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M2M, Smart Automation and Business Intelligence Need to be Followed by the Companies

Sekaran LetchumananFlex, a multinational electronics contract manufacturer has made its name in the industry, because of its products quality and punctuality. Flex is serving its customers in all over the world. From a small consumer device to cloud infrastructure, from drug delivery systems to autonomous vehicle electronic modules, Flex provides everything and has become all-rounder in the same industry. While talking with Nitisha from BisInfotech, Sekaran Letchumanan, Vice President – Operations at Flex India shares the value of industry 4.0 in today’s world, some unique facts about the industry and upcoming projects.

  1. Please share some unique facts of Flex and its presence in India?

Flex is the manufacturing partner of choice that utilizes technology, with trusted supply chain and domain expertise to help a diverse customer base design, innovate, build and deliver products that improve the world. Flex has been operating in India since 2001 and over the last nineteen years we have grown from strength to strength.

We are present in six locations across India, including Chennai, Sriperumbudur, Pune, Bengaluru, and Sri City serving customers through three distinct lines of business, which are manufacturing, global business services and aftermarket services.

In India, Flex has three manufacturing sites in Chennai Industrial Park (CIP) which mainly builds products for domestic and export market in consumer, power, telecom, computing, automotive and industrial segments. The Flex Sri City facility in Andhra Pradesh, builds consumer products for the domestic market. We are one of the largest employers in India. We have over seventeen thousand employees with an average workforce tenure of more than five years.

  1. How Industry 4.0 is going to help companies especially their supply-chain. The way forward and best practices for a seamless transformation?

It is undeniable that Industry 4.0 is fast changing the way organizations handle their core functions and a true game changer in the manufacturing sector. Emerging technologies such as VR, Autonomy, Cybersecurity, Big Data and the Cloud all hold massive potential for development and innovation.

Globally, we have one thousand supply chains, one million component Stock Keeping Units (SKU), sixteen thousand suppliers, five million-dollar freight annual spend, and twenty thousand purchase orders executed daily from the thirty countries in which we operate.

Flex has a proven track record of adjusting quickly to changing market dynamics enabled by its deep partnerships and sophisticated supply chain management tools and processes. COVID-19 showed us that it is no longer only about driving down costs and increasing efficiencies but also about ensuring reliability across the end to end value chain. As the world’s complexities and uncertainties continue to grow, so do risk exposures. Ensuring end-to-end accountability and real-time asset monitoring is important, especially during current times. That is where Industry 4.0 comes into play.

Defined by unparalleled machine intelligence and connectivity, industry 4.0 introduces cyber-physical systems and IoT on the factory floor. Our modern manufacturing efforts are driving advancements in industry 4.0, bringing greater efficiency, enhanced quality and sustainability to the manufacturing process.

Flex’s 4.0 priorities are M2M communication; Smart Automation and Robotics; Augmented Reality, Digitization, real time Supply Chain capabilities, Additive manufacturing and 3D manufacturing alongside Simulation and Visualization.

  1. Unique offering of FLEX catering the current market demand?

We are in a distinctive position to see trends early because of where we stand in the value chain, and the diverse markets that we serve. We manufacture everything from small consumer devices to cloud infrastructure. Our manufacturing service also includes drug delivery systems and autonomous vehicle electronic modules. We operate directly and indirectly, in almost every country in the world.

The demand for medical suppliers increased steeply during COVID 19, and the shortage of vital medical equipment hindered the ability of healthcare professionals to diagnose the extreme respiratory conditions caused by the virus.

Flex runs about hundred global operations and is partnering with businesses in the cloud, robotics and process innovators. We believe in always doing the right thing and we want to use our manufacturing expertise to make products that contribute positively to the world.

Flex is driving the evolution of Industry 4.0 by investing in a focused portfolio of advanced manufacturing capabilities and technologies to provide greater efficiency, quality, and sustainability for customers

  1. Covid-19 has made contactless and automation a new normal. Future avenues it opens for Industry 4.0 solution providers and Flex expertise to tap this opportunity.

Our modern manufacturing efforts are driving advancements in industry 4.0, bringing greater efficiency, quality and sustainability to the manufacturing process.

The shift to smart factories is already well underway. While robots performed a global average of 10 percent of factory tasks in 2015, by 2025, that number is expected to rise to 25 percent and as high as 40 percent in some sectors.

India has always been quick to respond and embrace the usage of newer technologies. We see the trend rising and it will continue to do so especially against the backdrop of COVID- 19. Cost and time efficiencies, the optimal utilization of manpower and market demands will all play a role in how fast these technologies are adopted.

The emerging Industry 4.0 technologies provide cost benefits, improve efficiencies and has changed the competitive landscape. Emerging technologies such as IoT, Analytics and Cloud have helped manufacturing to be quick and relook at the way they operate. Technology is transforming the automotive industry and the potential disruptors are advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), domain controllers, AV powered sensors, electric vehicle applications, autonomous (AV) cross collaboration, Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) features, IoT partnerships, 5G and Level 4 autonomy.

  1. What kind of new technology adoption we will be seeing in manufacturing industry?

At the heart of Industry 4.0 and modern manufacturing, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications are the key to unlocking factories of the future. Traditional hardwired connections between machines on the manufacturing floor are not designed for connectivity, which means these machines inherently require manual assistance from an operator. Machine-to-machine communications present the first real opportunity for contactless line maintenance, and one step closer to a fully automated manufacturing environment.

With cloud and edge computing, connected intelligent devices are all over the factory floor, constantly collecting data that can be used to train machine learning models to monitor operations in real time and flag issues. In our experience, predictive maintenance can reduce downtime as much as 20%, a huge win considering bottlenecks on the production floor can make or break on-time shipment.

3D printing and Additive Manufacturing optimizes designs, for increased product customization, functionality and cost management in addition to introducing time efficiencies. Our “smart automation” solutions are designed with flexibility in mind. These modular, reprogrammable robotic systems are intended for quick change-over for faster manufacturing and less downtime. Advanced and remote simulation allows us to test production lines, products and more without affecting time, resources or capital in the real world. Our efforts to digitize and connect processes drive real-time decision making across the value chain.

As it’s not just the production floor that is undergoing a revolution, with emerging technologies our entire ecosystem – from supply chains to logistics – can also sense risks and trigger workflows to correct issues before they become critical problems. Our software-based visualization tool, Flex Pulse, digitizes our global supply chain from end to end to identify events that might impact supply chain efficiency.

  1. Designing and developing products is becoming more complex with advanced technology sweeping the tech corridors. How challenging is it in real use cases and Flex leadership in it?

Designing and developing products is becoming more complex.  For example, autonomous driving technologies have proven to be a great challenge for decades. It requires high-performance processing capabilities to analyze huge amounts of data from various kinds of sensors including RADAR, LIDAR, and ultrasonic sensors.  In addition, autonomous driving technology demands high-speed, parallel processing and distributed computing design capabilities that are usually used in the IT and telecoms industry.  To top it off, it also requires ruggedized, high-reliability design crucial to the automotive industry.

Many in the industry have been talking about autonomous driving solutions, but few companies have mass production capabilities and experience in this area. While many traditional automotive suppliers and technology companies have devoted much time and resource in this area, not many have been successful in mass producing Level-4 autonomous parking solution devices.

To help companies succeed in this arena, Flex is offering one-stop design services in the areas of electronics & electrical, mechanical, thermal, software and functional safety design.  All our design services are customized to meet customer requirements.  Along with design services, Flex also provides innovative & reliable supply chain and manufacturing services in support of the customer.

  1. Strategies Flex opts to meet the market demand while providing reliability and cost-effectiveness with their solution.

We are in a distinctive position to see trends early because of where we stand in the value chain, and the diverse markets that we serve. We manufacture everything from a small consumer device to cloud infrastructure, from drug delivery systems to autonomous vehicle electronic modules. The Flex manufacturing team is dedicated to always finding a better way, moving fast and doing the right thing

We have always been conscious about the market demands and have  remained relevant by quickly adapting to the current market requirements. For example, COVID-19 was driving significant demand increases in critical care products, such as oxygenators, patient monitors, testing equipment, and ICU-related necessities, all of which we manufacture and quickly responded to, by increasing production to help our customers meet demand.

We also started manufacturing five different ventilator programs. Typically, medical programs take nine to 18 months to ramp. We ramped and started shipping ventilators in five weeks. Flex has an incredible track record of innovation and leadership in our industry. At our core is a commitment to design-led innovation, whether in engineering services or advanced manufacturing, or in 5G or artificial intelligence. We employ modern manufacturing technologies and processes in our factories around the world to boost productivity and efficiency, while lowering downtime and costs.

  1. Lastly major trends you see catapulting and dominating the technology innovation in coming time?

Manufacturing companies must react quickly to changing market conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused temporary shutdowns and the world’s supply chain. When facilities are re-opening, manufacturers must preserve business continuity and performance.

To anticipate, understand and respond to changing production levels manufacturers need to utilize Industry 4.0 innovations such as machine-to-machine communications (M2M), smart automation and business intelligence. Digital manufacturing innovation is a remotely enabled technology made possible by a combination of the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and real-time analytics. These tools provide insights that helps in getting back to normal production levels.

The combination of IoT technologies, cloud and analytics have primed manufacturing to adapt in the face of unexpected global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to our investment in these technologies, we were able to maintain forward momentum as operations stopped and restarted at our facilities.

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Nitisha Dubey

I am a Journalist with a post graduate degree in Journalism & Mass Communication. I love reading non-fiction books, exploring different destinations and varieties of cuisines. Biographies and historical movies are few favourites.

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