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Caution: Tech At Work

"The staid construction industry is rewriting the rules as companies use next-gen technologies. Components are tagged from origin to consumption using sensors," says SN Subrahmanyan, CEO & MD of L&T
SN Subrahmanyan | Print Edition: January 13, 2019
Caution: Tech At Work
Illustration by Siddhant Jumde

Disruption is the new order. New technologies are creating fresh paradigms as enterprises transform, thanks to digitisation. The construction industry, too, is changing with digital tools and analytics enhancing efficiency. Using in-house capabilities of L&T Infotech and L&T Technology Services, we have begun to make significant improvements in processes and offerings.

Data was always there, but digital tools are now making intelligent choices to help detect patterns, draw inferences, suggest trends and provide in-depth analysis. This has led to improved productivity, cost cutting, quicker execution with benefits of transparency, accuracy and informed decision-making.

A New Digital Dawn

Topographical surveys used to be long-drawn and time-consuming. But new geospatial technologies such as GPS, GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), Photogrammetry and drones have made these quick, easy, economic and also accurate. Apart from this, assets like batching plants, transit mixers, cranes and motor graders are being 'wired' with sensors so that they can 'talk' to us. The sensors allow streaming continuous data which is then used to track usage, analyse efficiencies, detect redundancies, and assess health. The use of BIM (Building Information Modelling), for example, has opened a way of working with more efficient methods of design, estimation, clash resolution, construction and maintenance of physical assets throughout the lifecycle.

Rules are similarly being rewritten in supply chain management as well. With barcodes, RFID (radio-frequency identification), GPS trackers and sensors, every single material can be 'tagged' and tracked from origin to consumption. In the Statue of Unity project, for example, each of the 6,500-odd bronze panels for the cladding was uniquely tracked from fabrication to final installation on the statue, using RFID.

The 'connected workman' too is a reality now. Biometrics can identify workmen, maintain databases on skills, qualifications, level of expertise and training attended. Management of human resources at project locations has broken new ground. The safety of workmen is closely connected to them being 'wired'. Fitted with life-saving sensors, they can be tracked, prevented from venturing into unsafe or 'no-go' zones, while sensors on their bodies help them stay safe. Augmented reality (AR) is a novel method to educate them of various safety hazards, and workmen are able to grasp safe methods to work faster. 'Safe to start' and internal safety flags are raised through an app that can be escalated to site supervisors and project managers on a real time basis.

The next step is predictive analytics. For L&T, this journey commenced with a deep dive analysis of the voluminous shared services data we had in our homegrown enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Historical data was cleaned, and the structured data was put through a series of algorithms to mine unknown information. In procurement, analytics are optimising and standardising technical definitions of different services and materials. These insights help identify variance in pricing and reasons for it, which helps devise sharper target pricing models and build a repository of price points on a digital platform to serve as a reference for buyers during the procurement process.

Future Gazing

In the ongoing evolution of machines, we are transitioning from analytics to exploring cognitive technologies using AI to drive our operations and solutions. We have widely deployed video-based solutions in multiple smart-city projects, such as the Mumbai surveillance project where over 5,000 cameras have been installed. We foresee cognitive solutions leveraging smart infrastructure and multi-modal transportation to improve the life of citizens.

AI is making rapid strides. The era of cyber-physical systems is just beginning. With lines between the physical and digital blurring, Industry 4.0 is truly being founded. Years of digitising and interconnecting our assets, facilities and people have provided us a wealth of experience that few organisations have. L&T has created one of the largest deployments of IoT, analytics and AI in the industrial sector. That helps leverage our experience to provide affordable and highly efficient solutions for smart infrastructure and factories of the future.

The physical output of a smart factory is determined by the ability, agility and productivity of the manufacturing systems deployed. Additive manufacturing (AM) offers unprecedented design freedom, manufacturing flexibility and productivity enhancement. It is set to play a central role in manufacturing for many industries. With rapid advancement in processes and materials, there is a marked increase in its adoption globally, with revenues from AM estimated at $7.3 billion last year, reflecting a 21 per cent year on year growth. However, the adoption in India is at a nascent stage, trailing leaders China and Japan.

India has announced an ambitious plan of shifting to 30 per cent electric mobility by 2030. NITI Aayog is pushing for electric mobility, estimating savings of up to Rs 4 trillion by adopting electric vehicles. Though still at a nascent stage, electrification of mobility is expected to increase significantly over the medium term.

The proliferation of start-ups in the IT and finance industries has spread to the infrastructure industry too. We look forward to working with many start-ups in the coming years, to explore how they can be incubated, groomed, moulded to create out of the box solutions and disrupt life in the infra industry of today.

The new order is here, and it is up to us to embrace it as it affords huge benefits. Peter Drucker famously said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it!" We now possess the tools to do so.

The writer is CEO & MD, L&T

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