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“IoT is pivotal to make Indian manufacturing ready for Industry 4.0”

Ravi Ramakrishnan, Global IT Head, UFlex Ltd, and CIO Power List 2017 winner, talks about leveraging IoT to transform the company’s processes and drive business benefits. By Satyaki Sarkar

A technocrat with over 21 years of experience in the IT domain, Ravi Ramakrishnan has been responsible for transforming the entire digital framework of the UFlex Group, upgrading legacy systems to an enterprise IT system, implementing ERP, CRM, cloud adoption, server virtualisation, and more. He has worked on significant projects involving open source technologies, cloud, virtualisation, IoT, and security solutions. Recently awarded across two categories—IoT Icon and Manufacturing Icon—at CIO Power List 2017, Ravi takes us through his most recent implementation of IoT to reduce manpower and manufacturing cost, and improve business operations.

Need for IoT-based enterprise model
“The decision to implement IoT was influenced by a number of external factors. In order to handle customer complaints and address the issues, having a product differentiator is immensely important. Plus, in order to keep up with our competition we needed to be able to provide superior services while minimising customers’ issues and provide quick resolutions to the unavoidable ones. Otherwise we’d risk losing our customers, who would not hesitate in switching to another supplier.”

 Adoption process
“The potential of IoT in the manufacturing landscape is huge, right from compliance to the costs and productivity standpoint. Our IoT adoption was carried out using BLE beacons for inventory, machine-to-machine communication, and major throughput of automated machines, in order to reduce manpower costs through increased automation. Using the low energy Bluetooth beacons we were able to track each and every role involved in production, stay updated on the location of the inventory, the route it has taken (right from point of origin to destination), as well as implement checks at each and every stage to detect wrong shipment transport, and so on. Our hybrid model is also equipped with cloud infrastructure along with on-premise beacons manned by different Bluetooth-enabled mobility devices and tablets to efficiently track and monitor the logistics. Add to this a huge network of M2M integration landscape that combines sensors in plants to function as data capture points giving useful insights.”

Contribution to business
“The new IoT model has led to a significant reduction in manpower required across all stages of the process. Earlier, tracking a specific inventory across different parameters (from production stage to the warehouse to the customer), while dealing with customer complaints, wrong shipments, freight charges and the like was difficult, lead to a lot of issues, and was an incredibly costly affair. Earlier, if inventory was misplaced, the only action was to produce more. That would lead to losses, avoidable expenses, and would also hinder our ability to track the inventory, as now there were multiple records of the same inventory. This has been eliminated with IoT adoption. Using IoT we’ve decreased organisational expenditure and achieved a more structured, streamlined process, which is faster, more efficient, and less prone to errors. Each product tracking takes just a couple of minutes because of the inventory awareness provided by IoT endpoint devices.”

Working through the challenges
“One of the major challenges we faced were the Bluetooth beacons, which had issues with accuracy of identification. We had to go through a number of statistical models to see how best we could eliminate errors, and implement locational triangulation to improve accuracy. Interference was another problem, with one beacon showing different values compared to the others due to RH factors, for which we had to implement a more accurate approximation to maintain the efficiency. RFID, in these aspects, is a lot more efficient. However, we found that RFID and other traditional methods weren’t working in the kind of environment we were dealing with. So we conducted extensive academic research, did simulations, and undertook case studies before choosing BLE beacons as the most appropriate tools to be used.”

What’s next for Indian manufacturing?
“In the years to come, Indian manufacturing has to become incredibly competitive and vastly improve itself if it wishes to surpass European and Chinese industries. The European manufacturing industry has a huge strength in its high-quality products and better services, while the Chinese manufacturing industry is able to rapidly capture markets because of its cheap products owing to low labour and manpower costs. To combat this, the Indian manufacturing industry needs to utilise leading technologies like IoT, Cloud, and AI to move towards Industry 4.0. Compliance is also a big issue, with climate change being a big factor. This raises the need of IoT based sensors that can help monitor, detect, and reduce environmental pollution. Thus, IoT is something that would be instrumental in everything, from increasing productivity and reducing machine breakdown to tracing inventory, and more. The first step is to come up with specific use cases, some of which might be hidden or invisible, so that the right kind of devices that support the solutions are implemented. Above all, one must be willing to think out of the box, be prepared to take risks, innovate, learn from failures, and constantly keep improving on solutions.” 

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