“Skill development becomes paramount to drive growth”

“Skill development becomes paramount to drive growth”
Indian manufacturing and logistics companies need to drive productivity in their supply chains through mechanisation, and material handling equipment are the key in ensuring seamless operations for improving efficiency at warehouses. Over the years, material handling activities have undergone a sea change. Sophistication of material handling equipment (MHE) is rising, which means skills of the operators and maintenance personal also need to improve to fully take advantage of such MHE. With the rapidly changing scenario of technology and the increase in the complexities of using fork trucks, operators would need to upskill and re-train where necessary, stresses Anil Lingayat, Executive Vice President & Business Head at Godrej Material Handling. In this interaction with Rakesh Rao, Anil Lingayat tracks changes in MHE space and explains why skill training is important for India to be competitive. 
 
Has the recent slowdown in GDP growth affected the MHE sector? And with the new government in place do you see demand for MHE improving in 2019-20?
We did see a slowdown in the last quarter of 2018-19 and the market remains soft. However, with the new government in place and with programs to drive industrial and infrastructure growth we should see an uptake in the latter half of this year. 
 
Why skill development is important for Indian manufacturing industry in general, and material handling equipment (MHE) in particular?
The growth of the Indian economy is being driven by consumption as well as the opportunity to use India as a manufacturing base for engineering goods. As India gets more integrated into global supply chains and strives to create operational efficiencies to stay competitive, skill development at all levels becomes paramount to drive and capitalise on this growth opportunity. 
 
While manufacturing and logistics continue to grow, there are challenges in the area of availability of land and menial labour. These challenges drive the need to utilise vertical spaces and adoption of mechanisation of handling activities. Over the last 15 years, we have seen a huge shift in the way material handling equipment has been used. Businesses today are more open to using specific kinds of equipment to meet specific handling needs as opposed to the earlier way of using general purpose forklifts to do almost all their handling work. The sophistication of material handling equipment is also rising which means that those who operate and maintain this kind of equipment too, need a level of skill to fully utilise its offerings.
 
Is upskilling needed for training people to use MHE as well as to undertake maintenance work? 
Yes, this is quite necessary. The last 10 years or so have seen battery operated electric fork trucks move from a 25 per cent market share to over 50 per cent in India. We have also seen a far greater use of specialised trucks such as reach trucks, order pickers, stock pickers, etc. These are not only high on investment but also require a certain degree of skill to operate and maintain. 
 
With battery technology also undergoing an upgrade from lead acid to Li-ion and more advanced technologies, there is a need for imparting training for servicing and maintaining the battery. Machines too are getting integrated into factory and warehouse management systems and need to communicate with these systems. Throughputs are also much higher with equipment that operate at higher speeds and need to be safety compliant. With the rapidly changing scenario of technology and the increase in the complexities of using fork trucks, operators would need to upskill and re-train where necessary. 
 
How is Godrej Material Handling supporting the government’s Skill India program?
Since 2013, we have been actively participating and contributing towards the training of unemployed and underserved youth to enable them to operate forklift trucks. What began as a small program has grown substantially over the last six years. Today, we train close to 500 young people each year and help them get employed. We have training centres at our Mumbai and Chennai campuses and are also working with partners in Bhubaneswar and Pune. We are also starting a new center in Bengaluru with Gram Tarang. Our training program has been developed with NSDC and the CII Logistics Sector Skill Council. To improve gender diversity, we have also started training programs especially designed for women. 
 
How is the rise in automation leading to changes in MHE industry? Is this also leading to training requirement?
The MHE industry is adapting quickly to automation; from simple warehouse communication systems placed on forklift trucks to embedded sensors and electronics that communicate with service centres via the internet and a SIM card, and even driverless, autonomous fork trucks. This is a whole new paradigm in which not only forklift manufacturers but also the entire supply chain, service networks, equipment users and maintenance teams need to be re-trained. It’s a massive shift – one that may occur more slowly now in India but will surely pick up pace as the cost or components and availability of this technology percolates more and more. It is an ecosystem change. 
 
What are the challenges before MHE makers in India?
Indian manufacturing and logistics companies need to drive productivity in their supply chains through mechanisation. Low level of palletisation and non-standardisation adds to the problem. For an economy and nation of our size, MHE utilisation is way too low as compared to global standards. The market is also considerably small and is growing slowly.
 
What are the latest trends in Material Handling Equipment? How is your company adapting to these changes? 
The first trend is the move towards battery operated fork trucks and then the emergence of new battery technologies. Godrej has been leading in both. We listened to our customers and have developed electric forklifts that can work outdoors even in heavy rains. The second trend is towards more productive and safer equipment and Godrej has always focused its energies there. Our new models are much faster, move 10-20 per cent more goods per hour and have been fitted with a lot of safety features. Proximity warning lights, electrically connected seats, auto slowing around corners, etc are just some of the added safety features. 
 
The third trend is towards IoT and automation and we have developed an indigenous IoT system for our forklifts which is under field trials at the moment. The fourth trend is digitisation. The next generation of managers and forklift operators are more comfortable working with digital manuals, digital training programs and communication platforms and the like.  
 
What are your growth plans for the company? 
Having a steady stream of new products and technologies to introduce to the market is one of the things that has kept us ahead. While products are important, so is service. We have developed a range of service offerings ranging from simple annual service contracts to complete operations and maintenance contracts and beyond. We also offer forklifts on rent to our customers who want to stay asset light or need additional equipment to meet peak demand. We have also been making significant investments in our manufacturing facility for capability and capacity expansion.
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