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A Practitioner’s View on AI-Led Transformation in Manufacturing

Aditya Karnani, Lead, Factory Performance & Reliability, Colgate Palmolive | Ronobijay Bhaumik, Director, Digital Consulting, Intelligent Operations, BRIDGEi2i


In this podcast, the guest Adita Karnani shares some thought-provoking insights on AI-led automation in manufacturing plants and how digitalization coupled with the pandemic has led to innovations and processes within many industrial plants.

[04.18]Automation in Manufacturing has been fairly prevalent for decades. Why is it then that we keep hearing about AI in manufacturing being an emerging area?

[06.13] Can you give us examples of challenges you face or you have seen in the CPG industry?

[08:26] Do you see any specific use cases that are more important right now, or are seeing higher levels of acceptance in the management community as well as in your function?

[14:50] Can you give some tips and insights to young professionals looking to build their careers in the manufacturing industry. Since the industry today is beginning to leverage AI at a rapid pace, what would you think they should be doing to differentiate themselves?

Ronnie: Welcome to a brand new episode of the AI to Impact Podcast series where we’ve had the opportunity to hear from several thought leaders from across the industry and from BRIDGEi2i’s experts as well. We have covered a whole range of topics around how enterprises are adopting AI and what it means for them in the context of digital transformation. So, I’m your host for today, Ronobijay Bhaumik. I’m a director at BRIDGEi2i and I lead the Intelligent Operations practice, where we focus on reimagining processes and business models through innovative AI enabled solutions across manufacturing, supply chain and services automation. This is in industries such as financial services and insurance, consumer packaged goods and the manufacturing industry as well. Today, I’m very pleased to be hosting Aditya Karnani from the factory performance and reliability practice at Colgate Palmolive. Based out of their cutting-edge plant in Sanand, in the western state of Gujarat in India, he is an experienced manufacturing and operations excellence professional with a keen interest in the supply chain domain. During his ten plus years of experience, he has developed a keen interest in digital, analytics and AI for the manufacturing industry. Welcome to the podcast Aditya, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you with us today.

Aditya: Thank you, Ronnie. Thank you for having me for the podcast. The pleasure is all mine.

Ronnie: I’m sure our listeners are very eager to hear your thoughts about how you think about and use AI for manufacturing. But before we jump into that, can you tell us a little bit more about what you do at Colgate?

Aditya: Sure. I look after effective performance and reliability. It’s an operational excellence and business excellence mixed up program where we also look into, you know, multiple digital solutions which can be implemented in the manufacturing space. So, overall, our aim is to become a smart factory globally, and we are driving all those initiatives over here in Sanand as well. I also contribute towards the adoption of new technologies into Colgate. So, we keep on experimenting with different new technologies for the manufacturing sector.

Ronnie: Well, Aditya you have worked across quite a few organizations in a variety of roles. What got you interested in this area of AI in manufacturing and how have you learned and grown in this field?

Aditya: Ronnie, I started my career as a reliability engineer in a cement plant where with the help of a device called Vibxpert, we used to take the vibration in each and every equipment in the cement plant. Slowly and gradually, the industry trend shifted to the online sensors where you don’t have to run around just for the measurement. And now we are seeing that you know a lot of machine learning modules have been built over these predictive maintenance sensor devices, where even decision making or, you know, an analysis of these trends is also possible. So, AI brought a huge shift into the entire predictive maintenance, where deep expertise of a vibration analyst is not required. In major cases, and not just the trend, one can get clear insights and actions also to be followed. With similar practices delving into more details about artificial intelligence, I was mesmerized to know how AI is disrupting the entire manufacturing segment, and how AI is disrupting the common man’s life. Like you know, I was going through one application where you can get a home loan within 20 minutes. A lot of you know financial institutions are doing that and with the help of AI they are able to make the decision whether they want to disburse a loan to that individual or not. So, overall if you see, AI has impacted us a lot you know. From a common man perspective, AI you know, one would not be able to gauge that, you know, all these decisions are made on the basis of artificial intelligence. But yes, AI has a lot of big roles to play in society.

Ronnie: Great – I mean, I think your journey has been quite interesting. You’ve experienced AI in the professional life and in the personal life as well – something which we all do. But now let’s really focus on some of the growth-related challenges that we come across in this field. So, I mean, automation in manufacturing has been fairly prevalent for decades. I’m sure that you agree with me on that statement. Why is it then that we keep hearing about AI in manufacturing being an emerging area?

Aditya: First thing Ronnie, I will say that it is awareness. You know a lot of applications which are available in the market – people are not aware how to use them because manufacturing has its customized requirements. And I’d also say that there are not many companies that are into the AI. You keep on hearing a lot of companies are doing AI applications. But you know if you see most of the companies are building their own AI solution because it needs a lot of customization. Second, it is available, but it is in the pockets. Like, you know, AI majorly, if you hear about AI – a lot will say that, you know, only startups are using AI. The established companies don’t have much of the, you know, applications of the AI, because it requires again, you know, a lot of customizations, a lot of you know, the work needs to be done to the available technology. And third, I’d say that industry is now realizing its benefit with its use cases established by the prominent startups. People are, you know, realizing that you know, what can be done with the help of AI. So, these three, four things basically play an important role. Now, you know, we are seeing a technology shift, you know, IoT with the IoT 4.0 it has become, you know, more prominent. Industry is in the phase of digital journey right now. Once digital is complete, then, you know, it would be very easy to go on to the AI applications, until and unless digitization happens to a certain extent, AI applications cannot be used in the industry.

Ronnie: That’s a great point. And I think that brings me to the next set of challenges. I mean – if you can help us also understand some of the challenges that you see in the manufacturing function in the CPG industry. So, you spoke about challenges that are there across the industry, but if you can just give us examples of, you know, challenges you face or you have seen in the CPG industry?

Aditya: See, CPG sector, the entire sector is going through the reimagining phase, where skills and decision making has become very important. COVID taught us a lot of things, you know, earlier, we, you know, as a manufacturing guy, I would never think that, you know, remote working would be possible for the manufacturing professionals also. But now it has become, you know, a reality for everyone that, you know, at times, you may need to, you know, work from remote as well. So, that’s the one thing. Considering the current situation, I will not say that, you know, it is a COVID situation, because we don’t know, when COVID will be over. But we consider the situation in view, because there is a lot of volatility and uncertainty in the market, we see that, you know, AI would disrupt the CPG industry in the next two to three years, a lot of solutions will be onboarded. We have seen that, you know, digital payment, like, you know. I’ll just shift from manufacturing, which I will say, I have not used, you know, the notes, paper notes, for approximately one and a half years. I’ll make my decision and I’ll buy only from the guys who are accepting the digital payments. If you see, this is a big adoption, that you know, thinking that you know, we are not using the paper notes for our transaction, day to day transactions. So, this is the kind of shift we have seen and similar shift, you know, CPG is also experiencing. A lot of digital solution, a lot of the remote solutions have been onboard. And we have seen the advantages of these digital solutions. We have done new product launches with the help of these, you know, these remote solutions. So, a lot of things will come into the industries. Onboarding has become very important. And but, you know, since you know, it has started, it will grow in a pace.

Ronnie: Yeah, interesting that you mentioned, you haven’t used notes in a year and a half. I don’t recall the last time I visited an ATM. So, it’s been a long time, I think it was January or February of last year before this whole lockdown happened here. But very nice examples Aditya, thanks for that. Do you see any kinds of specific use cases that are more important right now or are seeing, you know, higher levels of acceptance in the management community as well in your function?

Aditya: Remote solutions is one. The second is a learning solution. See, retaining the knowledge has become very important in the industry. We have you know state of art infra into our manufacturing plants, very high-speed lines, and very complex problems also to solve because you know with the high speed and with the high accuracy, if there is an error, you know, the skills have become more important than ever, and retaining that knowledge in the form that you know, we are not dependent on individual that has become very important. And, you know, with the AI solutions coupled with VR, and AR, we were able to see, we were able to realize that, you know, we will be able to retain our knowledge which has been gained over the years. So now, that’s one thing, which I’m seeing as a huge impact into the manufacturing industry, particularly to the shop floor. The second would be the paperless initiatives, you know – paper checklist you know with COVID has taught us that, you know, having a paper is a sin we said that, you know, we discussed that, you know, we didn’t had no paper notes for more than a year now. And now I’m seeing that you know, in the plant checklist and then documentation which has been done, that also will transit to the paperless, you know, format. And with the paperless format, we’ll see that, you know, most of the information getting digitized – we will be able to see visualization on that, we’ll be able to see, you know, AI applications where, you know, important trends and insights can be brought out. So those are the two-three things, which I see that, you know, has a quick adoption. Now, another area where I am very bullish, and I’m very, you know, very expecting very, you know, huge, you know, disruption is in video analytics, I see, video analytics has a lot of opportunity into the manufacturing sector.

Ronnie: And I think that’s a great point. It’s also a great segway for us as we move from the challenges to different kinds of solutions and approaches that we see, you know, different companies take. So when it comes to solving for these challenges, and, you know, we’ve been, you know, working together for a while now, and you’ve seen that we typically encourage taking an end to end view of the problem, right, everything from, you know, data and infrastructure to consumption insights, and then action, and then how AI can enable it along this whole journey. What have you seen work best? I mean, given that most of your operators and supervisors would possibly have a very limited view of the kinds of challenges and solutions that are being addressed?

Aditya: Ronnie, one thing I’ve learned in my manufacturing, you know, career is that you know, the solutions, which can be easily adopted by the shop floor operators are the solutions, which are very simple in nature. Though, there isn’t, you know, in the backend, they could be very complex, but, you know, they should look very simple to them. First is that, the second thing is that if they remove drudgery out of the operation in some or other way, definitely, they help them a lot, and then, you know, we see an upfront adoption of those solutions. So, these are the two things, which I see that, you know, you know, helps a lot to the shop floor operators, and not just the shop floor operators, if it helps in removing the drudgery out of the system, definitely, it you know, impacts their bandwidth, it impacts their availability on solving the complex issues, it gives them a time breather time or a space to think about solving the problem, which has not been solved so far. And they also participate into the continuous improvement initiatives, because, you know, bandwidth has increased, and now they are able to focus into the problems, which has never been achieved. So, these are the things which helps in shop floor operations. These are the things which helps everyone into the hierarchy, because, you know, things becomes very easy. If I don’t have a drudgery in my life, I don’t have a hassle of, you know, doing the things again, and again, definitely, it improves my skills, I would be able to devote my time into, you know, developing the new skills.

Ronnie: I couldn’t agree more, I think, you know, the shop floor operators and supervisors are probably the, you know, the most important stakeholders in the entire operations, right, and we’ve seen so many clients not really you know, taking them into account or, or their mindset, if you will, into account to remove drudgery from their day to day operations. So, it’s, it’s absolutely fantastic that you called out that point. Thanks for that. And we’ve also seen, you know, folks take an approach which, which is very compartmentalized, so they said, okay, great, if I’m solving for data, I’ll solve only for data, but if I’m solving for consumption, I’ll solve only for consumption. You know, or if I’m solving for process I’ll solve only for process. Whereas what we’ve been talking about and working on is something which is more holistic, it combines all of these together. Do you see this change happening, you know, more frequently? Or is it something that you think the industry is still not quite amenable to?

Aditya: See Ronnie, I think, you know, change has already started. And many of the companies gone away with the silo functioning. The goals have become common and connected for everyone, like, you know, organizations are adopting, OKR way of working, where, you know, a small group works for a solution and fit-to-purpose team models have been introduced, that you know, the exact fit, team members are being deployed for one particular job. With the introduction of these things, I think, you know, a single team comprises of all the elements and all the kind of talent which is required to solve the problem, or basically execute a project, or anything related to the, you know, day to day functioning. So, it’s way more easy now to align and execute the solutions. Tech has impacted every walk of life in one way or another. So, everyone realizes that sooner is the better. So, technology related solutions always gets the priority in organizations. Specifically in the Colgate Palmolive, everyone is very much excited if someone is introducing some sort of new technology which can help you know, in achieving our 2025 missions.

Ronnie: That’s great to hear. And I think, you know, technology has not left a single sphere of our lives aside, you know, I mean, we’re seeing that change rapidly and more. So in the last, you know, 18 to 20 months, the way it’s changed is just phenomenal. And with that I’d like you know, I would love for you to give some tips and insights to young professionals who are looking to build their careers in this industry, especially as they join the industry now. And given that it is, is beginning to leverage AI in a far bigger manner than it was, until very recently, what should those individuals be doing to differentiate themselves as the joint function?

Aditya: In short, I’d say get onboarded as soon as possible to the AI journey. One is that. Try to learn different technologies, whatever is available, there is a huge bouquet of technologies which are available under the AI function. Think from an external perspective. Ronnie what happens is that, you know, I also, you know, get submerged into day in – day out problems that we are not able to think, you know, out of the box. But with the young professionals, we expect that, you know, from coming to a very fresh mindset, they’d think, you know, outside the box, they’ll bring something which is very disruptive, but very simple in nature, because complex solutions have a simple you know, like, you know, complex solutions will require a simple way of thinking, so, that they can be executed with a wary pace because, you know, longer term executions, and then a very prolonged, you know, deployment, basically, you know, distracts people from the adoption. So, that is the one. The another is that you know, the engineering programs have been refunctioned. So now, whatever the young engineering professionals we are seeing, or management professionals we are seeing, they already have the knowledge of these technologies, and somewhat you know, they know, the coding as well. Even when we are also hiring the new engineers, we expect them to know, basic level of coding. Why? Not to code. Just to know how technology plays a function, and by hands-on-coding some what they’ll be able to understand how to customize it for the industry. So this is a very exciting space and new era for manufacturing engineers also and management professionals also, to play a bigger role in, you know, disrupting the entire industry.

Ronnie: Great, thank you so much. I think your advice is very, very pertinent for our listeners who are looking to build their careers by leveraging AI more in this function. And it’s not just a question of leveraging AI, it is just staying up to date with what’s happening. And getting on board with this with the program so to speak. So, so thank you so much for summarizing that and, and for joining us today. And I really look forward to continuing our conversation in the next episode of AI to Impact where we look at some of the best practices to get a buy-in to drive AI projects and make change real for all stakeholders concerned. Thank you so much.

Aditya: Thank you so much, Ronnie. It is always a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.

Ronnie: Thank you all listeners for tuning into this episode of AI to Impact. I’m sure you enjoy listening to Aditya’s insights on the key challenges faced and how they are looking to solve for those challenges in the manufacturing industry and the role that AI plays today. Please do subscribe to this podcast series to listen to conversations with other thought leaders who bring AI to life. You can also write to us in the comment section with your suggestions on topics that you want to hear more about. We will see you next time. Until then, take care and stay safe.

Meet the Speakers

Aditya Karnani

Aditya Karnani – Lead, Factory Performance & Reliability, Colgate Palmolive

Aditya Karnani is an experienced manufacturing and operational excellence professional with a keen interest in supply chains. Aditya has over a decade’s worth of professional experience , and has developed a deep interest in the adoption of digital, analytics, and AI technologies for the manufacturing industry. Aditya has done his B.E in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Rajasthan.

Ronobijay Bhaumik

Ronobijay Bhaumik – Director, Digital Consulting, Intelligent Operations, BRIDGEi2i

Ronobijay Bhaumik is responsible for driving the organization strategy for the Intelligent Operations functions which includes AI program evangelizing and design across services, Industry 4.0 and data strategy. With over 15 years of experience, he currently leads several strategic digital workstreams at BRIDGEi2i. Ronobijay holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and an Engineering degree in Electronics & Telecommunications from the University of Pune.

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