“It is a big myth that IIoT is costly”

“It is a big myth that IIoT is costly”
When the concept of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which uses smart devices to capture and analyse data to enhance manufacturing and industrial processes, first came on the industrial scene, it was believed that only large corporates could enjoy its benefits. However, this myth has been dispelled with many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) opting for IIoT enabled solutions to push their efficiency and productivity up. Being owner-driven organisations, SMEs embrace IIoT much faster, says Meenu Singhal, Vice President, Industry Business, Schneider Electric India. In this interview with Rakesh Rao, he discusses advantage of automation and how Indian companies can leverage on IIoT to increase their competitive edge in the market. 
 
How are companies benefiting from automation and Internet of Things (IoT)?
Consumer packaged goods (CPG) segment - which includes food, beverages, cosmetics, cleaning products, etc – is driving demand for automation in India. Food processing sector, dominated by SMEs, is getting organised with companies opting for automated processes to meet the growing demand for processed food in the country. Traceability has also become very important for companies operating in food and pharma sectors as safety regulations have become very stringent. Here automation plays a very critical role in giving end-to-end visibility across the supply chain. 
 
Consumer behaviour in India is driving the need for customised products (available in different pack sizes). With growing on-the-move consumption, demand for small disposable package is on the rise. Hence, companies are looking for high-speed, scalable and customised packaging machines which can fulfil the requirements of consumers from different strata of the society. Automation gives companies the flexibility to offer packed products at different price-points which can be distributed through various channels.
 
Every company is looking to optimally utilise their asset to increase productivity with fewer resources. Internet of Things (IoT) - inter-networking of physical devices to collect and exchange data – offers connectivity to achieve this objective. EcoStruxure (Schneider Electric’s IoT-enabled, plug-and-play, open, interoperable architecture and platform) makes IoT a reality for organisations of all sizes. EcoStruxure delivers enhanced value around safety, reliability, efficiency, sustainability, and connectivity. It leverages advancements in IoT, mobility, sensing, cloud, analytics and cybersecurity to deliver innovation at every level, from connected products, edge control to apps, analytics & services.
 
How is the demand for automation and digitalization in India?
The government’s plan to make big investment for infrastructure growth will give a boost in the manufacturing segments like cement, steel, power, etc which is very critical. At the same time, regulatory compliances in India are increasing as the government wants Indian manufacturers to increase their exports. Automation helps companies to stay compliant with respect to regulatory requirements. We help them to produce goods (of global standards) faster. 
 
We see huge opportunities in food, pharma and all kinds of infrastructure related sectors. At present, the growth is driving by domestic consumption. Augmenting manufacturing sector in India is high on the government’s agenda. With the customs duty getting higher, importing a completely manufactured product into the country is becoming more expensive. 
 
Government flagship initiative Make in India, announced in 2015, intends to make the country a manufacturing hub for the world. At the same time, the government is emphasising on the need for automation and digitalisation. It is going to take some time before one could see the widespread effect of these initiatives on the ground. During the second 5-year term of the Narendra Modi-led Government one can expect real acceleration to take place on the ground in terms of implementation of these policies. So, we see a lot of focus coming in for Make in India for the world with an aim to increase India’s share in the global trade. In the process, our reliance on importing the finished goods should start coming down. 
 
Are you also seeing a rise in production of automation products from India? 
Absolutely yes! India has been pre-dominantly a software centre for ages for many of the leading global companies. However, besides software, the country is now slowly emerging a manufacturing centre with assemble-lines being set up in India.Companies, who were heavily reliant on China for their product manufacturing requirements, are now scouting for other locations in Asia (like India, Vietnam, etc) to shift their production. As the production shifts to India, manufacturing sector will also witness advent of high-end technologies that need automation support for efficient functioning. Hence, manufacturing of automation products in India is gaining momentum. In fact, many domestic companies, who were dependent on 100 per cent imported products, are now procuring their automation products (like controllers, drives, HMI, signalling products, etc) from local sources.
 
How can SMEs benefit from industrial IoT? 
Initially, people used to think that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) based solutions will be driven only by the large, global corporates. But, we find that there is a very high level of adaptation of digitalization in SMEs and unorganised segments. We have seen that the adaptation of digitization in SMEs is equivalent or better than what it is in the multinationals and big organisations. SMEs find it valuable because they see return on investment (RoI) much faster. Today when the world is becoming competitive, SMEs want to reduce the costs of manufacturing to stay alive otherwise they will be wiped out. EcoStruxure helps SMEs to stay on top with respect to their cost of production, quality, data, etc.
 
What advise will you like to give to a company who wants to adopt industrial IoT in manufacturing?
First, start from where you are. Whatever new systems and solutions you are embracing, they should be IIoT enabled. Second, it is a big myth that IIoT is costly and is meant for only large corporates. It is neither expensive, nor a herculean task to go for IIoT enabled solutions even for manufacturing plant which are already installed. In case of retrofitting, there is a possibility to go for digitalization without very high investments. Generally, people feel that it takes a lot of investment to go for digitalizing their old plants. But, it is not so. Third, ask experts (like Schneider Electric), who can give you right solutions for low cost digitalization requirements. It is possible to adopt digital solutions in old and new plants that can be scalable to fulfil future requirements of the company.Finally, with digitalization, serviceability of your products, machinery and plant becomes much faster. The RoIs are much faster than what you are expecting.
 
How important is skill training while adopting for digitalisation? 
Today, one of the most critical aspects of why companies are restricting their investment in IoT is lack of skill set along their employees. Workforce readiness is one of the very critical factors for digital skill adaptation. Millennial are ready to embrace digitalization. However, in older generation, who have many years of operational experience in manufacturing plants, may be resistant to new digital changes because they may feel they are not ready for it. It is important to have a right mix of experience (old generation) and millennial (who understands digital technology much easier) in the workforce to increase efficiency and productivity of the plant. Second thing is the readiness with respect to cyber security. Once again right training of the workforce helps in preventing threat in a digital world.These are the two basic areas of concerns that the people should be really worried about and invest appropriately in while adopting IIoT. 
 
Going forward, do you see adoption of IoT going up?
For OEMs, adopting IIoT is a must. Most of the OEMs have started going for machines which are connected and can be monitored from the remote location. This ensures that there are no unplanned shutdowns and availability of the machine for manufacturing is higher.I see adaptation of IIoT in SMEs getting better because (being owner-driven organisations) they actually embrace it much more and much faster. However, if you ask me if the scale is enough today? Then answer is it needs to be accelerated. In the coming years (maybe in the next 1-3 years’ time), the adaptation of IIoT will scale up multiple times. 
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