As the world continues its fight against Covid-19, we are all realising the magnitude and scale of change that is required to find the new normal.

Till now, India Inc has faced the adversities with fortitude. What will take us ahead will be our collective zeal to collaborate and overcome this unprecedented situation.

On May 12, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan with the aim of making the country independent of the global supply chain. Emerging from the shadows of the ‘Make in India’ initiative, ‘Atmanirbhar’ (or self-reliance) caught the imagination of Indian enterprises and has given them the much-needed fillip to converge on a renewed narrative for change.

India Inc’s initiative of self-reliance is based on five levers of Economy, Infrastructure, Technology, Vibrant Demography and Demand. Considering manufacturing’s influence on all the five and its role as the backbone of any economy, self-reliance here will result in improved contribution to the nation’s GDP, improved employment opportunities and sustainable long-term growth.

Coming on the back of India’s 74th Independence Day, the struggle for being ‘Atmanirbhar’ is not new to the average Indian. The real difference this time is that we have the means and the access to achieve it.

Digital tech, a catalyst

It is here that Industry 4.0 and its constituent digital technologies will play a catalytic role for an Atmanirbhar India. After what industry has experienced during the coronavirus crisis, flexibility will obviously be more important than ever in the future. And flexibility requires intelligence in everything from product design to production.

Adoption of IIoT to connect the legacy manufacturing assets and cloud-based data analytics applications to acquire shop-floor insights are increasingly providing the basis for fast and accurate day-to-day decision making. Increased use of simulation tools is giving entrepreneurs the power of experimenting with alternatives and select what is most beneficial, both for product design as well as for manufacturing processes.

Integrated manufacturing set-ups are increasingly more efficient and productive, helping India’s manufacturing sector, especially SMEs, to be globally competitive. Robotics and additive manufacturing are encouraging industry question the status quo and be responsive to the dynamic market demands, especially during these challenging times.

Digitalisation reshapes everything and that includes casting our journey towards self-reliance. This, in turn, would mean improving the key parameters of flexibility, efficiency, productivity and quality while establishing the critical need of safety and security in the digital era.

India is at a very interesting cusp in its manufacturing evolution. Rapidly increasing adoption of automation in production with an inherent prowess in software are going to be decisive for the future of manufacturing in India.

The ability to respond flexibly and efficiently to rapidly changing demand and new challenges with the integration of automation and digitalisation is the opportunity for Indian manufacturers — be it food and beverages, pharmaceuticals or the automotive industry.

The good part is that the integration of automation and digitalisation can be achieved by starting with the lowest hanging fruits and then, improved returns can fund continuous investments. In short, the technology will pay for itself and more. Technology will keep evolving and an enterprise will have to design a blueprint and define milestones with respect to how flexibly they can integrate this into their design and manufacturing cycle.

As a nation, we will also have to adopt a mindset and culture of continuous learning across the hierarchy in all enterprises. Unless we re-learn and nurture a temperament to experiment, we will never build a sustainable manufacturing ecosystem.

Hence, skill development will have to get very high priority across the spectrum starting at the policy level itself.

Indian manufacturers have the unique opportunity to blend the availability of advanced manufacturing technologies with skilled workforce to create extraordinary competitive advantage. Time has come for India’s manufacturing sector to break the barriers of reluctance — paucity of funds, lack of access to technology or scarcity of expertise. It is time to take the leap of self-belief and adopt Industry 4.0 and its constituent digital technologies to transform our industries.

While it is useful to envision the end-to-end digital landscape, perhaps we can start with baby steps, mitigating the manageable risks yet targeting exponential value. It will be our contribution to Atmanirbharta — a transformed, competitive and globally respected innovation driven Indian economy. Let us make this our voice to join the growing chorus of ‘vocal for local’ and help India achieve the $1 trillion GVA from manufacturing in the next five years contributing to at least 20 per cent of national GDP.

The writer is Head, Digital Industries, Siemens Ltd