Accelerating technology adoption in the manufacturing industry

Sukumar Bhasker, VP, Information Technology, Flex
‘Flex delivers innovative design, engineering, manufacturing real time supply chain insight and logistic services to companies of all size in various industries and end-markets. In a recent interview with Electronics Maker, Sukumar Bhasker, VP, Information Technology at Flex spoke about how enterprises are rapidly adopting emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things during the COVID-19 crisis.’


Are firms going to invest more in cognitive capabilities such as RPA, IoT, AI and Cobots? 

Across the globe, enterprises are finding ways to adopt newer technologies on a variety of fronts including product development, training, maintenance, repair and employee safety.  The same goes for Flex, where we have always embraced the latest in technology and are tuned to the needs of our ecosystem be it our employees, customers or other stakeholders.

Tasks which involve an abundance of manual and repetitive processes we see it as an opportunity to simplify using automation.  An example would be the way we deployed a bot called Gabriel. Gabriel is a home-grown RPA software which is used to simplify repetitive and manual tasks. We developed Gabriel to address the social insurance benefits process for our China employees.  In the past, the workload comprised manual and repetitive processes which Gabriel effectively solved by completing these tasks rapidly.

The RPA bot allows us to focus on more complex issues without losing productivity. Gabriel works continuously seven days a week. In fact, from April to May this year, we saw a high percent success rate in executing automation and a 100 percent accuracy rate in getting the job done.

Another project we are working in India is the use of IoT based motion sensor technology for lighting up our offices. This IoT solution has motion and light sensors to sense the environment’s ambient lighting conditions and people’s presence. This data helps us to turn on/off the lights automatically to reduce power consumption, cost and importantly carbon footprint.

How Automation can enable companies to restart their business? Or How Automation is going to play a significant role in the post-pandemic era? (Please share insights on impact once companies will adopt automation)

Manufacturing firms need to respond rapidly to changing business conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has created temporary shutdowns and supply chain challenges across industries, around the globe. As sites prepare to re-open, manufacturers need to maintain business continuity and operational efficiency.

To anticipate, understand and respond to changing production levels at our sites, we utilize Industry 4.0 innovations such as machine-to-machine communications (M2M), smart automation and business intelligence. Another digital manufacturing innovation is remote-enabled technology made possible by a combination of the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and real-time analytics. These tools provide insights that help us get 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.

Not only did we save critical margin and return to full production faster than expected, we also launched new technology that increases operational efficiency. As the pandemic response continues, we’re committed to helping our customers, design, develop and deliver crucial resources to their end customers.

What will be the role of AI and IoT technologies in the post Covid-19 era? (Please talk about role and solutions)

The post COVID-19 era will focus on increasing productivity, enhancing manufacturing processes and enhancing overall operational efficiency.

With employees working from home at our Global Business Centers we have effectively used AI to simplify a lot of processes which previously required human intervention.

For our Finance Accounts Payable helpdesk (AP Helpdesk), we used to have dedicated teams addressing and directing various supplier queries to the relevant personnel depending on the geography. With the use of AI and Machine Learning, we analyzed six months’ data and came up with a solution which auto-routed supplier incidents. The machine is fed with information so that the AI can interpret the emails, identify the right person to connect with and directs the suppliers to them, without any hassle.

How will businesses tackle vulnerabilities in supply chain networks?(Please share insights, tips and tricks)

The COVID-19 global pandemic has presented new challenges that the industry has never faced before. Supply chains have been interrupted, while at the same time the demand for medical devices, such as ventilators, are experiencing tremendous increases from both established and new manufacturers. This creates a big challenge, because the soaring demand is outpacing the supply in a contracting and constrained market.

Since the beginning of the crisis in January, we assembled the supply chain task force at Flex to address this challenge and looked at multiple innovative ways to solve the problem at hand. Flex has a vast global footprint and a suite of data-driven supply chain management tools, which are key to assessing and managing the continuously shifting supply chain landscape and mitigating both identified and black-swan risks. The tools give us access to information, but it is the supply chain professionals making good decisions, with less than perfect data that is making the difference in managing these risks.

We are constantly analyzing and studying the demand while balancing the need for supply against the risk of creating an artificially constrained market. While it has been challenging, we have handled the situation well. Everyone understands the challenges and opportunities for all of us to play an important role in helping medical professionals and patients around the world to combat COVID-19, which is the need of the hour.


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