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Enhancing Productivity: Manufacturing companies increasingly use cutting-edge telecom technologies

December 31, 2013
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The manufacturing industry in both developed and developing countries is witnessing large-scale innovation to meet the demand for products, reduce labour costs and ensure a secure and safe work environment for employees. On account of globalisation, a large number of manufacturing companies across sectors such as fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), durable goods, automobiles and printing and packaging are undergoing significant changes in enterprise workforce culture and sourcing strategies. To meet these challenges, a large number of manufacturing companies are adopting telecom and IT technologies to streamline various operations and bring in flexibility within the organisation to manage diverse functions.

Further, organisations are using telecom as a tool to achieve global manufacturing standards and establish a strong communication link between a company’s boardroom and the manufacturing plant.  The adoption of cutting-edge telecom solutions helps manufacturing companies increase efficiencies, reduce costs and achieve faster time-to-market for new products and services equipment.

To meet their connectivity requirements, most organisations in the manufacturing space are using wide area networks (WAN) to support internal as well as external communication applications.

Manufacturing companies with huge bandwidth requirements for supporting data-intensive applications like video- and audioconferencing are using ISDNs. Several companies have also opted for Ethernet as it is economical to upgrade networks based on this technology. For sharing large volumes of data across locations in a wide geographical area, manufacturing companies are using VSATs as the connectivity medium. VSAT technology is used for establishing 24x7 connectivity between the corporate office and remote sites. By deploying VSAT, organisations are able to easily expand and upgrade existing sites and add new locations to their existing infrastructure. For last mile connectivity, companies are using optic fibre cable, radio frequency and Wi-Fi.

Recognising the critical role that telecom plays in re-engineering existing processes, several companies are adopting mobility solutions for manufacturing functions such as scheduling, visibility, plant utilisation, throughput analytics and order tracking. Manufacturing companies are investing in mobility applications such as audio- and videoconferencing, web conferencing, VoIP, mobile email and corporate intranet.

Customised mobility applications help companies achieve operational efficiency by reducing costs, improving data capture accuracy, decreasing inventory management errors and balancing supply and demand. In addition, customised applications and product catalogues enable suppliers and partners to access product information quickly and easily and compare pricing in real time. Mobility applications ensure stronger collaboration between companies and suppliers through greater visibility of the supply chain via automated, real-time data collection. A large number of companies are leveraging manufacturing execution systems (MES) for improving quality, productivity and bottom lines. An MES is a dynamic information system which powers efficient execution of manufacturing operations. It primarily connects various decision-based functions under a common repository, facilitating data sharing. Functions covered under the mobility application include accounting, production/assembly floor and engineering, purchasing, configuration management, manufacturing engineering, process engineering, research and development, and testing. MES, along with other mobility solutions such as product lifecycle management (PLM) and supply chain management (SCM), helps organisations effectively automate various production- and sales-related functions. For example, SCM allows organisations to better manage batch production and provides them end-to-end visibility of plant operations. Further, the mobility application helps organisations leverage data capture technologies and contextualise raw data into useful business information to drive informed decision-making. Another popular mobility solution being deployed by the industry is PLM, which helps companies manage product innovation and life cycle. PLM forms the product information backbone for a company and its extended enterprise. The solution allows integration of people, processes, business systems and information, which paves the way for innovation through ideation and collaboration, efficient product portfolio management and analytics, and data consolidation as well as creates a useful enterprise product record. Organisations using PLM solutions are better placed to align their product value chains and reduce costs with faster time-to-market.

Moreover, a large number of organisations are banking on IT to develop inhouse websites and applications that facilitate data entry, product lookup and business intelligence through dashboards. Given the significant role that telecom plays in enhancing productivity, manufacturing companies are expected to continue to upgrade their existing networks and adopt new technologies.

tele.net conducted a survey amongst various companies in the manufacturing segment to assess their telecom requirements and solutions.

The following questions were asked in the survey:

•   What are the organisation’s key technology requirements?

•   What mix of service providers and vendors is used?

•   What are the biggest concerns with respect to telecom infrastructure?

•   What are some of the mobility and enterprise applications that the organisation has implemented?

•   Which network security tools has the organisation implemented?

•   What redundancy tools are being used?

•   Which new product or service holds the most relevance for the organisation?

 Key technology requirements

Over the years, the manufacturing space has undergone a significant change with the introduction of cutting-edge technologies. A large number of manufacturing companies are deploying telecom and IT tools to achieve greater synergies among critical functions such as procurement, production and distribution. High bandwidth speed and zero uptime are key priorities for manufacturing companies. As companies have to manage a huge volume of data, it becomes imperative for them to keep their telecom networks running 24x7 and secure their data from internal as well as external threats.

To meet their telecom requirements, manufacturing companies have been deploying a host of technologies. As per the survey results, a large number of companies have established WAN for meeting their day-to-day communication needs. Companies are using various technologies for WAN connectivity including leased line networks, ISDNs, Ethernet, VSATs and IP-VPNs. Since manufacturing companies deal with huge data volumes, they use ISDNs for running applications such as video- and audio-conferencing, which require higher bandwidth. VSATs are the most preferred option for establishing connectivity between corporate offices and remote site locations spread across the country. The satellite-based network enables them to migrate easily from their legacy systems and introduce new applications in the network. For last mile connectivity, these companies have mostly opted for optic fibre and wireless connectivity, primarily radio frequency.

Several companies such as Mahindra & Mahindra Limited (MML), Micro Technologies India Limited (MTIL) and Simmtronics Semiconductors Limited have deployed multi-tier communications infrastructure. For example, MTIL uses a dual-technology network for inter- and intra-office connectivity sourced from Cisco Systems. Its communication backbone comprises a VPN-based network for establishing connectivity among its development centre in Pune, its head office and branch offices. Leased lines are used for communication within its branch offices as well as for providing connectivity to its media and marketing offices. Further, a Wi-Fi set-up that connects to the internet has been installed for communication with overseas offices while branch office connectivity is ensured through VoIP.

Companies such as Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Company, Usha International Limited (UIL) and MTIL have established data centres for ensuring storage and server backup, supporting various enterprise management solutions, and providing adequate networking and network security.

Service providers and vendors

Manufacturing companies engage multiple service providers and a mix of vendors to address their connectivity requirements. They use communication services provided by operators such as Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, Vodafone India and Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) Limited. In addition, these companies seek high bandwidth service from leading players like Sify Technologies, Tikona Broadband and Tata Communications. Hardware and software products and solutions are provided by players such as BlackBerry, SAP AG, Symantec and Check Point Software Technologies Limited.

 Mobile and enterprise applications

With an aim to create a common database for ensuring easy and quick access to information, manufacturing companies across industries have deployed a host of mobility solutions such as audio- and video-conferencing, VoIP, webconferencing, mobile email and corporate intranet. The majority of them also use various IT applications for effectively carrying out their day-to-day functions including planning, financing, accounting and maintaining inventory. For instance, applications like SCM and enterprise resource planning (ERP) help them enhance productivity by automating and creating central databases.

Aksh Optifibre Limited has been using an ERP system since 1998, which was developed in-house. The ERP system helps carry out functions such as automatic computation, inventory planning, dispatch, billing and management of storehouse operations. Currently, about 70 per cent of employees can use this system, which allows easy access to the company’s database and various functions across departments. SAP technology has also been adopted for applications such as business intelligence, advanced planning and optimisation, employee self-service and dealer management system modules.

Further, VoIP services like Skype are deployed for coordination between sales personnel and other executives. MML, for example, uses enterprise applications such as SAP, Exchange Email and Microsoft Sharepoint. Moreover, several companies are equipping their salespersons and field staff with connected devices to provide access to real-time information and to the company portal. Simmtronics provides its employees with data cards to access the company’s corporate intranet, even from remote locations. Further, senior executives at the organisation use BlackBerry devices for safe and secure communication.

 Network redundancy

Collection, computation and data storage are key priorities for manufacturing companies. Reducing server uptime is also a major concern. Several redundancy tools are deployed to ensure uninterrupted network operations. Most companies use technologies such as ISDN, dual networks and back-up drives and deploy both VPN and MPLS networks for round-the-clock connectivity. In case of any disruption in the VPN network, they switch to an alternative MPLS network, which helps organisations overcome issues regarding downtime.

 Network security

Manufacturing companies have deployed several mediums to secure their data and networks. They use unified threat management solutions at different sites, besides firewalls and anti-intrusion systems to check data theft. Several companies have also developed an internal access system to protect their network. These systems prevent unauthorised access of databases by alerting the management in case a third party is trying to break into the security system. For example, UIL uses firewalls, anti-spam tools and the gateway load balancer platform to safeguard its network from internal as well as external threats.

 The way forward

To address changing customer needs, it has become essential for manufacturing companies to continuously upgrade their telecom networks. They are investing significantly in new telecom tools, IT applications and mobility solutions to stay ahead in the highly competitive marketplace. With growing connectivity needs and the increase in the number of mobile devices, companies like Aksh are also looking at equipping their workforce with faster, more intelligent machines in order to make them more productive.

Going forward, manufacturing companies are expected to upgrade their legacy systems or establish new networks to increase productivity, align operations, and achieve cost efficiencies and faster time-to-market.

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