Contrary to our perception, India has progressed quite well in the digitization initiatives that have transformed manufacturing and for someone like me coming from a Mining & Metals space, the field has widened in the last few years quite dramatically. For our Aditya Birla Group, the possibilities are immense in Retail, Financial Services & Mobile telephony.

Surprisingly the Mining Industry (driven by judicial activism) has progressed to the point that entire transportation can be accessed on-line by a web-based system with transit passes issued electronically from government offices, not a very easy thing to do, which requires on-line systems to run across a range of constituencies.

But look where the Mining industry has progressed and I would give the example of the 25 Mio Ton Coal Mines where our group does contract Mining as in Essel Mining. There are four areas where digitization has actually peaked: Exploration, Land Acquisition, Production and Dispatch.

In Exploration the extensive use of digital signature of outcrops in the borehole litho-log data in the Geo-Physical logging makes it possible to make an accurate prediction of the entire sub-strata. 3-D x-y-z profiling makes it possible to locate each specific stratum in the mines. In land acquisition, the progress with DGPS survey has progressed to such an extent that the government departments actually track up to what distance the benches of the mine have progressed and how close to a forest it has reached or any other water body. In Drilling and blasting the electronic detonation (through remote devices) is allowing through the delay in blasting small hole (which makes it possible to avoid vibrations), so that blasting can be done in the close vicinity of villages. Stability of the Over-burden dump can be made such that even up to 120 meters the dump height can be increased, thanks to 3-D profiling techniques. Handling of 25 Mio T of transportation inside the Mines is also not an easy task and every vehicle is attached with a GPS device which is centrally controlled such that no queuing takes place and no one moves an extra distance as well to save on diesel.

Let me now turn to our Power Plant operations where digitization has reached a stage where continuous running steam turbines generating 100MW to 150 MW of power could be far better controlled with better predictive maintenance. One of our 50 turbines that we have in the Group ran for 9 years without stopping for a moment for maintenance, this perhaps would be an all-time record. This was possible because typically the Turbine Control system, the Distribution Control System and the PLCs controlling all the different systems from ash handling to coal handling to Boilers which are on different interfaces were brought under the purview of the same communications protocol and were allowed to interact bi-directionally. In fact the on-line measurement system with a feedback allowed the important parameters to be tracked and by measuring the vibration, temperature & flow it controlled the high steam or low steam pressures through the correct feedback loops. Thus far better predictive maintenance could be done.

In our downstream aluminum rolling space, the advancement of digital technology has allowed the cold rolling and finishing operations to be digitally mapped from stage to stage where every data in the intermediate stage to the final stage is captured through a digital approval system in terms of process quality throughout the length of the coil.

In the retail space, the fundamental issue is collaboration amongst a range of stakeholders, from vendors who are producing different items of the stores, having different production planning and shipping schedules to be aligned to the sales and inventory plan of the stores needs enormous amount of collaboration, where digitization plays a very important role.

First of all it has to start from the joint business planning exercise, followed with a shorter horizon sharing of the schedules followed with seamless scheduling. There are two levels at which this must happen, at the transactional level (from P.O. to invoicing) and in the more strategic level where replenishment strategies have to be dovetailed. The supplier capacities need to be blocked with a planned arrangement. This supplier network collaboration has to be done through a structure that must start with a simple data acquisition system to a transparent sharing of data to begin with. Very advanced optimization techniques will come later, but may be to start with simple excel sheets must be able to link different objective functions so that it allows a decision support system to work and be effective.

We cannot ignore the customer dimension as well and how to do forecasting that can be dovetailed into a sales and operations planning. Internal collaboration amongst the various teams is also so very vital.

Digitization allows to make a connection between two units and multiple units under different communication protocols and this could extend from human-machine-human to simple human-human. Information, especially vital information is sometimes barred from being at the very place it ought to be transparently exchanged. Digitization breaks these barriers without prejudice. This is where it makes the most stunning impact, but faces the biggest of the challenges as well.

Procyon, 20th August 2015

Discussion Paper for the “Think Tank” Round Table Conference organized by CISCO at Sofitel Hotel on 20th August 2015 : Manufacturing Today

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