How Tech Mahindra is building the factory of the future

Tech Mahindra’s Head of Aerospace and Defence Manufacturing Debasis Bisoi on IoT, Blockchain, AI, and the Factory of the Future

John O'Hanlon
|Jun 6|magazine19 min read

Nobody who knows India can be unaware of Mahindra. The logo appears on the front of buses, trucks, motorcycles, commercial vehicles, SUVs and cars, as well as the ubiquitous three-wheelers (available since 2018 in all-electric format). Mahindra is one of India’s great industrial dynasties, a global brand today, with factories in South Korea, South Africa, the US, Australia and China, and a strong presence in defence and energy. Its Chairman, Anand Mahindra, is the grandson of JC Mahindra, one of three family members who founded Mahindra & Mahindra as a steel trading organisation in 1945.

Anand Mahindra is also the founder of Tech Mahindra. An early entrant into the burgeoning though incipient industrial electronics market in 1983, the company was started as a JV with British Telecom, subsequently buying out this partner, growing organically and by acquisition, and today having a presence in all of the world’s principal industrial markets. Tech Mahindra is the highest ranked non-US company in the Forbes Global Digital 100 list, employs more than 131,500 professionals across 90 countries and includes a number of Fortune 500 companies in its global client list of over 190 companies.

As you’d expect from a subsidiary of a group rooted in vehicle making, manufacturing is one of the biggest verticals in Tech Mahindra. The business is focused on the three key trends it has identified as facing manufacturers in the 21st century: the explosion of intelligent devices and increasing human/robot collaboration; leveraging the power of new technologies to meet the growing demand for mass customisation; and tackling the exponential growth of content consumption – that is, the power of data driving rapid IT/OT convergence.

Of course, global manufacturers are aware of these trends, but putting them to the service of businesses and customers remains a huge challenge. Tech Mahindra’s four ‘big bets’: factories and SCM, smart products, reliable aftermarket (integrating field warranty with product design and production quality), and mobility and experience, will have the most transformational effects on customers’ businesses – and the enterprises that will create the future are those willing to bet on technologies that will disrupt industries and will create new opportunities. The company collaborates with disruptive new age technology players, startups, and academia globally, drawing them together with academics and customers at its annual TechmNxt.i forum.

Leading these initiatives since 2012 from Tech Mahindra’s Bengaluru HQ is VP, Debasis Bisoi. His passion is developing and delivering digital manufacturing solutions and strategic initiatives in areas like IoT and the ‘factory of the future’, with an emphasis on aerospace, defence and process manufacturing. “I’m responsible for setting the key directions for these sub-verticals, developing strategic plans, identifying focus areas, improving solution offerings, identifying mid-term course corrections, improving win ratios and developing teams,” he explains. “I also work extensively on mergers and acquisitions and engage in providing thought leadership to our manufacturing clients.” His team has co-authored more than 180 patents and disclosures for these clients, addressing their digital disruption issues and ‘pain points’ with the backing of Mahindra’s many centres of excellence and strategic partners.

Bisoi is keen to point out his unit’s contribution to its high profile customers. “A good example is our Aircraft Health Monitoring System (AHMS). This is a solution that uses real-time data captured through integrated sensors on aircraft parts to enhance reliability and safety.” Among many clients, the system was adopted by a Canandian aircraft manufacturer, leveraging cutting-edge cloud computing, sensor, IoT and big data technologies to perform deep analytics of the aircraft's health status. The unit collects aircraft operation and performance data from every system during flight. Examples include avionics, flight controls, fly-by-wire, landing gear, braking systems, environmental control systems, thrust reversers, engines, electrical systems, auxiliary power units (APUs) and more. On the ground, the AHMS system performs the detailed analysis of the transmitted on-board data to support a wide variety of operational decisions.

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“Our Aircraft Health Monitoring System (AHMS) is a solution that uses real-time data captured through integrated sensors throughout an aircraft parts to enhance reliability and safety”

Debasis Bisoi | Vice President Manufacturing Vertical,Digital and IOT Solutions

In that case, Tech Mahindra engineered a system solution. It is just as effective in the business process field, though. For another client, this time a major Swedish car manufacturer, the problem was centred around global dealer support and access management - the company was dealing with 40,000 requests and 20,000 calls a month. By setting this client on the road to advanced automation via chatbots and improved strength deployment inventory (SDI) scores, the team improved first-call resolution (FCR) from 74% to 91% and introduced automation that reduced turnaround time for requests by 75%. Monthly request numbers went down by 3,500.

In the world of process manufacturing, Bisoi continues, his team partnered with the largest global chemical manufacturer in its journey from a monolithic CIO organisation to a product-centric business, also serving as a key integration partner for acquisitions. “Our current focus areas in manufacturing are automation and data exchange to facilitate Tech Mahindra’s Factory of Future (FoF), a smart factory with cyber-physical systems, IoT, cloud computing and cognitive computing as the core enablers. Our solution empowers clients to adopt these technologies and overcome the traditional problem of visibility across the plant and enterprise.”

The FoF at its core, he explains, is about automation and robotics, quality throughput, higher utilisation, flexible manufacturing lines, reduced time-to-market, and higher visibility across other enterprise applications like MES, SCM, and ERP. It is also about new digital technologies and their smooth alignment with human capital and change management, and achieving the desired target state.

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He adds: “FoF is about positive environmental impact in terms of reduced waste and carbon footprint. Digital Fabric enables horizontal integration across the product development and value chain, and vertical integration across manufacturing. It ensures a true, extended digital enterprise.” As a major client, the Mahindra Group vehicle plants also benefit from a partnership with Tech Mahindra. “We have a very active engagement with Mahindra & Mahindra in its digital transformation journey. We identify key solutions areas on FoF initiatives, and work jointly in building proofs-of-concept (PoC’s) and scaling up.” Tech Mahindra has implemented end-to-end Industry 4.0 solutions at the Chakan factory near Pune, one of India’s largest and most automated car plants, including PoCs, SCADAs, historians, simulations and IT tools like the MES, PLM, ERP, integrating them with the shop floor systems.

Digital transformation can be a minefield for companies large and small, Bisoi acknowledges in conclusion. “Tech Mahindra has observed that only 30% of pilots end up reaching scale across the entire organisation: that means companies are failing to capture value from 70% of their pilots. We have identified two steps that can help them overcome ‘Pilot Purgatory’. The first is our ‘digital foundry model’. We start with the ideation phase, by identifying all use cases that create value and build PoCs and MVP for cases with good RoI. Only then do we build an agile, product aligned solution for them. Next is to upgrade their factory network infrastructure. A future-proof, scalable, sustainable network architecture is built to handle the data explosion arising from new age digital disruptions.”

At present, in common with the rest of his team globally as well as everyone in India able to do so, Bisoi is working from home. With leading-edge digital communication systems and development tools at their command, the work of IT professionals is less disrupted than those with indispensable work among the community. The impact of the global pandemic on the group’s manufacturing plants themselves has been met with exemplary and characteristic Indian compassion allied to the group’s agility and flexible manufacturing capacity. Anand Mahindra was quick to repurpose large sections of R&D and production capacity to develop, mass produce and distribute low cost personal protection equipment (PPE), a powerful branded hand sanitiser, and even a newly designed respirator, all specifically targeted at the needs of India’s people. The indigenous ventilator, developed in March, sells at less than 7,500 rupees (not even $100), the hand sanitiser at under 400 rupees per litre, or around $5.

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