Dr. Kesh Kesavadas, Founder and Global CTO, AirV Labs and professor of industrial
engineering and computer science at the University of Illinois in Champaign, USA, in an interaction with Sudhakar Singh, Editor, Industry Outlook, shares his views on adoption of digital technologies in manufacturing industry, the potential of Virtual Reality technology in the sector, and more.
How do you see the adoption of digital technologies in the manufacturing industry in India? What are the major factors driving its growth?
I think there has been a tremendous growth in adoption of digital technologies in India in the last 5-10 years. There has been significant adoption of Industrial IoT, 3D Printing technology, virtual prototyping, and predictive analytics using AI and machine learning, across large as well as mid-size companies. With the advent of Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0, automation is becoming cloud driven in order to improve efficiency. So, it is very encouraging.
As for the growth drivers, there is definitely a push from the government in modernizing manufacturing. Moreover, the fact that there are so many large companies who have set up their manufacturing divisions in India has also helped in bringing technologies that are being used in Europe or Japan and South Korea, which is being replicated in India. At a higher level, India has a very strong knowledge industry which can provide digital services to other countries. So, there is a strong awareness in terms of implementation of these technologies in India, which is helping the Indian industry as well because many of these technologies are in fact being implemented in Europe and in America by some of the leading Indian companies.
What are the major challenges impeding the adoption of new technologies in manufacturing industry? And what kind of reluctance do you see amongst the core manufacturing sector when it comes to full scale digitalization?
Digitalization requires investment. But in India, there is always a tendency to invest in technologies that give immediate benefit. Adoption of digital technology takes time for it to mature and produce results. So, the concern for many industries in terms of adoption is that they have to see what the return on investment is.
Secondly, although India has a strong knowledge based economy, in terms of adoption and implementation, there is a lack of skilled people who can actually implement that on a wide scale. That is a big problem. In future, if you want to be a plumber, you should also know what IoT sensors are because you are going to change a tap which will be connected to the internet at some point, recording the consumption of water. So, the skill level required for digitalization is actually pretty sophisticated. And I think there is a lack of enough skilled labor and also dearth of IT service companies who can provide this with a shallow learning curve.
How do you see the potential of AR/VR in transforming manufacturing?
AR/VR has been around for may be 20-25 years. I myself have been working in virtual reality space since in 1996. But what has really happened in the last six or seven years, is that the cost point of virtual reality implementation has dropped significantly. What we used to program in expensive computers can now run on a phone or on a laptop. So, the process for implementing VR has actually dropped down and these technologies are ready to be used in manufacturing and are in fact revolutionizing it.
One very popular use case which people always talk about is virtual prototyping which is about making the parts all the way from CAD modeling, to visualizing the end product as to how it is going to be manufactured. It is a fantastic example of improving the process of manufacturing completely in a virtual domain