Amarendu Prakash

Isolated attempts can cause disaster

Amarendu Prakash Director in-charge (SAIL, Bokaro Steel Plant) explains how technology-driven efforts in areas like ERP, Robotics, Data Science algorithms, process modernization, Industry 4.0 etc. can roll into a solid and reliable business edge along with the stainless shine of business efficiency and sustainability

An accomplished technocrat with over 28 years of experience (comprising 24 years in Plant Operations at BSL), Amarendu Prakash, Director in-charge (SAIL, Bokaro Steel Plant) has a crucial role in timely completion of up-gradation of Hot Strip Mill (HSM) in 1997 and 2007, implementation of ERP and six-sigma certification in the HSM and the setting-up of technology hub to serve as a think-tank for research in hot rolling, coordinating patenting and copyright activities. He is also the pioneer for the business analytics division for a product mix optimization. In this interview, he shows how ductile technology can be and how malleable digital transformation can turn into when pressed with the right strategic heat.

You recently accomplished a key project with ERP. What was the main trigger for ERP modernization? What made you choose HPE’s Green Lake?

SAIL-Bokaro Steel Plant implemented SAP ERP in the year 2010. The ERP system was initiated with the aim of initiating the alignment of all the core activities of the organization on the central system. The system was a great shift from different uncoordinated systems to one integrated system. This helped in better planning and getting a co-ordinated system with better information flow and aligned systems. The ERP system helped to standardize the processes and adapt to some of the best practices in different areas.

This system has been running smoothly for the last 12 years. After serving for such a long time the hardware platform became obsolete and was no more capable to take the growing load of the enhancing ERP system that was growing manifold in terms of applications and addition of new functionalities.

To meet this growing need, SAIL, Bokaro Steel Plant explored various options for the target platform. While exploring the different options it was kept in mind that the proposed solution shall meet the growing demand of applications & mature ERP users; and second that the proposed system should be cost-optimized for the required scalability.

Is it tough to decide on modernization for mission-critical IT areas like an ERP?

ERP is about process efficiency, not business transfor-mation. In an environment in which change is occurring faster than ever due to globalization, regulation, evolving customer preferences, technology, and other factors; rigid legacy systems and technical debt hold businesses back from achieving their potential. The ERP system is, by many, considered the spine of any organization. The urgency of getting better business insights, greater business agility, and higher employee productivity is driving organizations of all sizes to modernize their ERP systems. A modern system helps to streamline back-end business processes, match supply and demand, and enable access to critical data for everyone who needs it. It can tie into industry-specific systems to give an organization a more complete picture of its business. SAIL, Bokaro Steel Plant has always been forward-looking when it comes to adaptability of modernizing mission-critical IT areas and digital transformation. The management has always been supportive of innovation through digital transformation.

How do you handle end-of-life IT – what’s your approach to lifecycle management, license upgrade and modernization?

The key to successful information technology (IT) modernization is planning, establishing, and maintaining an initiative that spans the organization, with strong checks and balances to ensure business alignment. A comprehensive approach includes applications, systems, infrastructure, and services. Isolated attempts that do not consider current and future business goals, and overall effects on the organization, are likely to cause disaster. IT modernization is not a one-time operation; it is dynamic and ongoing. An IT modernization effort must use a solid foundation and strong framework to produce the desired goals and objectives. A focused, well-defined strategy makes up the IT modernization roadmap. SAIL, Bokaro Steel Plant has a well-defined strategy in place to handle the application life cycle management for software, hardware, and licenses. The systems are audited frequently for compliance as per the laid-down process.

The solution claims to increase user productivity, reduce turnaround times for new initiatives, and improve operational efficiency – anything that you can share about this? Any metrics tracked so far?

In an environment in which change is occurring faster than ever due to globalization, regulation, evolving customer preferences, technology, and other factors; rigid legacy systems and technical debt hold businesses back from achieving their potential.

The SAP System implemented at SAIL, Bokaro steel plant has helped in unifying various processes and sharing of information across the organization. A simple, unified and harmonized access to the intelligent enterprise is key to ensuring satisfaction for end-users. We use the SAP Business Technology Platform to build this central access to all the applications that the end user needs to access. Our mission is to increase user productivity and efficiency by providing digital experience services that support the implementation of a central and intuitive access to applications, processes and information.

On the infrastructure level, we are able to allocate and deploy the compute and storage requirement of the user in a fast manner. The facility allows us to scale up and down as per the requirement. This helps in providing for a very cost-optimized solution. With the dynamic allocation of compute and memory, the processes are getting executed faster, giving us more time for data analysis and decision making.

Automation will change the daily work activities of everyone, from miners and landscapers to commercial bankers, fashion designers, welders, and CEOs.

How much do such solutions help in reducing datacentre footprint (60 per cent as this initiative aims for)?

The data centre of SAIL, Bokaro Steel Plant, prior to the upgrade, housed its servers and storage in about 14 Full height Racks that has now reduced to 5 Full height racks thus reducing the footprint to a large extent. The storage is now SSD based instead of the old electromechanical devices. The heat dissipation is now smaller, hence, entailing lesser cooling requirements. This is very important to reduce the electricity consumption and carbon footprint. To reduce data centres’ carbon footprint, a smart combination of innovation and technology is needed to reach net zero emissions. Fortunately, there are already more energy-efficient solutions available to make the most of the energy we put into our data centres.

Why is that important?

The servers require large amounts of energy for computing. This energy is dissipated as heat within a relatively small area. And because the IT equipment is sensitive to high temperatures, the heat must be continuously removed.

The energy requirement for cooling typically accounts for a large share of the overall energy consumption in data centres. The International Energy Agency estimates that one per cent of all global electricity is used by data centres and that by 2025, data centres will consume 1/5 of the world’s power supply. Most of the energy demand comes from powering the servers, but they, in turn, produce heat and need to be cooled. This cooling again requires a lot of energy and generates a lot of excess heat – most of which is currently being let out into the surrounding environment.

What’s the difference between the Bokaro plant five years back and now and the one that will shape up two years ahead? From a technology angle?

SAIL, Bokaro Steel Plant has always been a pioneer in adopting new technologies since its inception. Over the years, various automation technologies in the area of manufacturing automation, safety, process automation and business process re-engineering have been continuously undergoing. Now Bokaro Steel Plant is more mature in adapting to the cutting-edge technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Science to solve and improve various process.

For instance?

Recent developments in robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning have put us on the cusp of a new automation age. Robots and computers can not only perform a range of routine physical work activities better and more cheaply than humans, but they are also increasingly-capable of accomplishing activities that include cognitive capabilities once considered too difficult to automate successfully, such as making tacit judgments, sensing emotion, or even driving.

Vikrant is a unique reflection of India becoming self-reliant and SAIL is proud to be a part of it.

SAIL, Bokaro Steel Plant is on the verge of using all the above latest developments in the industry, applying industries 4.0 standards and data science algorithms to increase productivity and efficiency in its processes.

What next is on your radar – anything that you can share about your IT roadmap? Like- predictive maintenance, IIoT, Cobots?

After getting the advantage of using an ERP system for the last 12 years, SAIL Bokaro Steel Plant is on its path of digital transformation in different areas like production, safety, and automation. Various initiatives in the areas of IoT, AI and ML are being used as a way forward. Various small and mid-sized projects have been undertaken to understand the impact of such systems. MoUs with various premiere educational institutions have been done to take advantage of the cutting-edge technology that is incubating in this area. Process automation is also being carried out in service areas to ease out the load on the personnel by liberating them from repetitive jobs.

Anything you can share about the indigenous project of INS Vikrant? Are we self-sufficient enough when it comes to confidence in IT?

Vikrant is a unique reflection of India becoming self-reliant and SAIL is proud to be a part of it. The Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), a ‘Maharatna’ Public Sector Undertaking, has supplied the entire DMR-grade specialty steel for the nation’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. In a major feat and towards building an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, SAIL has supplied about 30,000 tons of special steel for building this carrier for Indian Navy, which was commissioned on 2nd September at Cochin Shipyard.

The steel supplied by SAIL for this project comprises of special DMR grade plates. These plates have been developed by SAIL in collaboration with the Indian Navy and DMRL. DMR plates of Grade 249 A were used for the hull and vessel interiors and Grade 249 B for the flight deck of this warship. The entire quantity of specialty steel, except for the bulb bars, has been supplied by SAIL’s integrated steel plants at Bhilai, Bokaro and Rourkela. This special-grade steel which has been used for the construction of INS Vikrant is an import substitute. With the commissioning of INS Vikrant, our nation has forayed into the elite club of nations which can build their own aircraft carriers and it is extremely gratifying for SAIL to be a partner in creating this engineering marvel.

What is easy, and what is not, when we think of digitalisation?

Digitalization represents a paramount process that started some decades ago, but which received a strong acceleration by Industry 4.0 and now directly impacts all the process and manufacturing sectors. It is expected to allow the steel industry to increase its production efficiency and its sustainability. In particular, in energy-intensive industries, such as the steel industry, digitalization covers the application of related technologies to production processes, focusing on two main and often overlapping directions: Advanced tools for the optimization of the production chain and specific technologies for low-carbon and sustainable production.

Furthermore, the rapid evolution of the technologies in the steel sector requires continuous enrichment of the skills of the industrial workforce. Bokaro Steel is working towards becoming a one-stop-shop for world-class flat steel in India. The modernisation plans are aimed at increasing the liquid steel production capacity, coupled with fresh rolling and coating facilities. The new facilities will be capable of producing the most premium grades required by the most discerning customer segments. Brand Bokaro will signify assured quality and delivery, offering value for money to the customers.

Amarendu Prakash

Director in-charge, (SAIL, Bokaro Steel Plant)

By Pratima H

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