February 7, 2019 by Kristina Urquhart
February 7, 2019 – In his role at Wajax, Raj Saini helps to spearhead digital transformation in plants. We talk to him about the biggest thing that’s holding manufacturers back.
MA: How did you get into the industry?
RS: With a degree in mechanical engineering, I started working for major manufacturing companies and took on key roles in projects, operations, maintenance and reliability. In Canada, working with various industrial and technology leaders such as Praxair, ABB and SKF, I was constantly looking for a challenge where I could better an industry.
The industrial market is up for grabs and has always been laggard when it comes to technology and innovation. To be able to realize such a disruption, I needed to be able to work with an organization that would have interface with OEMs, vendors, clients, service centers, engineers, technicians, and End Users. Wajax gives that platform and has the culture and desire to pioneer what they do.
MA: How have you seen proactive maintenance change while you’ve been in the industry?
RS: From overhauling anything and everything with the intrusive maintenance approach, we have made significant strides. In the early ’90s, the industry started adopting basic condition monitoring and utilizing Computerized Management Systems to be able to become less reactive and have better diagnosis techniques.
In the 2000s, reliability engineering started taking a forefront with customers realizing the benefits and the criticality of reliability centered maintenance techniques and defect elimination using root cause analysis methods. The focus started shifting from condition based maintenance to early stages of proactive maintenance utilizing basic reliability tools.
In this current era, with advancement in technology which is easily accessible, digitalization is the name of the game. Artificial intelligence and machine learning for large amounts of SMART data collected through IoT sensors have made cognitive decision making a reality. State of the art maintenance management systems are helping integrate asset health with operations, maintenance, supply chain, human capital, and is helping the industry realize operational excellence.
MA: Based on what you have seen in the Canadian manufacturing industry, where would you say that we stack up in terms of digitalization?rs:
RS: Canada is not that far behind. I’ve seen a similar pattern all around the globe with digitalization and condition monitoring. Where it has been applied, in very small pockets, it has been applied very well. My observation is that digitalization in Canada is still evolving – people do not understand how a comprehensive digital strategy applies to them. There is lack of understanding about how to get started on their digital journey. General perception is that such initiatives are capital intensive and probably not for them to embark upon. However, with newer business models like leasing, software-as-a-service, performance models, etc., every manufacturer should be able to have a skin in this game. There is ongoing concern about data privacy, ownership and security.
MA: What are the barriers that may prevent manufacturers from embracing digitalization?
RS: Capturing the data is not a challenge. It might have been a challenge in the past but it is not anymore. All the equipment – at least the critical equipment – has IoT sensors. The bigger challenge for manufacturers that I have seen is the data stopping between different platforms. They have different dashboards and they don’t talk to each other. For example, operations will buy their technology to operate the plant, maintenance will buy their technology for their maintenance point of view, supply chain will buy their piece of technology to look only into the supply chain. This part is the biggest barrier, to integrate all the data with artificial intelligence and analytics.
MA: What should be the takeaways for plants that can’t possibly sift through all of the information out there?
RS: My view is that leadership needs to kick in…they need to take a step back and understand in totality how digitalization applies to them. One facility can’t have the same digitalization platform as another facility. It has to be based on your reality. This is critical. Once they have analyzed and understood how digitalization will apply to them, then it is a journey. It’s not an on and off switch. [Manufacturers] need to put this into their strategy and start identifying that they would like to have a common platform where all the information is coming in. But if all these IoT sensors and devices are talking to different platforms – if they’re not on the same platform? Then we are losing the benefit of digitalization.
MA: What should manufacturers keep in mind as they enter the digitalization phase?
RS: Focus on your business that you do well. While diversifying and vertical integration are important, if not managed properly, [they] could distract focus and consume energy that could be channeled in what you do the best. Find a way to differentiate. Each company has its unique offerings. When the uniqueness gets commoditized, we are playing in a red ocean. Invest in your workforce. Technology is becoming affordable, whereas talent is getting scarce. The best strategies and technology have failed when in unskilled hands. Build long term-strategies before short-term tactics. Day-to-day pressure from competition makes us make tactical moves and long-term strategy fades away.
MA: What’s happening right now and what’s next for Wajax?
RS: With the implementation of our new ERP system presently underway, we are leveraging the power of One Wajax. We are integrating a transparent workflow that will streamline our business and interaction with our end users and at the same time, make our operations effective and efficient. We recently instituted a remote analytics centre with state-of-the-art technology that is enabling us and our customers to monitor their machinery health and prescribe recommendations and live prognostics. Our Engineering Procurement Construction Management (EPCM) project offering in material handling, process equipment and hydraulics leverages our engineering capabilities, centres of excellence and field services to become a competitive differentiator.
With the onset of Industry 4.0, we are building new partnerships with our suppliers and OEMs to build synergies in order to provide proactive value propositions to better serve our customers with performance driven business models and innovation across the value chain. We are making strategic acquisitions to broaden our offerings and strengthen our presence in new domains.
This interview has been condensed and edited. A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION. Read the digital edition here.