View from India: The circular path to net-zero supply chains

The net zero community may have a new member in the form of vendors in the manufacturing supply chain. The waste emerging from the chain could get repurposed. Repeated repurposing could morph into an ecofriendly industry.

The supply chain by its very nature, leaves behind a trail of wastage. A circular supply chain would mean that the waste could be treated for reuse or remanufactured, providing a source of revenue. It probably makes sense for supply chains to alter their outlook and look at circularity for environmental reasons. However, a circular approach needs to be integrated into the supply chain right from the early stage.

This topic was discussed at the recent UK India Webinar on Digital Manufacturing and Connected Supply Chains. “Circularity is essential for India to achieve its net zero target. The remnants of the supply chain can be repurposed and this function as an allied industry to the supply chain. Waste to repurpose systems need to be put in place. This could create new economic opportunities and enhance sector competitiveness in the manufacturing industry,” said Mukesh Kumar, a university associate professor in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge.

Apart from repurposing, retrofitting is also essential. The means of retrofitting legacy operations is a challenge as much as it could be another area of growth. Along with the front-end staff who need to be trained to operate slick machines, back-end personnel should also have the know-how for the maintenance of these machines. The supply chain needs to be connected and remain transparent in its functioning. All this could help the company take informed decisions. Supply chains may get inclusive in nature. In times to come (and probably not so far off) they could factor in elements of security. 

The pandemic seems to have taught everyone a lesson. Shortage of supply during the pandemic has affected the supply chain. Ironically this shortage has led to the creation of a domestic market as it wasn’t possible to only rely on locations outside the country.

The pandemic also drove home the fact that the supply chain requires end-to-end connectivity. And this can happen through tech tools such as automation, robotics, AI and machine learning (ML). Wherever required, ML can be deployed on a web platform for real-time updates. Manufacturing could get intelligent through digital twins. “Risk reduction, reduced production cost and constant monitoring of products are some benefits of digital twins. The fact that the machines are kept under observation help increase the life of the machine. It’s a means of building resilience in the supply chain,” added Joe Smith, product lead at Intellegens.

Automation was perceived as a tool used to reduce labour cost. Now most production units perceive automation as a necessity. It is becoming a standard as it translates into business benefits. It’s because the delivery cycles of products have shrunk as go-to-market plans with products happen at a fast pace.

Automation is also vital for supply chain management in terms of precision and traceability. Automation is built in at the intermediary level. “Different segments of the supply chain need to connect and remain traceable. If the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) engages the supplier right from the prototyping stage, there could be more transparency in the supply chain. This level of engagement could make the supplier a partner of the OEM,” explained Vikas Saxena, director and head of Renishaw India’s Software division.  

There are other issues to address. “Smart manufacturing in MSMEs (micro small and medium enterprises) may be relatively new. As such, there may not be many use cases. It’s likely that a pool of solutions could be built from scratch and then take it forward in stages. Academia-industry partnerships may help familiarise MSMEs with smart solutions,” noted Sunil Jha, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi and director, IITD AIA Foundation for Smart Manufacturing (IAFSM). Perhaps workshops could be conducted to double up as knowledge-sharing and talent-spotting platforms.

The supply chain requires sustainability and predictability. Let’s look at the automotive industry. Automakers assemble cars whose components are mostly made elsewhere. “In order to make the supply chain competent, it’s also vital to improve operational efficiencies of component manufacturers. Almost every vertical is into the learning curve of Industry 4.0,” reasoned Khushal Kalra, head of smart factories, Wipro Infrastructure Engineering. Learning, skilling and adapting to new manufacturing techniques can unlock lot of potential.  

There is an increased thrust on manufacturing. “Post-pandemic, leading global economies including that of the UK are looking at manufacturing opportunities in China plus one, and India stands a good chance of being the plus one destination. UK has been at the cutting edge of technological development,” highlighted George Paul, chief executive officer, Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology (MAIT).

Manufacturing in India has got encouragement from government-led initiatives like the production linked incentives (PLIs). MSMEs may tap PLI to scale up their operations to be on par to be globally competent. All this may be executed through funds and partnerships. “The UK and India may potentially collaborate to make smart centres for manufacturing. An industrial strategy could put things in place, through industry-university partnerships. Many industries from the UK have shown interest in India. The UK Innovation Strategy Report has underlined prospective areas such as robotics and smart manufacturing, among others,” observed Prof Ashutosh Tiwari, Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, Airbus / RAEng Research Chair in Digitisation for Manufacturing, University of Sheffield. The UK’s strength lies in manufacturing, while that of India lies in IT. Collaboration may be the way forward.

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