By Srinath Srinivasan
With rapid localisation and incentives for manufacturing, a number of new manufacturing units are expected to come up in India and the existing ones, expand further. This creates room for automation, an important aspect of Industry 4.0, where the operations happen in sync, through communication between different entities in the manufacturing unit.
One of the key technologies that make this a reality is the Internet of Things (IoT). “Manufacturing is a very large horizontal area having various verticals. How employees interact with equipment in a large plant and how different machines interact with each other are our important focus areas within manufacturing,” says Alok Bardiya, head, Internet of Things (Business Unit), Tata Communications.
Employee safety, vehicle movement tracking, and accident prevention are some examples where IoT is employed to improve efficiency and productivity in a manufacturing plant. “The aim is to bring visibility into the numerous activities going inside the plant at scale which has traditionally been monitored manually,” says Bardiya.
The other desirable outcome for organisations is in the form of resource efficiency. Monitoring localised or distributed energy, water, gas and other resources is an important industrial application. The technology also opens up opportunities for large special economic zones to offer connected services for the companies setting up their facilities inside the zone. “The SEZs usually span over several square kilometers. We have something called the IoT fabric which the SEZ authorities can offer to the companies occupying the zone. This fabric usually has essential IoT services that the occupant companies would need,” says Bardiya.
In IoT, hardware and analytics go hand in hand. “India has a huge opportunity ahead for IoT hardware and sensor production,” says Bardiya. According to him, China and Taiwan used to be the go-to places for procuring all the hardware. However, currently, Tata Communications has its own vendor and supplier ecosystem in India. “This is an ongoing process. We work with multiple partners for different client use cases. There is still a large scope for full localisation to take place,” says Bardiya.
On the software side, there is complete localisation and analytics form the core of the service offerings and value addition to customers across verticals. “Most of our offerings fall in the analytics, maintenance and service fronts that are subscription based,” says Bardiya. Data collection, security, forecasting and predictive analysis are some of the most sought-after services on the software side of IoT. According to him, most of the customisation happens on the software application side irrespective of customer size and for various readily available hardware and sensors. Since IoT itself is not a single piece of technology, the possibilities are many and different combinations can be tailored for different purposes. This also helps customers measure the returns based on the purpose. “For instance, for connected street lights we have seen 25-30% returns in the form of power savings by collectively measuring electricity efficiency, LED light efficiency and other parameters over 12 months,” he says.
The heavy software play has also enabled the players in the IoT industry to scale their solutions. Bardiya points to the SaaS business model that has become a standard over the years. “SaaS model allows clients to use the product without worrying about anything associated with the backend. Data, security, analytics, and choosing the right cloud platforms become our problem,” says Bardiya. The real challenge then is the value and concept selling for wider adoption.
Then there is the hunt for talent. There are hardware specialists, software specialists, data scientists and people from consultancy background who work with clients for creating solutions. The bright side to these challenges is the creation of a large new industry with various new job opportunities.