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Industrialists from every sector are looking to jump on the bandwagon of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and digitalization, not wanting to get left behind and implement technologies like Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, services and people, machine and deep learning in their factories. Digitalization is all about increasing output per human that inhabit our planet.
However like most changes in status quo, this too comes with its fair share of concerns. The most pertinent one, especially in a country like India where 12 percent of the work force is dedicated to manufacturing, is the impending job crisis. There are enough bodies of work on both sides of the argument to prove or disprove theories. The truth as history will tell you is that people’s livelihood has evolved through the ages. In early to mid-2000, robots and automation were the hallmark of savings jobs in America from being outsourced. In the 1980s, there were massive protests on the introduction of computers in Indian central banks. While India went on to become a global leader in software services, a lot of research figures will reveal more jobs were created with greater automation in professions such as cashiers, paralegals and bank tellers.
Hence in order to ensure that we do not merely react but extract our rightful advantage from digital technology, it is imperative that the government and the various corporates take on the responsibility to reskill individuals to work in tandem with the new technology for different jobs. People who were previously employed in painting jobs, could, with training, monitor the robots that do the painting. While certain countries have very effective skilling models, companies are also integrating digital components in their internship and factory apprenticeship programs. But for success, there has to be emphasis on skilling models that are scalable and adaptable according to the needs of the industry at the given time.
Here’s how the role of a plant operator will change with the introduction of digitalization: Under the old system, a plant operator would have to be able to handle closed loop controls, and also be able to get down to the nuts and bolts of a system to solve a problem. Handling certain issues could take several hours, if not days. However, the new generation operator does that with a short program from the comfort of his or her desk, within two to four hours. The training needs for both going forward would be very different.
Much like other countries, India too is at varying levels of digital adoption. Some sectors like pharma are using it for enhanced customer experiences through doctor information and patient compliance as well as processes. The steel sector is looking at process innovations and efficiency enhancement while some others like the auto sector are deploying advanced robotics automation applications. Remote monitoring is being used extensively from industrial drives to motors and manufacturing of motorbikes to operation of solar plants. Digital green-shoots are visible in certain traditional sectors like the paint industry, pulp and paper (optimize and make the supply chain sustainable) as well as cement (integrated supply chain management). Struck by price volatility, competitive intensity and price deregulation, oil and gas refiners in India are also in a big way looking at cost optimization and predictive solutions for operations. There are certain other sectors like food and beverages, which are conducting smart factory pilots to enhance food quality, safety and productivity. The government is also in the process of drafting the National Policy on Advanced Manufacturing. This would be the stepping stone to skilling and creating models for India to carve a niche in the advanced manufacturing world rather than the crowded lower end of the value chain.
So the situation isn’t nearly as apocalyptic as people first assume. In fact, one could argue that India is uniquely positioned to tackle these problems. Reskilling on such a huge scale is a massive undertaking, but India has implemented quite a few in the past. Projects like NREGA, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Aadhar (almost 99% of the population 18+ year of age have a card) or Jan Dhan Yojana have been implemented with varying degrees of success. A behavior change response in any model takes a longer term sustained engagement. So experiences like these can prove to very useful in scaling up and creating our niche in digitalization.
There will be no dearth of jobs but the nature of work is surely changing. Indian corporations have to adapt depending on the direction of the technology evolution. How and at what pace to convert legacy systems and packaged (ERP) solutions to programing interfaces and engineered platforms? Moving from service as we know to software as a service concept? What will be the ideal connection between resource ownerships and interactive platforms? In an era of multiple plug and play devices, will it be the common standards for application engineering or continue with the proprietary ones for control software? A glimpse can be obtained from the transformation of R&D and engineering in the age of cloud and apps. It is characterized now by customized solutions, agile product prototypes, collaboration between traditional IT and OT companies with the ultimate aim of multi industry collaborative models.
We need to feed billions of mouths and increase quality of life for all equitably in our country and that is a bigger challenge. If we apply the digital technology change in India to solve bigger problems with innovation, e.g. increasing farm output per worker employed or optimizing per drop of water available to us, it will help resolve a lot of dichotomies in the food chain, water and energy resources distribution. India consumes 30 percent more energy for producing any unit of output and new technologies will drive that efficiency. How we use those gains should be the topic of discussion to accelerate the vision for a prosperous and healthy nation and not to fear it due to short term adjustments in the skillset spread in the society.
India is ready and the time is now.
-By Sanjeev Sharma, Managing Director, ABB India