Rockwell Automation recently organized a webinar addressing the challenges faced by the Indian chemicals industry. The participants were Dilip Sawhney, MD, Rockwell Automation India Pvt Ltd, Amrish Goel, President Strategy and CIO, Deepak Fertilisers, and Bimal Puri, VP and CIO, SRF Technical Textiles.
Implications for chemicals industry
Opening the conversation, Dilip Sawhney said it is great that we can still connect with each other in this year of insurmountable challenges. The chemicals industry is an essential industry, and is globally well entrenched and recognized. It was also one of the earliest industries to resume after the lockdown. Covid-19 has presented a number of challenges to the industry at large, and also to the chemicals sector. There have been several challenges from the supply side, labour, or operating under the new normal. You have to ensure the minimum SOPs. What are the implications of the Covid-19 on the chemicals industry?
Bimal Puri at SRF stressed that Covid-19 is there for everybody. The major challenge is: how do we bring people back into the plant. The second, if they are in the plant, and something goes wrong with some key people, how are you able to ensure continuity, even from the remote. Remote connectivity is another important role. You have to ensure how you are maintaining social distancing inside the plant. You also need to also have certified devices inside the plant. If there is a key person infected in the plant, or he or she is in some containment area, how are you going to ensure that the support is available in the plant continuously. You also need to have the required bandwidth, and infrastructure.
Things are not happening predictively so that you can plan. It is becoming more unpredictable as to how things are moving. You need to live with Covid-19, learn with it, and require lot of futuristic vision to work in the post-Covid-19 era. Chemicals plants are continuous in nature, and cannot be left standalone. People, equipment, equipment safety, process safety, environment safety, etc., have to be handled, remotely. Otherwise, you will have a challenge.
Amrish Goel from Deepak Fertilisers added that from a strategic angle, one of the biggest challenges will be from the avenues opening up from demand and supply sides. There is lot of geopolitical movement in terms of changing the supply centers, changing interests of a lot of demand centers, etc. A lot of supply reshuffling and rejigging will happen. It will also create new vistas for India, as a country. We should gear up for these opportunities.
From the operation side, there are challenges from manufacturing and supply chain sides. People have seen over the last 3-4 months that we have managed to meet some of these challenges tactically. In the longer duration, we have to ensure that manufacturing goes on seamlessly. The supply chain drives in the right fashion. Specifically, from the manufacturing side, there will be solutions hovering around remote monitoring, from the context of business continuity and availability. We need to circumvent challenges around processes and people.
There are challenges from the supply chain side. For some of us, demand existed before the Covid-19. earlier. What got ruptured was the process of logistics somewhere in between. This could be a new normal. People will have to create strong processes to create seamless integration between demand and supply, and a perfect visibility of the entire supply chain to do on-the-fly ‘what-if analysis’ of the changes in demand, how does that impact my supply and stocking, how does that impact my manufacturing, etc. We have to gear up to handle all of this.
Sawhney responded about how do we build resilience among the enterprises today, should another challenge occur. He asked them for their take on building resilience.
Amrish Goel noted that a lot of processes that we adopted in the normal times have undergone a paradigm shift. Agility is possibly the best mantra. The challenges are really un-pronounced! Your response time has to be right up there. Process-driven approach may have to be taken on a back burner. Responses to specific situations in a very agile way should be prime. People will want to look at how to address the upcoming and newer challenges from a different angle.
From an organization’s standpoint and hard assets standpoints, the chemical industry is an asset-heavy industry. Sweating of the assets at all points in time is going to be the underlying mantra for people. Stepping back and decoupling the manufacturing, especially from the market side or people-dependence, is the next thing that people will look upon. They will look at technologies and strategies that will help them decouple the manufacturing as much as possible, from the shocks from the outside. Shocks can be of any nature.
Sawhney added that with the rapid adjustments and re-adjustments, how do you re-imagine the role of chemicals manufacturing? What do you see as the role of innovation in this new context?
Bimal Puri said that we are discussing the modernization of the plants. We are looking at bringing automation inside the plants. Automation, as an agenda, has to be prioritized now! It will help you during the Covid-19 phase. It will also help in the strategic shift to the demand in the market in the post Covid-19 scenario. If the demand goes up, you have to look at productivity. From a productivity point of view, we are looking at more safety and more man-dependant operations and processes.
Automation will now be on the prioritized agenda. If a wall can be opened on its own, and closed on its own, can be controlled via software, etc. People will now be looking out for automation. If you have a right kind of system that works on an autonomous basis, it helps. So, automation is one important point. Another point is, manufacturing as a process will also evolve, rather than being only dependant on people. This will bring about another big shift.
Managing business aspects
Sawhney added that looking at the safety incidents, there could be whole lot of unsafe situations. Technology has risen sharply in terms of relevance. How is technology going to play a role to better manage the business aspects?
Amrish Goel said that the normal gets redefined by the new technologies. We were talking about anytime customers before the Covid-19. Demand of that anytime customer will become much more pronounced in the post Covid-19 days. Demand will be much more and even more pronounced. Understanding the needs and demand, and creating the flexibility in the supply chain to be able to respond to it, despite the challenges in the supply chain, will be important. Technology will be a way of doing so. It is the anywhere and anytime customers that we should be responding to. The supply chain visibility is the most important enabler in the entire process.
Technology does have a very significant role. Things are changing very rapidly. For some of the new technologies, the early adopters could go on to become the game changers, and possibly, take the lead.
About the role of technology on running our business, Bimal Puri said that in many places, people have not been able to drive the technology-led innovation. It is a question of managing your knowledge. Maintaining your skill is always a challenge. How are you managing your knowledge repository. Manpower will be more available now, than in the past. People are using more of technology. How you perceive things in the future management is very important. The government policies are now coming in line with the industry mindset. You are free to create a better business environment.
Sawhney concluded that the industry is facing problems in getting skilled and non-skilled labour. How can automation help?
Amrish Goel said a lot of people are taking about how Industry 4.0 is addressing this. There are challenges on the production side and the industrial side. Realtime monitoring and analytics will be better. That helps you address some of the plant-related issues. Availability of skilled manpower could still be a challenge for many. You have to look at incident monitoring, to preventive maintenance, and possibly, address some of those points. We need to look at advance maintenance solutions. Organizations also have to look at matured solutions. There is now a window of opportunity for a lot of us to address these challenges.
Sawhney added that business continuity puts a huge demand in accelerating the digital journey towards digital transformation. So many business leaders are prominently talking about it. The readiness can be questionable, but we have all been thrust into this situation. There is a need for agility. Being agile, and having the capability to respond to the unexpected challenges is key. To bring about agility, automation woven into manufacturing, is very important. The concept of the anytime customer and managing your knowledge repository is very important.