, followed by product management encompassing quality, maintenance, productivity, and safety. The third step focused on green and sustainable practices, resulting in a significant reduction in energy consumption. The final phase involved certification for business excellence at the SME level, with participants achieving platinum, gold, or silver status.

This initiative led to the creation of a cohesive supplier group with streamlined systems. We can now use advanced shipping notes with QR codes, simplifying material processing. Quality-precertified items are directly stocked, while non-precertified ones undergo inspection before acceptance or return.

Maintaining an updated inventory is crucial, and this approach has helped us achieve that. Continuous supplier development remains pivotal. Regular evaluations, facilitated by our “Beyond Sourcing” rating system, ensure on-going progress. Suppliers are incentivised based on their rating level, with benefits and business share allocated accordingly. This system has enabled us to create a comprehensive and efficient ecosystem.

How can small SMEs harness the benefits of automation without facing excessive upfront expenses? Are there cost-effective methods to achieve this goal?
The role of OEMs is pivotal in this context. We provide necessary guidance and assistance. We offer training in such technologies, enabling SMEs to operate autonomously. We encourage them to hire technical experts whom we then educate, forming part of our evaluation process. Simultaneously, we exhibit our own automation endeavours, not for replication, but to spark creative ideas.

During these interactions, we showcase the effectiveness of these technologies. SMEs have adopted these methods in managing their raw materials, considering their position within a broader supply chain. This approach forms a comprehensive network, underscoring the interconnectedness of all stakeholders involved.

What steps would you recommend for a company aiming to embrace automation with a customer-centric approach?
Understanding your customer's specific needs is paramount in any industry or market. In project-based businesses, accurately capturing and delivering the customer's requirements without distortion is crucial. Automation, in this context, involves efficiently scheduling production to minimise waiting time and setup costs. For instance, in a project business, optimising processes around minimising colour changes in the paint shop proved effective, streamlining the entire production flow.

In contrast, industries dealing with high-precision materials like aerospace prioritise meticulous data tracking. Maintaining records of raw material batches, processing details, operators, machines, and parameters used are vital. This data ensures achieving micron-level precision and facilitates thorough inspection.

Each manufacturing unit has unique priorities based on customer demands. For fast-moving consumer goods, ensuring timely stock availability where customers need it is key. Automation solutions must align with these specific needs. Investing in non-priority areas can lead to delayed returns, especially considering global market uncertainties and unforeseen challenges. Therefore, businesses must carefully select automation strategies that align with their core priorities and customer requirements.

What types of new technologies would a company be interested in to address external challenges to some extent?
Firstly, it's essential to identify potential risks and develop a mitigation strategy. When it comes to supply chains, building robustness is the key. Instead of relying on a single country, diversification across regions and exploring domestic sources can help mitigate risks. Preparedness is crucial, especially for unforeseen events like pandemics. This involves analysing the probability and severity of each risk and creating mitigation plans in advance.

Currently, global events such as wars impact various industries, like petrochemicals, affecting products such as oil, chemicals, paints, and foam used in refrigerators and furniture. While it's impossible to prepare for every scenario, understanding likely risks and devising mitigation plans, including exploring alternatives, is important.

What are your thoughts on the evolving technologies in digital manufacturing? Do you anticipate any specific technologies gaining traction in India over the next few years?
The manufacturing landscape is rapidly shifting towards highly automated facilities, often referred to as ‘Lighthouse Factories’. In these advanced setups, interconnected systems make decisions based on algorithms and possess self-correction and self-diagnosis capabilities. Although this concept may seem extreme, it's inevitable that our technology will move in this direction, even if the transition takes longer than we anticipate.

Another intriguing development is post-production product monitoring. For instance, our material handling team utilises a fleet management system. After products are deployed, this system informs customers about maintenance needs, such as low oil levels, to prevent breakdowns. Moreover, this data is analysed to improve future product designs. 

Consider the emergence of smart furniture. Soon, we might have chairs equipped with sensors that vibrate to remind users to stand up periodically, addressing health concerns related to prolonged sitting. Currently, devices like the Apple Watch perform similar functions, but the integration of such features into furniture can come. These innovations will become more prevalent as electronic components become more affordable.

The key to this transformation lies in enhanced visibility and smarter products. Anticipating consumer needs and delivering timely solutions will become the norm. This approach will significantly reduce development and production timelines, making processes more efficient and competitive.

(With inputs from Divya Shetty)

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