Flex India with its presence in seven locations all over India supports many of the leading global and local brands. The agenda of the company is to provide great products to its clients. In today’s time, new workload requirements are demanding the need for cloud computing or data center. Sekaran Letchumanan, VP, Operations, Flex India while talking with Nitisha from BISinfotech talks about the demand and future of cloud computing in Indian market. He also shares his views about industry 4.0 and automation.
Cloud Computing and smart manufacturing. Please describe how it works.
Cloud computing offers vast benefits for the manufacturing sector, and it can introduce efficiencies across various touch-points in the manufacturing process. Out of the multiple benefits it presents, some of the top advantages it provides the industry is visibility into productivity and the supply chain, which can be monitored from anywhere. This aspect is invaluable in these times as manufacturers work during the pandemic. Cloud solutions go further to ensure that suppliers and clients are informed on the status of the manufacturing process, so they are assured that things are in order and on track.
Cloud computing uses internet connections to store software and information used in businesses. The technology ensures that operational information is gathered automatically to compute key performance areas, for example, line utilization and machine utilization. Predictive maintenance models can be created utilizing automated information from each production line to irradicate or minimize unexpected downtime and optimize future production plans, to increase productivity and therefore profits. Cloud computing allows the enterprise to extract, examine and save data that can bring optimal output.
Making a technology framework that is a blend of hardware and software aids in tracking the status of key machines and shares data back into the Manufacturing Execution System (MES), which is critical to growth and success. To drive fundamental efficiencies, the framework automates planning, work in progress (WIP) tracking, order fulfillment, material backflush, along with various other MES features. This operations information is then moved to the cloud and analyzed to decide the key performance indicators (KPIs).
Essentially Cloud computing can bring in scalability, simplified management, cost benefits, reliability, and time efficiencies. What is more, is that Cloud computing can be deployed in a company regardless of its size.
Kindly explain the management of supply chains and Industry 4.0.
Disruptive technologies like Big Data, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, automation, Cybersecurity, and Cloud have bridged the gap between the supplier, manufacturer, and the end customers. Because of the increased introduction of digitalized processes and impressive growth of data and analytics, supply chains are one of the major sectors that are impacted by the 4.0 industrial revolution.
Industry 4.0 encompasses a global network of machines in smart factories that can exchange information and controls with each other. It introduces efficiencies to the supply chain by bringing the Internet Of Things (IoT) into the manufacturing ecosystem and essentially allows for a cyber-physical system of operations.
The major impact of Industry 4.0 is evident when there is a transparent collaboration between suppliers, manufacturers, and customers. Flex’s cutting-edge manufacturing attempts are driving headways in industry 4.0, bringing higher productivity, quality, and sustainability to the manufacturing system.
Additive manufacturing comes with several benefits. It is not restricted to the design stage where we can make prototypes and concept models to visualize a product. Bringing in 3D printing during production could help in the effortless customization of products and reduces the production cost. The fabrication of parts on demand minimizes lead times and reduces the need for a large inventory. This collectively helps in creating a supply chain that is simpler and less expensive to manage.
Kindly explain the role of emerging technologies such as IoT, Analytics, and Cloud in manufacturing and how the manufacturers operate?
Emerging technologies hold enormous potential to bring in innovations and development in the industry. This includes technologies like Automation, Cybersecurity, Big Data, Cloud, and Virtual Reality. Automation is not about bringing in new machines. It is rather the creation of an environment where machines can communicate with each other and work closely with humans. This requires innovative thinking and highly targeted business objectives.
Manufacturing as an industry cannot suffer long downtime due to the intrinsic nature of the sector. Technological advancements such as Cloud, IoT, Analytics equip manufacturers to be fast and agile in how they work. Utilization of such technologies is a strategic investment and supports the enterprise in both the short and long term. Industry 4.0 is changing how organizations are dealing with their core functions and is creating the factory of the future.
What kind of challenges the industry was facing during the pandemic and highlights your business continuity during the pandemic.
In manufacturing getting people onto the factory floor is an important element of business continuity. Without that, we cannot function. That was our first challenge. At the onset of COVID, we at Flex monitored the situation closely and were able to learn quickly. We acted on developing a strong script for our business, which we also duplicated globally.
Our primary concern and priority was to ensure the health and safety of our employees and we were proactive in establishing safe work practices. We have adhered to all prescribed government guidelines in our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and will continue to be in full compliance, going forward as well.
At Flex we have a demonstrated history of adjusting rapidly to changing market dynamics and we are equipped by our deep partnerships and sophisticated supply chain management tools and systems. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learnt that is not just about bringing down costs and increasing efficiencies but also about guaranteeing reliability across the end-to-end chain. Complexities and uncertainties are growing in the world with every passing day, so does risk exposures. Guaranteeing end-to-end accountability and real-time asset monitoring is critical, especially during the current situation.
Our learning from the pandemic helped us get stronger and better. Without a doubt, in the wake of the pandemic, resilience has taken the top priority in our corporate agenda. Besides business continuity plans, we need to develop the ability to address the fast-paced and unexpected events, get back from significant interruptions, and rise stronger to see better progress.
Virtual reality in manufacturing – digital twin. Explain.
Business ventures in several industries are putting their resources into Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR). As per a report by IDC, the overall spending on these technologies is expected to speed up due to the pandemic, developing from more than $12.0 billion in 2020 up to $72.8 billion in 2024.
To reduce the time to market for companies that make AR devices for enterprises and consumer applications, Flex introduced an Augmented Reality reference design in 2018. Utilizing Flex AR Reference Configuration, organizations can reduce the product development costs significantly and also quickly scale up manufacturing.
Globally, Flex has adopted the Digital Twin model. It has very advanced simulation capabilities and uses virtual and augmented reality, alongside 3D modeling to create a digital version of a proposed process, with physical entities within the process. What that allows us to do is check for efficiency and functionality before a process is put in place.
Robotics has been an integral part of manufacturing. It has been deployed to take over the more dangerous tasks and heavy lifting away from humans. Now with the industrial Internet of things (IoT) and newer technologies, Robots will possess great control and nuanced coordination. We at Flex are committed to drive this progress by looking at advanced manufacturing capabilities in combination with newer technologies that will provide our customers with enhanced efficiency, quality, and sustainability.
How robotics and automation work with humans to improve efficiency and productivity?
Manufacturing firms need to make the best of automation and robotics to increase efficiencies. These technologies can protect humans from engaging in dangerous tasks. In Flex factories, we utilize smart automation and have witnessed its benefits. Smart automation is not just about incorporating intelligence in hardware but also in software that makes hardware work. Information from the software is bridging the gap between the digital and the physical, in a phenomenal way.
For instance, utilizing simulation software to examine a plan before production starts on the factory floor. Insights from software can go further to alert you on when the machine needs maintenance. Predictive maintenance aids in lowering downtime. Manual processes lead to mistakes, communications gaps, and lowered productivity. These can be avoided using smart systems.
We have executed a bot called Gabriel, utilizing Flex’s home-grown RPA software. Gabriel works seven days a week and can improve efficiency by simplifying repetitive and mundane tasks. For example: Gabriel helped in tackling the process of social insurance benefits for Flex’s employees in China. We saw a huge success in executing automation and reached a full-proof accuracy rate in the task completed.
Tedious and repetitive tasks were streamlined, and Gabriel could complete those quickly and efficiently. Flex believes that post-pandemic, there will be a higher focus on enhancing the manufacturing processes to deliver greater operational efficiency.
Kindly explain predictive maintenance and its importance in electronics manufacturing.
Predictive maintenance comes with several benefits and advantages. One of them is that it decreases costly and sudden breakdowns. The technology offers an opportunity for manufacturers to plan maintenance around their production scale. Industry 4.0 anticipates and adjusts possible issues even before they occur. With predictive maintenance, we can expect a smaller number of unexpected failures or breakdowns.
For instance, there are chances of spindles breaking in milling machines. This leads to expensive repairing and fixing. However, with predictive maintenance, ultrasonic sensors collect information on each spindle, which is then examined for a specific pattern that suggests a fragile spindle. At that point, an alert signals the issue for scheduled maintenance.