Piramal Glass describes itself as a trailblazer in the use of digital technology in glassmaking. Working with global brands such as Microsoft, it has transformed its operational procedures to include digital technology in the manufacturing process. Greg Morris spoke to its CDO and CIO, Poorav Sheth.
When the Microsoft CEO gave a conference paper about the digital transformation at Piramal Glass, it was one of the proudest moments of Poorav Sheth’s time at the company.
The Indian container glassmaker had been working with the world’s largest computer software company on its digital journey. So successful was the partnership, that Microsoft leader, Satya Nadella, discussed the company’s digital transformation to a number of global CEOs at a global conference.
For Piramal Glass’s Chief Digital Officer and Chief Information Officer (Pictured below) the moment represented validation of what the company had achieved in recent years.
While terminology such as Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Smart Manufacturing seemed like something from a science fiction film just a few years ago, they are part of Piramal Glass’s vocabulary today.
This was in part thanks to its Vice-Chairman, Vijay Shah, who predicted that such technology could disrupt industry and bring extra efficiencies to the glassmaking process.
Mr Sheth joined the company nearly four years ago after a career previously working with an IT service provider helping customers with their digital transformation. After meeting Mr Vijay Shah, Piramal Glass Vice Chairman, he was excited by his vision.
Mr Sheth said: “When I joined it was a clean slate approach. The role was how to leverage some of these emerging or new age technologies to transform the business, so that was the overall charter.”
Although Mr Sheth was a newcomer to the glass industry he was familiar with manufacturing thanks to his family background. He set about gaining as much glass knowledge as possible.
“The glass industry has few reference points so it was not like joining the auto industry and talking to people to find out what the industry is like. Glass is niche industry and a lot of things I found on my own. The first three months were discovery, understanding the business and the process, it was very interesting.”
Piramal Glass forged a digital strategy and worked with partners to identify some of the processes where digital technology could be applied.
Mr Sheth visited plants and offices in other industries to gain an idea of how digital could be used in glassmaking. A series of workshops were organised with the company’s business teams to pinpoint where digital could be implemented.
A total of 60 cases throughout the business were identified where digital could be leveraged to improve the business. These were prioritised and the company set about implementation. It focused on four themes: smart manufacturing, smart supply chain, a digital workplace and the customer experience.
Mr Sheth said: “Our overall vision is how to make Piramal Glass an insight-driven organisation, to transform customer experience, to enhance operation experience and generate new revenue models by leveraging digital technology.”
Like many glass plants, its sites used to use a lot of paper and manual processes.
In 2017 the digital team piloted three production lines at its Kosamba, Gujarat plant in India, integrated them with digital equipment and connected them to the cloud. It used Microsoft Azure IoT platforms to get real-time visibility into its manufacturing operations and analyse the defects at various stages.
To facilitate the transformation, Websym, a Microsoft partner, brought in its plant monitoring system hosted on Microsoft Azure.
Using Azure IoT Hub, data from equipment and high-speed production line sensors was pushed to the cloud for further analysis.
With its technology partners Piramal Glass developed a Real Time Manufacturing Insights (RTMI) solution, to provide losses, production reports and quality control workflows, as well as KPIs on the personal computers and smartphones of plant personnel.
Alerts are sent through SMS, email, and push notifications whenever there is an anomaly detected or a drop in production efficiency.
Such was RTMI’s success that it was then upscaled to 60 production lines at Piramal Glass’s plants in India, Sri Lanka and the US, within six months.
“RTMI for us besides being a visibility, workflow and dashboard tool, is also a source of data for us, and with the data we are using we can create machine-learning models.”
The company is pushing the data to a larger platform and building AI models which can predict certain things such as quality failures and what the best parameters are for certain job runs. Similarly the data can be integrated with a furnace – known as the furnace digital twin – for more analysis such as correcting the temperature and reducing energy consumption.
The technology brought many benefits, with the most notable its production efficiency.
“Depending on which product or production line, this was 1 to 2% in the first year which in the glass industry is a big deal.”
While the company has made massive progress on its digital journey there is still some way to go before it reaches its destination.
“We are the trailblazers because we have taken a lot of early decisions in moving in this direction.
“But we are still some way away in terms of the ideal state. We recently started acquiring the data and building the models but implementing them, operationalising them, and peaking them is something that will take a period of time.”
He is keen to stress that humans still have a vital role to play in the glassmaking process. Training has taken place to upscale employees and familiarise them with the new processes.
It has organised a digital champions training programme which has helped train people from production process on ways of working with the new technology.
“We want some of the key operations people to be upskilled enough to take on some of these key data science initiatives.
“We want to augment the decision making to employees and help them make the right decision at the right time. Technology and data will help them make the correct decision.
“Glassmaking is an art and what we are doing is blending the science with the art.”
It has also modified other areas of the organisation. Using telematics, a product can be tracked from the moment it leaves a glass plant until it reaches a customer.
So even if it is on a ship in the middle of the ocean Piramal can confidently tell a customer where a glass container is and when they are due to receive it.
Similarly, its warehouses have complete tracking systems enabling complete traceability of products.
The company has an innovation hub where employees are invited to submit ideas through their smart phones or desktop. It has been running for three years and has so far generated 16,000 ideas of which, 250 were converted into projects.
It has also formed a digital classroom which has been particialry beneficial for hard to replicate training, such as furnace maintenance. It has also built a virtual reality platform which allows people to tour the plant and interact with its workings.
Glass is regarded as a Business to Business industry, but Piramal has introduced Business to Consumer elements to its customer experience, including an app of its product range.
It has also built an entire Virtual Reality headset application where customers can get a 360 degrees tour of plant.
“A lot of customers want to visit plants, but due to coronavirus they cannot travel, so this is an ideal way to see the plants,” states Mr Sheth.
One big focus as a result of the cyber implementation has been its cyber security. It has worked with Microsoft and other vendors to ensure it is not vulnerable to an attack by hackers. It has a chief information security officer as well as a technology architecture team, that validates both its information technology and its operational technology. While its customer base is sometimes thousands of miles away in places such as France, the new technologies have enabled it to become closer to its customer.
Giant strides have been made by Piramal Glass in a relatively short space of time. But more advances - such as the increased use of robotics - will be commonplace in the future states Mr Sheth.
“If you can blend humans, robotics and AI to work seamlessly, I think that is the end goal.”
Piramal Glass, Mumbai, India