Efficient, Safe, Sustainable: Mantra new age manufacturing
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Waste Management Expo 2020 MAR 12&13 BIEC, Bengaluru, India

Efficient, Safe, Sustainable: Mantra of new age manufacturing

12:09 PM, 11th November 2019
Dhruv Jain, Leader, Centre of Excellence (Smart Manufacturing & Industry 4.0), Aditya Birla Group.
Dhruv Jain, Leader, Centre of Excellence (Smart Manufacturing & Industry 4.0), Aditya Birla Group.

In an interview, Dhruv Jain, Leader, Centre of Excellence (Smart Manufacturing & Industry 4.0), Aditya Birla Group talks at length about the way traditional chemical industry is changing to adopt cutting edge smart manufacturing solutions.

By Shivani Mody

Global economic factors influencing the chemical industry.

In terms of the major global trends, presently the chemical industry is undergoing a lot of forced changes. There is very high pressure to be sustainable as well as be competitive in the market place. Chemical companies are investing in tools and technologies which will make them more efficient to maintain their margins and they are also looking at cross industries to be more digital-led and explore new business models.

Nowadays, companies are facing a tough time to develop new capacities, local supply chains are becoming more of a global supply network and ever evolving sustainability obligations are making forced shutdowns real because of non-compliance with the rules, and also outdated processes which are considered pollution-creating. In such a scenario, sustainability of a chemical manufacturing plant is very important for the survival of the chemical industry. Industries are trying to mitigate these concerns by investing in resources and assets to develop new technologies which are safe and sustainable.

There are also trends and strategies which promote minimizing the transportation of chemicals from one place to another. Industries are looking towards making specific chemicals parks and zones, so that they have less movement of chemicals through routes like land and sea, and hence minimize the risk to the environment.

Market potential within the chemical industry.

Chemical industry is a significant industry when we talk about society development and evolution. Though dealing with chemicals and chemical manufacturing is not perceived as green; the application of chemicals is all around us and makes our life better and comfortable. The industry is in a constant cycle of developing new chemicals, which are more sustainable, recyclable and reusable. Development of new materials which can replace single use plastic is a very obvious example in this context. Hence, it is of utmost importance for chemical industries to focus on concepts such as new material development, new chemical compositions, new biodegradable formulations etc. Adding to it, using the waste of other industries to make chemicals is also a key trend. There are many industries which generate waste that can act as an input for other industries.

Automation within the chemical industry in India.

One can find a very high level of sophistication and automation in highly competing and hazardous industries like pharma, refineries and pet-chem. These industry segments have been focused not only to be highly productive but also have invested to make their manufacturing and business strategies more sustainable. Other chemical industry segments which have traditionally focused more on commodities and economies of scale are now facing issues like attracting bright talent; sustain global economic factors and trade wars. Such factors are forcing industries to invest in strategies and technologies which can help them be more agile and demonstrate swift response to market factors. In light of this automation investments are increasing because the last thing one would want in a manufacturing is an environment incident, unplanned downtime or off spec production. Key digital and automation technologies from peer and competing industries are inspiring traditional chemical manufacturing to adopt new ways of working with more reliance and inclination towards automation.

Smart manufacturing concept for the chemical industry.

The concept of smart manufacturing under the context of chemical industry is focused on three things - making industry much more efficient, safer and sustainable. Smart manufacturing includes implementation of tools and technologies for both equipment as well as software & IT systems to enable efficiency, safety and sustainability. However, to sustain smart manufacturing, the major challenge is people skill. We still do not have that type of infrastructure and ecosystem to upskill the workforce and sustain it. For instance, we can train people for energy management, but it is very hard to train people to use the infrastructure, analytics and IT systems to do the energy management in the best possible way.

The focus therefore should be on the people training and change management process. For smart manufacturing to be a success, investment in technology and investment in people re-skilling should go hand in hand. If this does not happen, then the implementation agendas of smart manufacturing will not occur.

Coping with the new wave of digitisation.

Implementing elements of digitization is just one part. We need to focus on how people are enabled to use these technologies, for which we need to build that skill, work culture and mental acceptance among the workforce to use the technology. There are multiple opportunities on how these technologies can be implemented and the chemical units need to prioritize the agenda of using smart technologies - do they want to use this technology to increase productivity, safety, sustainability or is it multi fold. Also a very heavy focus on business case preparation can lead to a burnout as the benefit realization of digitalization follows an exponential curve.

These technologies are still new in the chemical industry and there is still a dearth of knowledge on how to use them effectively. It is important that the industry studies their peer industries and understands how well these technologies are being used and can be implemented. A very good example is that of predictive maintenance. Today, every industry uses preventive maintenance - be it aerospace or manufacturing industry. Such types of inter- industry cross-pollination and innovation of technology can help in better adoption of new age technologies.

Smart manufacturing dynamics in developed vs emerging markets.

Quoting a real case; back in times, DuPont faced a very tough situation in making their products safe and sustainable for the industry. They also faced major accidents and incidents. This has led to the company changing their whole business focus, shifting towards safety and sustainability. Today, they are market leaders in terms of products and safety standards. When your focus is clear and making your business sustainable, you start investing into technologies and eventually evolve yourself to become a champion. Nowadays, ‘follow the leader’ approach does not always work. It is more important to take the lead and innovate, to emerge as a champion and create a niche space for yourself in the market.

Overview of company’s smart manufacturing practice.

Aditya Birla’s strategy has been more focused on using IT systems, tools and technologies to make our plants more productive, safe and sustainable. This has always been our focus and aim. The primary focus is towards productivity because it has the elements of safety and sustainability. We are investing as well as experimenting into these technologies to improve the productivity. We are also looking at various options of making integrated manufacturing units so that there is less movement of materials and we can directly make more end consumer products.

Catering to R&D and innovative solutions.

From the perspective of innovation, I would like to quote an example where we have created all-together a new safety solution using digital technologies. In one of our manufacturing business, Chlorine is a byproduct which is very hazardous and critical to handle safely. Speaking from a logistics perspective, we have to transport chlorine to our customers who are located at a distance from the manufacturing sites.

Chlorine movement is hazardous and if it is not transported safely, it can lead to fatal incidents. Considering this, we took inspiration from various technologies like GPS and IoT to develop chlorine logistics track and trace solution which not only keeps a track on how the chlorine is moved on roads but also keeps a stringent eye on how chlorine is handled during the movement. The system also gives access to an open ecosystem of chlorine safety experts who are just a phone call away in case of emergencies. There is also a call center dedicated to help the truck drivers with any kind of issues and assist them to safely deliver the material to our customers. This way we ensure that the chlorine moves safely under company surveillance.

Smart manufacturing practices to achieve sustainability.

Sustainability is not just about compliance with standards. It is more about how we innovate ourselves to make our business processes and operations sustainable. This is where thought leadership comes in and that’s what defines your industry leadership. Compliance with standards is all about real time visibility and in India, most of the pollution control boards want to have a real time visibility on sustainability compliance factors of the chemical industry. Since that has already been enforced, nothing much can be done apart from complying with this. There are technologies available which can help you achieve this real time visibility and comply with the pollution control board norms.

Furthermore, since there is a direct visibility to the pollution control board, you would want to have certain advanced systems that would notify you in advance in situations where a breach of threshold or breach of pollution control norms is likely to happen. These advanced technologies can notify you well in advance of any such breach so that preventive measures can be taken to avoid the situation all together. This is how smart manufacturing is helping the industries to anticipate sustainability violations and take early corrective actions.

Secondly, business process innovation (new ways of working) can also make the system sustainable. For instance, in our logistics tracking solution, we took certain concepts from other industries, added our bespoke solutions to it and created a holistic solution. In this, the IT tools and technology gave us an edge to scale up our process.

Challenges in implementing smart manufacturing.

People skilling and change management is the biggest challenge. We have realized that even the latest solutions will fail to work if people themselves are not empowered or are not appreciative of using these solutions. Using the same example of logistics movement, we faced a tough time in the solution phase because some people felt that their privacy is being tracked and there was an environment of mistrust. Over a period of time, they realized that this system is not only for tracking, but also to help them with visibility and making sure that they are safe. Hence, people training, people adoption, change management, are the biggest challenges of implementing smart manufacturing.

Steps for successful adoption of smart manufacturing tools.

Considering social responsibility and knowing that the chemical industry can be very hazardous & risky, we should have a common forum or a platform, where basic solutions which have been developed by someone for safety and sustainability can be discussed and replicated across the industry. In the chemical industry, everyone faces similar kind of issues. There are very few instances where someone is faced with unique problems. Hence, a common forum to discuss and share the knowledge will be beneficial. This will also bring in the aspect of training people where specific training programs can be conducted to adopt new technologies and understand their use during real-time operations.

I would like to envision the future of chemical industries where the business process itself is technology enabled and we have minimum skill criteria of our workforce to operate in those environments. The level and maturity of technology led business must be industry standard and pre-defined like traditional ISO standards.

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