Automation is key to mitigate risks and raise productivity: Rajat Kishore

In this interaction with Rakesh Rao, Rajat Kishore, MD & VP Process Automation India Hub, Schneider Electric, explains the importance of automation for the Indian process industry and the effect of COVID 19 pandemic on the production processes in the near future.
Automation is key to mitigate risks and raise productivity: Rajat Kishore
As part of Make in India initiative, the country is aiming to increase contribution of manufacturing to the GDP from the present 16-17 per cent to 25 per cent by 2025. For this, India will have to bridge the technological gap that exists between itself and other competing countries. Many Indian companies are looking to adopt automation and digitalisation to improve their competitiveness globally, and COVID 19 is likely to fasten this process. COVID 19 pandemic has made these companies realise that digitisation not only helps in improving productivity but also keeping business continuity plans on track, says Rajat Kishore, Managing Director & Vice President Process Automation India Hub, Schneider Electric. Rajat Kishore joined Schneider Electric in 2012 as the Country Managing Director and oversees the business in India providing in-country leadership encompassing sales, marketing and communications, delivery, projects, and services.

In this interaction with Rakesh Rao, Rajat Kishore explains the importance of automation for the Indian process industry and the effect of COVID 19 pandemic on the production processes in the near future. 

How is Schneider Electric's Process Automation division helping Indian industries? Which industrial sectors are your key customers? 
India - a unique and diverse market - is ambitious to become a global manufacturing hub. As a result, there is a lot of focus on industrial assets to improve productivity; thus, needing up-gradation with the adoption of better technology. So, the country is focusing on the competitiveness of its industry and industrial processes and consistency in quality (which has typically been a bane of our industry). Industries will have to step up their game in the adoption of automation to achieve these objectives. 

At Schneider Electric we do just that. We provide customers with solutions to increase their rate of production, improve productivity, enhance efficiency in using materials, superior product quality, utmost safety, reduce factory lead time, etc. All these aspects are critical in many ways. They not only improve industry’s competitiveness & product quality but also help in creating high-quality jobs.

We provide remote digital connectivity for contact-free support to the customers. In the current pandemic situation, this is very critical for companies, especially in essential services sectors.

Oil & gas; metal, mining & minerals; water and wastewater; consumer packaged goods (CPG), and power utilities are our core customers. We also support sectors like Smart Cities, Life sciences & pharma, healthcare, etc.

What is driving the demand of EcoStruxure platform from process industry in India?
EcoStruxure is Schneider Electric’s open, interoperable system architecture and platform that uses the latest technologies to improve connectivity and bring about smarter process control. Its vast data analytics engine helps in converting information into insight for an enterprise. EcoStruxure is a 3-tier IoT (Internet of Things) based architecture with a layer of cybersecurity, so crucial in today’s time. This is precisely the kind of architecture needed for process industries to meet its core needs as it not only improves process efficiency but also enhances the safety and security of the process. EcoStruxure also helps in increasing the productivity and quality of the output and better management of assets. It provides knowledge-based guidance to operators and the plant and acts as a training tool to upskill plant operators. 

These are the reasons why the response to EcoStruxure is good, and adoption of the platform has been steadily growing in the process industry in India.

What are the key challenges before the process industries today?
For India to become a global manufacturing hub, industries must improve their competitiveness, for which it is imperative for them to produce low-cost, high-quality products. Indian manufacturers can offer low-cost products, and yet ensure consistency in quality. Hence, it becomes a key challenge. 

It is imperative for decision-makers to have accurate data to improve production in a process by ensuring process optimisation and for better production planning to meet the fluctuating customer demand - especially during today’s uncertain market conditions. In the connected world of today, security and safety of the plant and assets, and data are incredibly critical. 

With so many technological advancements happening around them, customers are not always clear about what is best for them. Hence, the agility of the enterprise to adopt new technologies is also a must in the challenging market condition. 

Plant safety is of utmost important for process industries (especially petrochemicals, oil & gas, etc). How can process automation enhance the safety of the production plants?
Safety and security are critical aspects of the overall process and, hence, must be a vital part of process automation adopted by the industry. It is not just about accident prevention and cybersecurity risk mitigation, but it is directly linked to the profitability of the operations. Automation is key to mitigate these risks and improve productivity.

In case of anomalous behaviour at the production site, process automation system (with proper safety measures) can give early warning to the plant operators and give them sufficient time to take steps to prevent the accident.

Implementation of adequate process safety requires a deep understanding of the process and domain expertise. This is typically provided by process automation.

What effect is digitalisation having on process industries? How are Indian process industries gearing up for Industry 4.0? 
Digitalisation is a natural evolution of automation. Digitalisation is helping unlock the real value of manufacturing assets in the process industry by integrating IT (information technology) layer with OT (operating technology) layer - these 2 layers earlier used to be separate and independent of each other. This enables efficient data governance, information security and ease of use; thus, ensuring better efficiency and optimisation of the process. 

Typically, because of digitalisation, Cloud-hosted services like SaaS (Software as a Service), IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), etc. are becoming very popular. By leveraging digital technologies, companies can provide end-to-end services. In the process industry, they are also used in plant design and simulation right up to the Digital Twin - a simulation process in the cyber-physical term. This is precisely the concept of Industry 4.0, which is basically about making your shopfloor smart, boosting productivity and saving cost.

Indian manufacturers have been known to be a laggard when it comes to adopting new technologies. Fortunately, India today is implementing significant reforms in the manufacturing industry and is poised to become the third-largest economy in the world by 2030. Industry 4.0 will provide India with an opportunity to bridge the technological gap that exists between itself and other competing countries.

How are we doing it? Through Make in India, the country aims to increase the contribution of manufacturing to the GDP from the present 16-17 per cent to 25 per cent by 2025. For this, the government has launched many schemes. One of them is SAMARTH (Smart Advanced Manufacturing and Rapid Transformation Hub) scheme for the capital goods sector. Individual segments are adopting their strategies. For example, CPG segment is adopting track and trace technologies of the products from shopfloor to market and deploying cobots (collaborative robots). Sectors like power utilities, automakers, etc. are using Augmented Reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

All these latest technologies are used in the country. What is needed is the shift in the mindset from the traditional approach of pumping more capital expenditure to boosting existing asset base by using smarter, IIoT based technologies. This is Industry 4.0, which is the next-gen industrialisation. 

Will COVID 19 pandemic lead to a rise in demand for automation?
Every dark cloud has a silver lining. In India, companies in consumer-packaged goods segment (which includes food & beverages also) have been reticent in adopting automation. COVID 19 pandemic has made these companies realise that digitisation not only helps in improving productivity but also keeping business continuity plans on track. Those plants which had remote connectivity, or which quickly adopt remote connection, did not take a hit as they were up & running faster compared to plants that were dependent on the traditional production process. This is a permanent change.

So, the new normal has accelerated the mindset of people towards digitisation.

For the moment, the realisation is more than the demand. Demand for digital services within the automation space is still more than the traditional requirements. This is only for the short-term. In the long-term, as we come out of this pandemic, the demand for automation will accelerate more than before.  
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