Factories of the Future: Towards Mass Customization

Gowthaman S, Head - Digital Solutions, Tech Mahindra | Thursday, 16 November 2017, 07:03 IST

According to the PWC Strategy & India Manufacturing Report, India is poised to become the fifth largest manufacturer in the world by the end of 2020. There are ambitious targets to increase the contribution of manufacturing output to 25% of GDP by 2025, from 16% currently.

However, manufacturing productivity in India is still low, compared to global manufacturing standards, particularly in brownfield operations. There is substantial scope for improving asset and labor productivity with technology and automation. This is where “Industry 4.0” or “Factories of the Future” can be an important technology and paradigm change for Indian manufacturers.

The Future of Manufacturing

Manufacturing is switching from a focus on mass production to one of mass customization. Industry 4.0 is instrumental in this change, through a convergence of Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT). Industry 4.0 uses streaming machine and asset data from the shop floor to enable integrated horizontal and vertical value chains. Smart, flexible supply chains, factories, and distribution models are essential if Indian manufacturing is to bridge the productivity gulf.

Indian manufacturers are already realizing the importance of making quicker, smarter decisions, to minimize costs in their operations. They are partnering with technology services providers to develop frugal, new Industrial IoT (IIoT) and digital solutions that address critical challenges, such as visibility into end-to-end supply chains, production bottlenecks, high inventory costs, and labor efficiency.

In our view, there are five critical technology building blocks for achieving the Industry 4.0 or Factories of the Future (FoF) vision of mass customization: Value Stream  Visualization, Plant Connectivity, Asset Life Cycle Analytics, Virtual Simulation, and Enterprise Applications Integration.

Technology Pillars

At the heart of FoF is the plant floor control architecture. Plant Connectivity is a primary requirement for existing operations to adopt Industry 4.0, encompassing networks, connectivity, and security. The existing plant floor control network architecture must be fortified with a comprehensive security framework that goes beyond perimeter security. Purpose-built frugal sensor and connectivity gateways can considerably reduce the cost of establishing a scalable, robust Plant Connectivity solution for units in India.

A major bottleneck in manufacturing productivity is technology familiarity in Indian manufacturing. Equipping operators and technicians with the right visualizations is critical to identify and respond to parameters that affect operations. Customizable Value Stream Visualization solutions that translate asset level data to insight can provide factory and plant level visibility to operators and leadership. In India, visualizations and dashboards must accommodate the diversity of knowledge, languages, and culture among operators and technicians who will benefit from them.

Asset Life Cycle Analytics solutions such as Condition Monitoring improve machine availability and streamline downtime planning. Smart machines and assets become a source of streaming data for parameters such as temperature, vibration, noise, optics, etc. Proven Artificial Intelligence and Analytics algorithms use the data to ‘understand’ real-time condition and predict failure. This is especially important in India, where unplanned downtime has a great impact on productivity and revenue.

Virtual Simulations help manufacturers test and validate before actual implementations. Factory layout simulations simplify the adoption of new processes in manufacturing. While adoption rates for simulation solutions are very low (~15%) currently, there is immense scope for value generation that Indian manufacturers must not ignore.

The last link in the FoF chain is Enterprise Applications Integration. Integrating enterprise systems like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), PLM, CRM, and supply chain with real-time sensors and connected machines will enable mass customization and readjusting of production planning in line with demand variations. It will also allow switching from push production – make and build up inventory – to pull-production – make to order. A lot of Indian manufacturing runs on legacy applications. Having the right connectors, APIs, and migration plans is essential to ensure manufacturers realize the benefits of a flexible, adaptable, and ready-to-use mass customized production system.

Getting There

There is significant value waiting to be unlocked in Indian manufacturing, in improving capacity utilization, enhancing productivity, reducing cost across the board (quality, warranty, inventory), and achieving mass customization. Frugal solutions that are purpose-built for the Indian market can go a long way in unlocking the value.

Needless to say, Indian manufacturers have many challenges in their current production systems and culture. Services and solution providers must address this. A successful roadmap for transforming manufacturing units into future ready factories will depend on comprehensive assessments that encompass the training and skilling of manpower, planning for legacy applications, accounting for plants with no/low connectivity, existing capacity, linguistic diversity, and more.

In the near term, services and solution providers must ensure that new production technologies work alongside traditional ones, complementing and improving them. Over time, the FoF roadmap can incorporate the more disruptive technologies that enable mass customization. In the meanwhile, prioritizing the solutions that deliver immediate and tangible benefits with validated business cases will help kick start the transformation towards Industry 4.0.