Technology, Automation & Robotics: Driving the Future of Industrial & Logistics Zones

Indraneil DasguptaIndranil Dasgupta, CEO,
Attivo Economic Zones Pvt. Ltd.
Smart technologies have underscored the need for skilled labour, more policy changes and greater ease-of-doing-business in the country. It's estimated that supply chains will undergo huge metamorphosis owing to these developing technologies.

Over the last three years, Blockchain Technology, Internet-of-things (IoT) and Automation have shaped India's deliverables based on business strategies that are technologically disruptive. This will eventually lead to Logistics Parks and Free Trade Warehousing Zones (FTWZs) and their units in changing their processes of procurement, record maintenance and delivery. While these transformations are still underway, smart technologies have underscored the need for skilled labor, more policy changes and greater ease-of-doing-business in the country. Experts feel that this new trend will propel India on the world map where businesses are gearing up for efficiency and safety on an environmentally sustainable footing.

Logistics zones and their units will streamline processes with a focus on efficiency, safety and greater productivity. New age technologies like Blockchain will facilitate these changes. But how does Blockchain technology work? In a traditional mode, all transactional records are stored on a database which is a singular ledger. This is maintained and updated by a central administrator who is also responsible for its safety. Blockchain – or distributed ledger technology - replaces the centralised transaction database with a decentralized, distributed digital ledger. Here, every transaction flowing through is verified on an independent basis. This means if any change has to be made to a single transaction, it cannot be done without changing all subsequent blocks that are inter-connected.

Attivo Economic Zones

Blockchain technology has a significant bearing on logistics and supply chain as it is scalable, efficient and transparent, thus, promoting cost efficiency and ethical business practices with long-term benefits for both companies and customers. Blockchain, which is a very secure technology, cannot be hacked easily. It can be applied to multiple functions and sectors that include contracts, payments, tracking, healthcare, finance, travel among others.

The biggest advantage of Blockchain technology is that it requires no intermediary and facilitates direct interaction between a business and its customer, based on cryptographic proof.

As one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a GDP growth rate of 7.4%, India stands to make huge gains from technological advances and trends in business and trade. This impact will be most visible in the country's logistics zones and FTWZs in the next few years.
While Blockchain is making operations and processes more smooth and efficient, IoT is another disruptive technology which is redefining how products are designed, produced and sold using different business models and streamlining processes. IoT is a network of devices embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity, which enables these objects to connect and exchange data.

IoT can also help streamline the costs of distribution and logistics in many types of commercial and industrial enterprises. For example, the manufacturing sector stands to make huge gains in terms of customer behavior, facility and asset, management, logistics and ecosystems, safety operations, quality control, packaging, shipping, services and predictive maintenance and production flow monitoring. IoT is also instrumental in increasing life cycle of a product and employee productivity.

Block Chain

IoT, being vastly dynamic, cannot be limited to just the manufacturing sector alone, but also to the logistics sector. To begin with, manufacturing (and logistics) is not just about using, procuring and transporting raw material and the finished product, it also involves a large degree of human participation. Therefore, IoT has a big role to play in staff safety applications, reducing carbon footprint by keeping an eye on basics like fuel usage, tracking of vehicles and assets, connected factory applications, ensuring smart ventilation and air quality management. It's also very useful for tracking and measuring the presence/levels of liquids, gases, radiation and dangerous materials and risk measurement as well.

Some of the most significant functions that IoT performs, include:

  • Smart data application and usage: Customer sentiment can be tracked using IoT for quality control and enhancement.
  • Facilitating maintenance of equipment and asset management: Smart data can predict when a machine or vehicle may require replacement or service to minimize interruption and increase output. When armed with near real-time data, including asset location, environment and health, companies can optimize how assets are used and deployed to help maximize return on investment.
  • Optimize production flow and remote equipment management for cost effectiveness and energy saving.
IoT will also assist in enhancing global operations, third party logistics and in transmitting operational information on customer sites, which is a big goal for almost all businesses in the present day. With the potential of IoT and Blockchain technology unfolding at a rapid pace, businesses are now exploring the possibility of intermingling technologies for a higher advantage.

Presently in India, consumer and customer expectations are undergoing a change. So are the various industries which are, in turn, driving further shifts in the demand side of the economy, affecting the future of production and therefore, as an extension, logistics. Now, there is an increased demand for more new and innovative products, but at budget-friendly prices. This means that India needs to shift its focus from high-volume work to low-skilled work that is smarter and more efficient. At this juncture, robotics and automation have a crucial role to play.

logistics trechnology

Today, automation and robotics are the most sought-after technologies that have changed the way businesses operate globally. It's estimated that supply chains will undergo huge metamorphosis owing to these developing technologies. In many sectors, manual labor and deployment has been replaced with intelligent machines and processes that are focused on efficiency and ensuring timely deliverables. Typically, supply chains work on a predictable footing that requires the transfer of products from one place to another, without much skill. The application of these technologies means that there is no room for human error and human headcount is also reduced, thus, saving costs in the long run.

Transportation Distribution Warehouse
But the road ahead is fraught with challenges that can be smoothened with intelligent interventions and solutions. For example, India needs to encourage skilled labor which is adept at handling these technologies and facilitate both production and profit. Furthermore, with regard to automation and robotics the industry has to develop a more flexible and open outlook. Businesses will definitely deploy more technologies in the future to reduce human errors and expand their footprint. But they must also explore opportunities where labor and machines can work in tandem with each other. For instance, businesses can combine machines and robots with support software to maximize the new data created by automated technologies.

One of the most significant impacts of these new-age technologies is that doors are being opened for 'skilled employment' after years of global financial recession. This also means that India can look forward to creation of more on-ground business developments like warehousing, supply chain logistics and manufacturing. The two prime factors that will drive the future of Industrial and Logistics Zones and other businesses are technologies that are innovative and have problem-solving capabilities. Simultaneously, these technological disruptions will also need regulatory measures to check challenges and situations that may arise. The rules of engagement with key stakeholders clearly need to be assessed and defined to avoid any unnecessary conflicts.

Hence, a solid governmental support in the form of a framework with industry-friendly policies is the need of the hour, especially for an emerging market like India.

NBM&CW July 2018

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