A Textile Manufacturing Industry Perspective – Altizon and Arvind Limited Podcast

Altizon recently hosted a podcast with Arvind to deep dive into driving payback in Industry 4.0, especially so in the area of textile manufacturing.

Arvind Limited is a US $1 billion textile company that believes in creating opportunities beyond the conventional boundaries. Arvind provides integrated solutions in textile fashioning possibilities for their global customer base. The company also focuses on advanced materials, environmental solutions, omni channel commerce and telecom. It is a design powerhouse introducing innovative concepts and generating intellectual property worldwide. Arvind’s sustainability philosophy and innovative concepts in denim, woven, knit and voile products make the company amongst the top-ranked suppliers of fabric worldwide.

Here are snippets from the conversation between Co-Founder & CEO Vinay Nathan (Altizon) and CIO Nitin Parmar (Arvind). Enjoy!

Vinay: Textile industry is something that has been around for centuries, right! It is among those few industries that can claim a lot has changed in terms of how the manufacturing processes work out. Everybody is rapidly changing themselves to work in a model in the midst of a pandemic. If you could spend a few minutes looking back, talking a little bit about the textile industry and what kind of changes are happening right now.

Nitin: India has always been known for the textile market. But in last few years, we have seen a lot of competition from other markets like China or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. That brought an edge to the technology, not as much on the digital aspects as in the area of smart manufacturing. Rather, it has been more on the DCS and SCADA side of it, as well as ERP.

But no major investment was made on the digital side. The world has changed drastically in the past few months and it is very difficult people who have not started their digital journey to cope.

The textile industry is mainly a B2B segment and when we talk about retail, it is B2C. In B2C, there is a lot of technology in play. But textiles has not invested much in digitalization. That’s where changes are coming up. If you ask me about the biggest change we have seen in recent past, it would be around ways to reach our customer, especially in the B2B market. Earlier, we used to go to the customers by, say, a trade show. We used to travel with our products and take orders. So now the question is how to reach our customers, give them a touch and feel of the products, and get the orders. It is another challenge to begin activities on the shop floor adhering to COVID norms such as social distancing.

As other industries, the textile industry is also going through cost reduction and optimization.

Vinay: COVID has definitely led to a number of constraints for manpower and plants and a lot of the safety related aspects as well. How is Arvind navigating this phase?

Nitin: We began our digital journey earlier, so we are in a bit of a safe space. However, a lot more can be done in this area. Going digital is the best way to address the challenges when you cannot travel or cannot reach out to your customers or vendors.

Our digital transformation journey started before COVID. We have implemented certain solutions such as IoT for operational efficiency, productivity, utility monitoring and quality. Some of the digital transformation activity in the form of customer portal, vendor portal and CRM has given us an edge to mitigate current challenges.

The business is moving toward demand-driven model with 3D technology. Customers want to have a real time 3d product experience. Customers are voicing requirements such as a digital library, a digital showroom and a digital trade show.

Other ideas are virtual inspection, quality check and warehouse inspection. Customers are increasingly looking for remote visibility of their orders and dispatch status.

We are working in this direction and want to digitalize our end-to-end supply chain. We are mapping pre-production, production and post-production activities. Our solid digital foundation from earlier is definitely giving us the edge.

Vinay:  How has being a step ahead of time panned out for you – can you maybe cite a specific example?

Nitin: There was tremendous pressure on starting the business as normal and of cost reduction. When you talk about cost reduction, manpower and material availability are major challenges. In such a case, shop floor digitalization has been helping with optimizing production, efficiency and planning for lesser orders with minimal resources.

Vinay: Outside of the COVID context, what were the biggest challenges that you foresaw and what were the biggest learnings in terms of going digital?

Nitin: We all do automation and ERP implementation, with transactional activities in the process. However, when it comes to connecting tools and your enterprise application – essentially your shop floor activity – with the internet of things, there was a gap in terms of controls.

We normally integrate the shop floor activity with ERP, but that lacks real-time insights. ERP needs to have access and a proper record of the manufacturing activity for helping reduce losses and improve efficiency. We identified this gap as the need of the hour and took up an IoT project six months back.

Vinay: With diverse equipment, was connectivity a challenge as well?

Nitin: Connectivity was not a challenge. It was more to do with securely giving access to the IoT data to merge with your business critical applications like SAP.

Vinay: In terms of adoption within the shop floor, one of the most critical things is having everybody from the operator and the supervisor to the plant head excited about this journey. How did Arvind look at it from a change management perspective?

Nitin: It’s always an exciting journey for everybody when you identify a digital project. You have to identify who trust the technology and believe it will work. You have to identify such people and sync their KRA with the project.

The digitalization naturally brings about insecurity within the team because they feel like they or their work will become indispensable. That is not the right approach. We need to educate them on the benefits. It is important for them to understand that if today one operator is managing one machine, tomorrow he can manage more. Efficiency is the keyword here. Whatever is being done as a postmortem can be done in real-time, with a dashboard. We are acquainting them with real-time alerts and how to take the right decisions with that information. They are now confident and happy with the new system.

Vinay: True, they become managers in the truest sense of the term rather than fighting the daily battle for visibility. Do you think this has also impacted the planning processes?

Nitin: Yes, normally in IOT, people only monitor data on the dashboard. Whereas we are also pushing data from SAP to the IOT platform.

That is why the entire shop floor team has high visibility around what is to be produced on a certain day and around the plan for each machine. Their efficiency has improved. Proper planning and scheduling naturally help prioritize work better.

Vinay: Do you envision a, a situation very soon or at any point where one of the customers can actually see exactly where their order is in the full journey?

Nitin: That is our vision. We have initiated the digitization of a lot of pre-production activity. The pre-production activity starts with the design and development of the product to the adoption. We are going to map the customer expectation with our design and development activity. We are going to target the value chain.

We want to create faster digital assets. Whichever product we develop, we will create a digital app. We will add it to the digital library.

We plan to give them an overview of the planning, execution, manufacturing up to the dispatch process. Even their payment status and other miscellaneous details! This will provide them a 360 degree view of not only the manufacturing process, but the entire supply chain.

Vinay: One of the very interesting things we have seen, especially when we work with the main brand, the item customers, is that they are also actively looking at pushing that information across their supply chain. Top suppliers that supply to them wish to have similar access. Is Arvind also looking at things like that?

Nitin: We want to collaborate with our suppliers and customers very closely. We intend to do a lot of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) activity as well. We want to integrate our system with their system through ADI or other means. We are trying to collaborate with our customers in this area also.

Vinay: That is right. EDI is the most basic way to get digital data but IoT can take that to another level. So, sustainability is a big part of what a lot of socially conscious consumers expect today. What has been your take on that?

Nitin: Yes, that is one of the major areas we are driving. When you talk about green manufacturing, we want to optimize our key consumption be it water, steam or power. IoT has given us an edge in this area. We are now able to visualize and analyze all of this data to the point where we can identify, say, a similar machine giving the same output but consuming more energy.

Vinay: I think one of the standard things that we hear a lot about is what are your expectations from an industrial IOT platform vendor. Can you please share any pointers around that basis your experience, to help other manufacturing companies?

Nitin: IoT is not a new technology but different industries have varying expectations from IoT. People associate the term with efficiency, productivity and quality, but we are thinking broader than just OEE. IoT should play a major role in providing more visibility to the entire organization and the customers about the manufacturing process.

As an organization, we are assessing how we can analyze the data available in abundance, control our processes and extend it to our suppliers and customers as well. We want to connect the manufacturing data with our procurement cycle and logistics.

Vinay: Has this journey so far generated excitement in the other plant as well?

Nitin: Yes, they are eager to adopt this technology after seeing the benefits.

Vinay: Looking at the textile manufacturing industry in particular, what would you say are the top things for CIOs to be successful?

Nitin: Any digital transformation journey should be planned well. You need to identify your customers’ expectations and your strategic partners. You would need to begin with a few customers and also have strong aligned incentives. Your value proposition is very important. You would need to assess what are your key priorities that you are looking to achieve by going digital – such as cutting costs and achieving stickiness. The governance structure is most important in my opinion. Digital should not be at the periphery, but at the core. You need to align business leaders for better governance. It is very important to have your data structure in place. Your data lake should be properly structured. It should be properly tied to your business needs. You have to create a team of people with a logical point of view, with a strong sense of ownership and with the belief in digitization. I would say 50% of success criteria is based on your data architecture. These are key things you need to think about before you initiate any digital transformation journey.

Vinay: Fabulous. How did you go about your vendor selection process?

Nitin: The vendor selection process is critical. It should not be a one-time vendor, rather a strategical vendor. The vendor would be your partner and needs to have a strong experience and deep expertise in the technology. They should also be able to understand your business very well.

The vendor should also be able to support you across geographies. It is important that they don’t focus only on one technology, rather be open to adapt with time to address the business requirement.

Vinay: What is the biggest thing that you would hope to see happen on the digital journey in the next couple of years?

Nitin: The authenticity and the source of information should be very strong for a futuristic digital platform. There should be a single source of truth across the organization. Today we have multiple applications and partners working for us. That comes with its own share of reconciliation challenges. We are looking for a data lake solution where all business enterprise applications and manufacturing applications come with the data, with analytics on top of it. As of today, the data is available in fragmentation and segmentation, lacking visibility for further analysis. Cloud has brought in a lot of ease in setting up a data lake. We are embarking on that journey.

We are also focusing on extending our applications to our customers and suppliers so that they can also work with us. So definitely technology such as RPA, ML and AI will come into the picture. However, having a robust digital strategy is most important. AI and ML can fortify it. How you structure your data is crucial.

Vinay: The entire Altizon team has enjoyed interacting with and working with Arvind on the journey so far. I appreciate your time, effort and insights.

Hopefully, we will have more stories to share in a few months when things are better and you scale this up to the next level.

Nitin: Of course! There are a lot of other things to do. We have just begun. Considering we have already overcome a lot of hurdles, I am sure we will be even more successful going ahead.

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