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View from India: Agile approach drives manufacturing recovery

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Technology and new materials are likely to give a fillip to the manufacturing industry, which has had a setback during Covid. Shortage of manpower and raw materials has compelled several factories to halt production or even shut shop. While the strains of the virus continue, the manufacturing industry is slowly pulling itself together. Hopefully it may regain some of its lost ground.

Budgetary allocations have trimmed during the pandemic. It means that manufacturing units have to cut down on the time taken to deliver goods. Consequently, tech tools are being deployed at various stages of manufacturing to fast-track go-to-market plans with products.

While the manufacturing industry has always leveraged technology, this time the focus is on solutions that offer precision and updates to mitigate risk. Data analytics are being tapped for gauging the activities in the manufacturing plant through the dashboard. Simulations are happening through AR-VR (augmented reality/virtual reality).   

Diverse verticals are likely to reorient their production units. It may be inclusive in nature and the products are expected to be multifunctional. Over time, the inclusive approach of the manufacturing units may help build products for scale. This could open out avenues and research in laser technology, 3D printing, rapid prototyping and hardware.

“Coming to products, the transition from data to design, innovation to inclusion and scalability to sustainability calls for collaboration between the government and industry. Transfer of technology (ToT) may facilitate the commercialisation and localisation of products. Machines will begin to rely much more on automation than before,” said Dr Nagahanumaiah, director, Central Manufacturing Technology Institute (CMTI), at the DST-CII Technology Summit. This could be an opportunity for technocrats to tap unexplored automation tools.

The manufacturing processes in the auto and aerospace and defence (A&D) industry are estimated to be smart, automated and real time. The supply chains of both industries will have a value-add through innovative solutions of IoT, predictive analysis, Industry 4.0 and AR/VR. All this existed pre-pandemic, but the economic condition has made them more relevant now. That’s because these technologies streamline the supply chain such that the components can be adapted to the current market situation and help lower the downtime of equipment.

“Design, engineering and manufacturing processes in the auto and aerospace industry are expected to become much more agile in order to respond and adapt to changing environments. The future of mobility remains tied to connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE) technologies, the pandemic has probably put a strain on budgets,” added Prof Prakash Patnaik, principal research scientist, Aerospace Defence Science and Technology, National Research Council, Canada.

Auto makers are increasingly opting for agile manufacturing in order to lower manufacturing costs and shorten the time to market the new vehicles. Automakers are avoiding built-up inventory in the factories by using automation. Video-calling services and virtual display of new automotive may become a norm.

Coming to A&D, more advanced analytical methods will be deployed. Digital and analytics are expected to drive the design aesthetics. Speed and efficiency are projected to improve through digitised engineering. More high-end IoT sensors could be tapped for predictive maintenance and component tracking in the supply chain.  

Design and engineering may converge much more with disruptive products for medical and healthcare products. Some of them may use bio materials. “Newer materials may give a fresh perspective to processes and even disrupt the existing ones. The discovery and adoption of newer materials could lead the way in this decade. For instance, graphene may give a value-add to several sectors like semiconductors, synthetics, additive manufacturing and energy. If graphene applications is backed by patents, it would enhance product validation. In times to come, there may be graphene production plants,” highlighted Dr Da-Yung Wang, technical director, Aurora Scientific Corporation, Canada. Hailed as a wonder material, graphene is the thinnest known material, highly conducive, flexible and stronger than steel. 

Hopefully, manufacturing units will continue to explore newer materials. Mobile production is another dimension of manufacturing. The smartphone packages technology and style, along with other key features. Smartphone maintenance, apps and a multitude of services are add-ons to the mobile manufacturing ecosystem.

“Our mobile manufacturing facility began in Noida in India in 2018 and the facility has expanded with an annual production of 100 million phones. This is not just an assembling unit but a 'Make in India' initiative,” explained Dr Aloknath De, chief technology officer, Samsung. The facility has enriched the 'Digital India' journey, as well as generating significant employment.

Manufacturing units guzzle huge quantities of water and are heavily powered. New technology may be leveraged for water conservation and energy efficiency. Manufacturing firms may orient themselves into being carbon neutral. Here lies untapped revenue. For instance, carbon capture storage cells could be developed. Technology could be plugged in for managing emission, and bio energy tapped for carbon emission. This could lower the carbon footprint and achieve a sustainable future. Innovative tech solutions may help analyse and monitor climate change. Tools could be developed to monitor wild fires in real time.

In short, the manufacturing industry is projected for an overhaul, with fresh digital thinking leading to new options. Design sensibilities could be sleeker than before and the approach towards product conception could become multidisciplinary in nature.

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