Meenu Singhal, Vice President, Schneider Electric India for Industry Automation Business
Covid-19 pandemic has triggered the need for more IT-enabled control systems in cement manufacturing factories. Your take on the probable shift towards IT in cement!
The IT requirements of cement plants post-lockdown are changing. I think, we would now see mass adap-tation of remote working, remote commissioning and remote servicing. The entire project management and implementation will also undergo a shift. What is in-person today will shift to mostly remote. Many industry segments are adapting to working from remote areas especially those in the technology/IT companies. However, this is not there in the cement or power or human resources sectors so far. There will be a paradigm shift with adaptation of IoT in workforce and process utilisation. When and how we approach these would be crucial in defining the success. Those who adapt faster and earlier will be better off than those who linger on the issue.
It's worth adding two more points here: first is the aspects that focus on scalability, security of assets and cyber security. Second is experience of the workforce, of employees, vendors, customers and their go-to-market. Everything is going to see a paradigm shift from physical to digital as we move forward.
Remote commissioning means say 50 per cent of workforce at the site of installation and say 50 per cent remote. How would you address this challenge?
No doubt you need manpower at the site, but the majority of this manpower will start shifting to digital. So, there is core manpower which is needed to be at the plant. Such manpower will have to go through reskilling for IT. Which means we have to keep the reskilling element agile and adaptive to switching over to IoT platforms. These people within their own plants should be made more prescinded entities of the vendors to do the commissioning. Now majority of that support will shift to the remote, by using IT-enabled cameras, connected products such as circuit breakers, meters, drives, all the possible instrumentation products, including boxes. In a cement plant, the boxes are mission critical and the edge of the IoT network is a must.
On remote commissioning. Have you done any remote commissioning in lockdown period?
Yes, we have started doing that and we have rebuilt our own factory for digital FATs (Factory Assessment Tests). We are expecting a lot of improvement in this area as these are going to get implemented even as the lockdown continues.
Could you elaborate on your area of concentration of IT, hardware or software part?
It is a combination of demand - both for hardware and software implementations. There are instances where the demand was for remote implementation and commissioning, remote monitoring of devices, especially when they face the challenge to move their own people from one location to another.
Lockdown and the related challenges have created a demand for implementing changes in their processes, products, and designs. But how to make their applications connected. For that, remote monitoring, analytics can be made available. One can transfer the permission to local operators about what to do and how to do, so that they can be more effective and we can also troubleshoot the machine by remote control.
There has been a spike in the use of remote-sensing tools in cement. How do such applications work in cement plants?
Remote sensing and remote monitoring begins from handling of the raw materials, on to production, and goes through the entire supply chain. The improvement can be seen in terms of asset optimisation and process optimisation. The room for efficiency improvement can be anywhere between 1 to 2 per cent and 7 to 10 per cent. Remote sensing and remote monitoring have made maintenance much smoother. This also reduces the downtime by 4 to 5 per cent, which is significant cost-saving for a cement plant.
You might have revised your targets for the year, given the lockdown. What are your expectations in the current year?
We are conservatively optimistic about the demand for automation in the cement industry. New capacity enhancements probably have a lot of support. New projects, not repeated projects, might get hit in terms of investments or the modernisation.
Lockdown and the related challenges have created a demand for implementing changes in their processes, products, and designs.