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glass bottles moving on a conveyor belt

Message in a bottle: Piramal Glass brings real-time manufacturing insights with IoT and cloud

The next time you’re shopping at a duty-free store, whether for an expensive whiskey or high-end cosmetics, chances are high that you’d pick up a bottle that was born in one of Piramal Glass’s manufacturing facilities with the help of an army of IoT sensors and advanced data analytics in the cloud.

With four manufacturing facilities spread across India, Sri Lanka, and the US, Piramal Glass is one of the world’s largest designers and producers of glass packaging for the pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and perfumery, and speciality food and beverage industries. The company counts 17 of the world’s top 20 cosmetics, perfumery, and skin care brands like LVMH, Coty, Sisley and Yves Rocher, as its customers. In fact, one in every three nail polish bottles in the world is manufactured by them.

But for one man being at the pinnacle of the industry wasn’t enough.

“Glass manufacturing is a complex industry with fixed costs and capacities that are therefore very sensitive to variations in demand. It was imperative to optimize the operations to drive profitable growth and it was evident that Industry 4.0 was one of the key levers to achieve this,” says Vijay Shah, Director, Piramal Glass & Executive Director, Piramal Enterprises Ltd.

Going digital

According to the ‘Unlocking the Economic Impact of Digital Transformation in Asia Pacific’ study conducted by Microsoft in partnership with IDC Asia Pacific, while 90% of organizations in India are in the midst of their digital transformation journey, only 7% in the entire region can be classified as Leaders. These are organizations that have full or progressing digital transformation strategies, with at least a third of their revenue derived from digital products and services. Leaders of digital transformation experience double the benefits of Followers, and these improvements will be more pronounced by 2020.

The management at Piramal Glass knew they had to become Leaders of digital transformation and set new benchmarks in the glass manufacturing business if they had to stay ahead of the curve. The writing was on the cloud.

“Digital can mean different things to different people. For us, it is to drive operational efficiency, enhance customer experience, and generate new revenue models by leveraging emerging technologies,” says Poorav Sheth, who joined Piramal Glass in November 2016 as its first Chief Digital Officer.

a man standing in front of a machine
Poorav Sheth, Chief Digital Officer, Piramal Glass

To kickstart the digital transformation of a legacy manufacturing business, Sheth conducted roadshows and workshops across the company’s offices and manufacturing facilities with demonstrations of latest technologies like IoT, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence (AI).

“We wanted to educate everyone–from those involved in production to operations to marketing—what was possible with digital transformation. We conducted envisioning sessions, which lead to people coming up with different concepts that they thought would enhance their functions,” he recalls.

One of the asks that came up frequently was could the manufacturing process get smarter to improve production efficiency and reduce defects? Glass products are produced in a continuous manufacturing process, where the raw materials go into a furnace to create molten glass, which is then formed into a bottle that goes through various treatments and checks before it is packed. It is a tricky process because you can’t pause it in case something goes wrong. In the earlier scenario, if a production batch was witnessing higher rejections at quality control, they could only hope to fix the problem in the next batch.

What made it more difficult was that data points from every batch were captured manually in paper logbooks which were painstaking to analyze. Often, the actions taken were based on the skills and experience of the expert and not so much with data. Could going digital change this?

It was game on for Sheth and his team of seven experts.

Getting real-time manufacturing insights

In July 2017, Sheth’s team started with a proof of concept to implement Real Time Manufacturing Insights (RTMI) in three production lines in one of the facilities based in Kosamba near Surat, a city in the western Indian state of Gujarat. The idea was to put a bunch of sensors on the production lines and see the data they could get and what they could do with the data. For this they decided to work with Microsoft and Precimetrix, a Microsoft partner.

“We were impressed with the platform approach Microsoft has taken with Azure IoT and the industrial automation experience Precimetrix brought to the table. We worked as a team and they also guided us on the kind of sensors and gateway devices we should use,” Sheth explains.

a furnace
A furnace alone has nearly 100 sensors and other data acquisition devices.

Like most things, the task at hand was easier said than done. There were nearly 100 sensors and data acquisition devices that already existed in the furnace alone! Add to it equipment sensors throughout the production line to monitor every aspect of their functioning to specialized camera-based sensors in inspection machines. The team also had the task of installing as many as 4,000 sensors that had to be connected and analyzed through RTMI.

“We are excited to partner with Piramal Glass as they create a strong foundation for driving transformational change. It is significant that our technology enabled the plant operations to continue as usual during the rollout of the Azure IoT solution, ensuring no disruption to the core manufacturing and deep integration with critical business processes,” says Sashi Sreedharan, Managing Director, Microsoft India.

Once the tricky part of installing the sensors and hooking them all to the cloud with Azure IoT Hub, the digital team started collecting every data point they could get from the production line. The sensors sent data every second, offering a microscopic peek into every machine and every process from the time raw material was fed into the furnace to the time the bottles came off the conveyor belts to be packed and shipped.

“We involved everyone from the production teams who were manning the lines, to quality control teams, to figure out the kind of data that’d be most useful to them. They came up with new suggestions frequently, which showed they were invested in the process,” he says.

Within three months the entire data collection process in those three lines was made paperless with dashboards that were accessible on smartphones, laptops and even large displays on the factory floors. A custom solution was developed on top of this platform to provide stage-wise losses, production reports, quality control workflows as well as role-specific KPIs. Actionable alerts were sent through SMS, email, and push notifications, whenever an anomaly was detected, or the production efficiency dropped. The benefits of RTMI were immediate.

Plant managers could now monitor the key performance metrics of the plant without having to wait for the notebook logs at the end of every shift, enabling them to take faster decisions. It also created a real-time feedback loop between the quality control and production teams, where operators managing the shop floor could spot the exact place where defects were emanating from and fix it to reduce rejections.

a group of people standing in front of a display
Employees at the plant can now get real-time insights on big displays on the factory floor, which enables them to take decisions faster.

The project was such a success that the management decided to roll it out across all the 60 manufacturing lines Piramal Glass currently runs in four manufacturing plants spread in three countries. With this, Piramal Glass has created the first of its kind Smart Manufacturing platform with customized dashboards and workflows.

RTMI, which is a customized, first of its kind home grown solution in the glass manufacturing industry, not only offers more insights in real-time than the existing Manufacturing Execution System but also reduces the cost of ownership by 70%. RTMI has led to 40% reduction in manual data gathering, which has resulted in 25% improvement in employee productivity. The real-time feedback loop has led to 5% reduction in defects, which translates into better quality and enhanced predictability of delivery timelines for Piramal Glass’s customers.

“RTMI has democratized information availability and provided actionable insights to our skilled workforce. It has resulted in 1% improvement in production efficiency with a payback period of less than a year,” says Shah.

Bringing AI to glass manufacturing

a glass bottle being manufactured
Hot molten glass is being molded into a bottle.

There are more than 150 variables in the glass manufacturing process and a slight change in any of the variables could impact the product. With the implementation of IoT sensors and RTMI, Piramal Glass is now able to monitor most of these variables in real-time. So far, the company has analyzed more than 200 million data points from the 4,000 sensors.

From adopting disruptive technologies like IoT and AI, to creating a culture of agility and competition, to measuring digital transformation successes with new key performance indicators, Piramal Glass is a Leader in digital transformation in every sense. But this is just the beginning.

“Implementing IoT sensors is not the endgame. They only provide data, it is what you do with that data is the key. We’re now developing a Digital Twin for our production lines where we have implemented AI and Machine Learning models using the Microsoft Cognitive Services platform. This will enable us to predict production efficiency, defect causality and product quality, for every batch, based on input parameters derived from RTMI,” Sheth says.

“Microsoft is committed towards the technological advancement of the manufacturing sector in India and has made considerable investments to help drive digital transformation across optimized operations, innovative products and services, engaged customers and empowered employees,” adds Sreedharan.