Embracing technology tools
Companies worldwide are relying on emerging technologies more than ever to help drive innovation, strategy, growth and increase competitive advantage. Technology has become a crucial and indispensable part of almost every kind of business. Without the role of technology in business, many businesses simply could not survive. Just imagine a multinational organisation or a small business enterprise trying to operate without the use of a telephone or computer - or even the Internet. Today IT and technology have become two sides of the same coin.
Technology in business allows organisations to improve both the performance and overall effectiveness of products, systems and services, which, in turn, enables businesses to expand quickly and efficiently. Technology has a wide range of potential effects on management, as well as various ways it can impact the operations, productivity, profitability and sustainability of an organisation.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform is a software package designed to support and integrate almost every functional area of a business process such as procurement of goods and services, sales and distribution, finance, accounting, human resource, manufacturing, production planning, logistics and warehouse management. Today many cement companies are using ERP platforms for effective management control. With the advent of the internet and management information systems, businesses have been able to transform from local to global. In order to keep up with competition as a result of internet commercialisation, companies are increasingly turning to information technology, or hardware, software and telecommunications networks, to streamline services and boost performance. As such, IT has become an essential feature in the business landscape.
IT streamlines communication
Efficient and effective communication is critical to company success. A key advantage of information technology lies in its ability to streamline communication both internally and externally. This has given businesses unparalleled access to customers & consumers, enabling organisations to deliver new and enhanced products.
For example, online meeting and video conferencing platforms such as Skype, Zoom and GoToMeeting provide businesses the opportunity to collaborate virtually in real-time, significantly reducing costs associated with bringing clients on-site or communicating with staffs who work remotely. In addition, IT allows organisations to connect almost effortlessly with international suppliers and consumers. All of us aware that this was more pronounced in the period of lockdown.
Although IT may seem expensive when first implemented, in the long run, however, it becomes incredibly cost-effective by streamlining a company's operational and managerial processes. The implementation of online training programs is a classic example of IT improving an organisation's internal processes by reducing costs and employee time spent outside of work. In effect, IT enables companies to do more with less, without sacrificing quality or value.
Let us now cover of some typical applications of technologies in cement industry: Use of ERP packages is quite common in multi-unit and widely spread cement groups. Jitendra Singh, CIO of JK Cement, said "companies are deriving benefits from such kind of implementations." A few more examples of UltraTech, ACC, Ambuja and Shree cement can be given.
Mine planning: Mine planning can be defined as the process of optimising the exploitation of mineral reserves for maximum added value aligned with the strategic goals and objectives of the business enterprise. A virtual 3D model of a mine can be created that is used for day today operation and extraction of material.
Of late, mining equipment are fitted with GPS based navigator, which provides access to the supplier of equipment who keeps tab on use or abuse of the machine even from distance and provides online service in case of breakdown. The mining industry in Australia is using driverless trucks and trains to transport the ore from mine to port for further shipment that involves the least human intervention. Driverless cars are just one of the many incredible technologies that are likely to be ushered in with 5G technology much talked about in telecom sector.
Use of drones in the mining sector is farfetched for us, may be due to lack of suitable policy. This technology once adopted is going to find several applications not only mines but also in other areas.
Plant operations: There are a number of software packages as standard or customised available depending on the requirement that can be deployed by plant management either for process optimisation and optimisation of specific a process parameter. Companies like ABB, thyssenkrupp or Schneider have been referred in this edition little more in details.
Plant maintenance: Either these can be used from ERP platform or there can be a dedicated one associated with an equipment e.g. VRM gets a software package for monitoring its performance. These packages have access to the suppliers who can remotely get connected and solves the problem.
Quality control: There is a great opportunity in the Indian cement industry for the use of technology in this area. Typical spread of a cement plant being huge and the sample collection points are at a fairly long distance, collection to be done in odd hours. This necessitated going for robotic labs. All most all recently commissioned plants in the last five years have robotic labs. We strongly feel that even older plants need to go for robotic sample collections over manual.
The other major breakthrough can be achieved is availability of real time test results. In QC labs the results are available after the material is packed. However if results are delivered when material is in process, corrective actions are possible. Procurement: The ERP platform as referred above is extremely useful for procurement as well as managing the finance including payment to vendors in a very transparent way. It has a separate sales module that gives flexibility to sales force in managing sales function.
Logistics: Truck and wagon loading is part of logistics where there is very wide scope to use contemporary technologies that includes use of RFID and GPS tracking for faster movement of trucks. In our one of earlier issues we had covered how Shree cement has reduced logistic cost by using technology.
Training: Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are best used in imparting training on some of complex processes like burning and kiln operation. More and more use of technology is going to be there for training. Virtual reality and AI are two more examples of the breakthroughs that we can expect once the data network catches up with technological advancement.
CCTV: The job of keeping vigilance, crime detection has been made easy by use of close circuit television that is further enhanced by use of internet coupled with digital signals. Even at plant level after introduction of CCTV systems, the jobs have not only become easy but efficient and quick.
Security: As the use of internet and digital modes will increase, the users will have to ensure safe practices to avoid unlawful use. More care needs to be taken while doing financial transactions.
Slow in AFR: There are several reasons why Indian Cement Industry is still lagging in use of alternate fuels. One of the major one is lack of suitable technology support. CFD: We have covered more on this subject in greater details as a part of cover story. It is a new technique to solve problems using computer simulation packages. The inputs are quite informative.
e-commerce business: The article can't be completed without a reference to e-commerce business. We, all are going to witness phenomenal rise in various sectors of E commerce business that will include business procurement. Let us keep our fingers crossed until 5G is rolled out in our country. Similarly e-commerce also will spread its wings in business procurement in the same way as Ola and Uber have done it urban mobility.
Use of technology is touching every function in cement production and sale. But in India, typically being a populous country, labour is a cheap input in manufacturing and it always becomes a hurdle in accepting new technologies on commercial yardsticks.
- VIKAS DAMLE