In an interaction with Industry Outlook, Mahesh Girdhar, President - Crop Nutrition Business, Deepak Fertilizers And Petrochemicals Corporation Limited, and Deepak Keni, Executive Vice President – Special Projects and Enablers, Deepak Fertilizers And Petrochemicals Corporation Limited share their views on how the Fertilizers and Petrochemicals industry is coping with the technology and business transformation challenges in the current turbulent times.
How do you see the current market of fertilizers and petrochemicals? How is the increasing production of DAP and Complex fertilizers changing the market?
The current situation in the fertilizer market is in a positive space. Despite the nationwide lockdown, we have witnessed a record sale of fertilizers raising expectations of record growth in agriculture in the current year. The Government under the Essential Commodities Act allowed operation of fertilizers plants in the country so that agriculture and fertilizer sector may not feel the heat of lockdown. The supply lines for essential goods and services were kept open despite the restrictions. There is growth in fertilizer sales compared to last year.
All India Complex Fertilizer market (DAP+NPKS) in terms of sales grown by 50%+ year on year till August 2020(As per FAI YTD Aug 20 data). Kharif sowing was one of the best in any season. Production of DAP/ Complex fertilizer is stagnant over last year. Imports of DAP and Complex fertilizer grew by 16% and 104% till August 2020 over last year's same period. The demand for fertilizers during the rabi season is expected to go up substantially because of good monsoon and lesser inventory with Channel.
How do you assess the impact of pandemic on this sector? What are the major challenges thrown up by the pandemic and how are manufacturers addressing those challenges?
Although the Fertilizer sector falls under the Essential Commodities Act and hence was exempted from lockdown restrictions. But the lockdown posed several challenges for the continuous operation of fertilizer plants:
• Plant need to operate with 30-50% of manpower and sourcing of raw materials
• Availability of contract labour at plant sites for loading and unloading at destination points
• Limited storage capacity inside plant resulting in pressure on the evacuation of material
• Availability of consumable materials such as bags and chemicals
On market side due to restricted movement of sales and marketing team we were fully dependent on digital media to reach our consumer and channel. Our difficulties were high because our products are differentiated value added product. Value proposition communication is key success mantra of our fast ramp of our differentiated NPK. Our team has adapted quickly to new ways of working.
How do you see the level of technology maturity or adoption in the fertilizers and petrochemicals sector in India? Which new technologies are being leveraged by businesses in order to manage and monitor operations effectively?
The level of technology adoption in fertilizers and petrochemicals sector is slowly increasing with the advent of Industry 4.0 and IIOT. However, the return on investment stretches over a period of time because of slower adoption and lack of fundamental process changes to complement the technology adoption. Many new Industry 4.0 technologies and IIOT technologies like Augmented Remote Operations and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality coupled with process simulations and process modeling technologies are being considered to manage and monitor operations effectively.
However the operations control remotely has not reached maturity level in India. The adoption of new technologies to manage and monitor operations effectively has been necessitated by COVID scenario with shortage of manpower on manufacturing locations and need for business continuity.
Which technologies do you think have massive potential for this sector but are yet to be implemented in the industry?
While the technologies mentioned above have slowly started to find their ways into core operations technologies, and reach the adoption maturity curve over a period of time; there are quite a few other advanced technologies that are currently been experimented and yet to be significantly adopted. Some of these are Additive Manufacturing (3D manufacturing), Drone Technologies for Security, Surveillance and Advanced Analytics, Unmanned Vehicles, Coworking Robots, Cognitive Technologies, AI/ML for Automated Process Control/Operations, Blockchain technology.
Where do you see the fertilizers and petrochemicals industry post pandemic from a technology and business transformation standpoint?
The pandemic has a silver lining of sorts where it has accelerated the need for business and technology transformation. Technology adoption has to be significantly higher requiring fundamental redesign of at least the Operating Model and in some cases revamp of the Business model to identify new ways of interacting with customers and fulfilling the market needs. There hasn’t been a better time to align the Business Supply Chain to customer and market needs and drive the necessary business and technology transformation to make business more agile, resilient and adaptive to change. This has driven the need for high levels of business and technology integration and transformation.