The Changing World of Manufacturing – Part I – Changing by the Dozen

R Jayaraman

Author: R Jayaraman

Date: Tue, 2016-11-22 16:04

In a highly connected world the world of manufacturing is on a mission to rediscover its relevance and importance. The winds of change keep blowing, never for once relenting in their speed or intensity. Sometimes they may be subtle, for example, when the changeover from 1G to 2G was done, but sometimes violent, for example when the atom bomb was discovered, which changed the potential nature of wars which could be waged in the future.

Prior to the industrial revolution it was the age of the artisans who blew the wind, using a leather windbag, through a pit of burning coal to heat and beat a piece of iron into shape. Along with the potter, the tiller, the milkman, the shepherd and the cowherd they all ran the society along a set of lines where the individual was the prime mover. Dignity of labour, earnings from wages for which one personally worked with one’s own hands in shaping the needs of and catering to the societal needs were the norms.

The steam engine blew the whistle on these pastoral scenes and ushered in a new power – that of organised labour. Man discovered the market, discovered that goods could be made and sold in bulk, could be used by a mass of people who may or may not be known to each other. The developments that took place after this seminal event slowly changed the concept of “dignity of labour.” No more was the workman known for his skills and mastery as an individual – but he became a part of a collective, which together as an organisation, defined the new rules of engagement. Manufacturing came to be the centrepiece of the value adding chain of activities which gave rise to products and services.

The first wave of automation swept the manufacturing when Henry Ford designed and successfully ran the assembly line which ran without interruption, round the clock, and workers were told that they could be, at best, cogs in the wheel. Followed by companies like Toyota which used robots to weld, paint, cut and such other operations in an automobile assembly line. The next was when many of the so-called “low or non-value  operations”  – cleaning, sweeping, moulding, forging, casting, cutting, drilling, planing, grinding, surfacing etc. were partially or completely taken over by automatons, pushing the worker to corners where, slowly, only darkness was the visible end of the tunnel scenario. More and more persons were made “redundant” or “non-compulsory” and the “dignity of labour” further eroded. No more was doing a job of a carpenter, a sculptor, a chiseller “valued” for their individuality but only for their contributions to the final, finished product.

The wireless world has  transformed the world into a connected, seamless, single monolith where a person sitting in a design centre in Asia could see the changes needed to be made in a machine in the West and using the standard protocols make these changes and get acceptance through emails and WhatsApps and Twitters and Facebook posts. People are more available on the iPhones than on one-to-one conversations and discussions. Indeed with the Internet of Things (IoT) on the horizon, there is a visible breathlessness in manufacturing. Not only will many of the current jobs vanish but the new ones will need different skills, different languages, and different means of communications. The usual banter between workmen and their supervisors and the management team members will vanish too, to be replaced by computer print outs (virtual), 3D machine outputs, signals through WhatsApps and robot-to-robot debates and “discussions.” More and more workplaces will become like the LD shops and Rolling Mills of steel plants where it is difficult to meet any operator on the shop floor, only one or two mugs looking intently at the consoles, whenever they get the time between looking at their WhatsApps and Facebooks and internet surfing. Also like many of our cities where people have stopped going to each other’s places but prefer to talk via WhastApps and electronics.

In such a scenario manufacturing will have to make changes. What will be affected will be – teamwork, as more and more individuals become empowered through gadgetry to play God; co-ordination which needs a lot of continuous person-to-person meetings and development of a common language with subtleties and nuances which go far beyond mere words; an esprit de corps which needs people to work with each other and experience ups and downs together thereby bringing about synergy and good practices. Replacing all these will be more gadgets, automation run by computer consoles, gadgets connected by wireless connections, putting people further behind machines. With AI, “neural” networks, big data analytics, man is making it more and more difficult to live with fellow man, eliminating the reasons for interactions progressively.

Manufacturing will soon be less manned, more gadgeted, more connected and driven by AI devices using IoT, analysed and decisioned by Big Data Analytics algorithms and robotised. The only place where manufacturing will still have a connectivity with people is the traditional field of “customers.” One needs to be cautious here, robots may even replace humans as customers too in times to come. Welcome to the brave new world, indeed.


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Dear Jayaraman Sir, thank you so much for this joyful article on how manufacturing sector has evolved over ages. The current phase is considered as an “Industrial revolution 4.0” which will lead to large scale automation in manufacturing industry which poses a threat to employment due to reduction of labour force. This concern is very aptly highlighted in the above blog. As you have highlighted in the last para about the upcoming trends in manufacturing like IOT, Artificial intelligence etc. I would like to further elaborate on it. Those times are not far when an engineer sitting on his desk at a remote location sipping a cup of coffee will be able to keep an eye on all the work in process inventory, assembly lines and be able to identify if there is any fault in systems in place or everything is working fine. This is the power of IOT. While all the repetitive tasks will be handled by bots and people management, customer service centres & resolving queries will be done by artificial intelligence. Can you imagine that a person sitting in UK or Germany can take a live tour of a plant in India through Augmented reality (AR), eliminating the transport costs of flying down to India. Lot of advance simulation techniques allow you to input your experiment parameters and show results based on how it will affect the outcome. This helps in trying out various iterations beforehand reducing the product changes in case of new product launch. Also as 3D printing is getting more and more widely accepted we will see mass customisation of articles. Each and every customer will be able to get a product tailor made as per his desires and requirements at low costs. Rapid prototyping has transformed the product development cycle by easing the process of making prototypes and allowing developer to try out various types of designs and models. These technologies will overcome previous design constraints that were prevalent in conventional manufacturing processes. An item which consisted of an assembly of different parts can be directly 3D printed as a single whole product much faster. Now the big question that rises in front of us is that “Will these advancements steal our jobs from us?” I believe they won’t, rather it will just change the type of jobs that we do. For an example a horse cart rider as they became obsolete slowly switched to rickshaws and now lot of them have affiliated to Ola & Uber. During this transformation one has to keep learning new skills like driving to using smartphones and digital apps. Hence it is all about how efficiently you adapt to changes and mould yourself. It’s a continuous cycle of “learn, unlearn and relearn” which you need to adopt to survive in this fast developing world. Hence with old jobs getting curbed it will give rise to new jobs just with different skillset requirements. I would like to conclude saying that let us embrace this change by better equipping ourselves and grooming our skills to make the most out the transformation in this industry.

Thank you sir for your insightful article. The article has covered all the developmental phases of the manufacturing industry. Through my comment I would like to add my bit to it. In current scenario manufacturing sector is growing by leaps and bounds. In context of India, it is the currently the sector that can generate maximum employment opportunities. If we analyze at the GDP growth of India, maximum contribution is of the manufacturing sector except for the latest quarter of 2017-18. This is the reason why the government of India is keen and actively participating in upgrading and adopting new technology. Amidst the environment of geopolitical uncertainty the world is looking for a very conservative yet high on returns line. World is looking at India as a very promising spot of development. Therefore India is considering every possible means to improve the ease of doing business in the country. Growing FDI is the testimony of the efforts. There are number of other advancement in this field which is making it the next North Star among all the sectors. Now company take decision keeping in loop the end customers and their preferences. This is laying emphasis on B2B2C businesses model. They are trying to manage growing customer expectation by taking greater control over the value chain from R&D to delivery and downstream processes. This shift in emphasis will not only lead to value addition and value engineering but also to cost optimization. This is one of the crucial factor in such a price sensitive industry. Agile manufacturing is the addition on the similar lines. It is seen as a next step after lean manufacturing. This help in creating processes, tools and training to respond quickly to customer needs and market changes while still controlling costs and quality. Supply chain and logistics also play an important role in making the processes effective. Introduction of Multimodal logistics will reduce the expense and time on transportation. There is emerging trend in the industry of environmentally friendly products. Now the customer is aware of this change and is moving towards these products. The industry has to take this into consideration and develop products accordingly. Using better data collection and analytics platform manufacturers have more visibility of their production and operation. This help in efficient planning and on time delivery. JIT is one such methodology which help in producing just what is demanded thus eliminating the waste, inconsistencies and unreasonable requirements resulting in improved productivity. This will result in low inventory and therefore low related costs. So all the technologies mentioned above will lead to decrease in the manpower requirement but at the same time there are many areas where it will take much time and efforts to replace human presence. Human resource will always be needed for introduction of innovative and creative ideas. Manufacturing industry is moving from the conventional technology to modern techniques and automation is the part of this change. Automation is resulting in reducing errors, ensuring repeatability and reproducibility and carrying out repetitive tasks more efficiently so the change is important and inevitable. These changes for sure will reduce the current manpower requirement but at the same time will generate new and better employment avenues.

Respected Sir, Greetings! To begin with, I would like to applaud you for sharing an enormous insight into the future, which we envisage in Manufacturing Industry. In your blog, you have precisely portrayed tools like IOT, Automation, Robotics & use of software’s like Whatsapp, Facebook in Manufacturing. All these will play a pivotal role of a chisel, which will carve out new sculpture, which I would like to name as new era of “SMART Manufacturing”. The industry, in last 15 years has seen a makeover. Technology, Innovations & Automation have brought renaissance in the industry. These aspects also diluted role of labour cost & human skills in the business. As the years passed, computers became sophisticated & built more processing muscles. Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has lead to inceptions of robots that could outperform humans in every task. 15 years back, no one could have thought of this revolution. My organisation L&T has always been a pioneer in evaluating, adapting & implementing the new technologies. Artificial Intelligence & Automations have been continually deployed across various business verticals of L&T. Therefore L&T’s products also transformed in attributes such as precision, efficiency & Quality. Needless to say that rejection percentage & process lead time has also improved drastically. I would like to narrate one example from L&T Quality department. Our product “Circuit Breaker” comprises of various press parts, moulded components, silver & copper alloys. One of the tedious tasks at L&T Quality department has always been manual inspection of these components for CTQ (Critical to Quality) dimensions. This operation is carried out by trained Quality operators. In earlier process, average lead time of inspection was 690 seconds per component. In 2015, SMART measurement instruments like “SMARTSCOPE & CMM (Coordinate Measurement Machine) were commissioned in Quality laboratory. These are sophisticated instruments having accuracy up to 2 microns. These machines run on dedicated software programme. These machines are similar to robots, which automatically align component & carry out inspection process. No manual intervention is required in the new process. After implementation of these robots, inspection time came down from 690 seconds to 220 seconds. Measurement result’s accuracy improved by 36% & dependency of manual operators has been completely eliminated. Hence it is a prime example of de-skilling & SMART Manufacturing. To summarize, I would articulate that footprint of the Manufacturing Industry seems to be nicely poised for a stupendous makeover in years to come. Best Regards, Shravan Suthar

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