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10 february 2019

Interview. Kirill Lipa: "Digitalization is a creative process»

 “Transmashholding” has begun the digital transformation of its enterprises. By its scale, the project will be the largest in the machine-building industry of Russia. Kirill Lipa, CEO of “Transmashholding” JSC, tells what is the main goal of the reforms, how digitalizationwill change domestic production and what requirements digital technologies will impose for personnel.

 Dive into virtual reality. 

 Kirill Valeryevich, what is the heart of the TMH digital transformation program and what is its strategic goal?

 We build our digital strategy in the perimeter of “Lokotech-Service”LLC and “Transmashholding”JSC (in August 2018, they announced assets merger. — editor’s note) - now it is a group of companies united on a technological principle. Under our operational control is the entire life cycle of the locomotive: design, production, delivery to the railway network, service and major repair up to the moment of disposal. On constant service there are more than 15 thousand units of equipment for a period of up to 40 years. The main targets are improving the reliability of locomotives and reducing production and service costs.

 Digitalization will allow us to manage a large flow of information about the status of components and assemblies on the operated equipment. All sorts of sensors generate a huge amount of data that needs to be collected and analyzed. This information can be used to control or adjust the repair program, that is, to influence the current maintenance of the fleet, to solve issues related to traction control, as well as to apply in the design of new equipment.

 Today, the vast majority of companies are engaged in digitalization and simultaneously form their operating model. But in reality, doing one without the other is extremely difficult. Our competitive advantage is that we have already created an operational business model. Now we are placing toolbox on it, including digital one.

Operating time on the new locomotive from the beginning of design to trial runs will be reduced by half by the new technologies.

What are the main directions established in the program of digital transformation of TMH? How will digitalization change the work of enterprises?

 The program includes about 40 different initiatives. At the same time, we abandoned to implement discrete, point-based projects. We will fully digitalize all production processes at a specific site, starting from planning a new development and ending with the output of a machine from the enterprise. In the language of General Electric, this is called the brilliant factory (the ideal enterprise of the future). A pilot project has already begun at Novocherkassk electric locomotive plant.

 First of all, we will bring the work on the design of new locomotives and partsto the virtual environment. It will take place in 3D-space, the finished project can be transmitted directly to the real machine through the Network. Technological process routes, drawings and all necessary documentation will be issued in parallel with the production process. Can you imagine how this will speed up the process? Now work on a new locomotive from the beginning of design to trial runs takes 2-2. 5 years. As a result of innovations this time will be reduced to 1 year.

 Even before the availability of a physical product, we can start testing it in the same virtual environment. We will test our developments, modeling any conditions, and, if necessary, make design changes to the produced model. Of course, tests with a natural sample are necessary too, but their findings are likely to be another confirmation of the previously obtained information.

 Manufacturing Execution System (MES — production process management system) will automatically adjust the plan taking into account the shortage of any resources. For example, someone got sick and did not go to work, somewhere there was an accident, a machine broke down, suppliers failed – MES will optimally rebuild all the work to fulfill the planned indicators laid down in it.

 Human will not control this process at all?

 At all. Only at the very beginning, employees should upload a number of data (production capacity, labor force, tasks) to a computer and specify the decision-making algorithm, setting priorities. If such is the wage savings, the system will avoid the need for staff to work on weekends and holidays. If the priority is to eliminate equipment downtime, the program, on the contrary, will issue as a recommendation the attendance of personnel on Saturday and Sunday. This is similar to the work of a navigator: you choose how to move-the fastest or the shortest way. In addition, the plant will introduce methods of traffic control, logistics on the territory — the so-called RFID-system (it uses special tags for non-contacttransmission of information about movements. — editor’s note)

 The pilot project at Novocherkassk electric locomotive plant is for 2 years. Respectively, in 2020 we will be able to sum up the first results.

 We change not technique, but consciousness

  Will the transition to digitalization require additional training of personnel?

  A training programme will necessary be launched. But in general, specialists should have enough of the knowledge and skills, that a person gets at home playing a computer, when he or she controls a 3D image with the help of joysticks. All the same the specialist should see in his or her workplace. That is why I believe that digitalization should be a driver of changes in the age structure of the staff of our group. In general, there is a very low turnover of personnel in enterprises, but at the same time this indicator is high among young people. It turns out that young professionals do not see themselves in modern production, they are uncomfortable in the conditions that we offer them. And, unfortunately, often it is not even a question of money, but a question of production culture, its modernity. New technologies will allow young people to see themselves in the future, to be creative, to influence the processes.

 The second very important point is labor productivity: it should be the highest on the new equipment, which means that wages will also increase.

 Is it important to synchronize plans for digital transformation in the relationship with the main customer?

 Extremely important. Digitalization should have free flows. It emerged somewhere and should move smoothly and quietly from there along the entire data transmission chain, without being delayed, without undergoing transformations. A locomotive is owned by Russian Railways. And it depends on the owner how we get the information from the machine, in what form, where it will be broadcast and who will have access to it. To do this, we have developed a project with Russian Railways "Trusting environment". It involves the creation of a virtual space in which there will be uploaded all the information, generated in the production and operation of traction: constructional and repair documentation, statistics of production, failures, etc.

 New technologies will allow young people to show creativity, influence the processes

How do you assess the current level of readiness of TMH enterprises to implement digital technologies?

 When we talk about digitalization, we are not talking about enterprises and specific sites. The business environment, in which we interact, is certainly ready. A locomotive already has microprocessor control systems, there are media that allow you to record and process this information both on a machine itself and on separate servers. Both we and our customers have such capacities.

 What’s missing? There are no mathematical models, tools for processing a large amount of data, and now we are working on it. There are no systems for delivering this information to think tanks online. But there is already an infrastructure for their organization, and therefore we do not need towire, build data centers, install transmitters. Today, scattered data need to be combined into a single process.

 At what time horizon do you plan a full transition to a digital model of work?

  This is a very difficult question. No one has ever implemented such comprehensive projects. So far, we are talking about the design and implementation of pilot projects. Where to focus the points of control over the flow of information, where to process it, where to produce results - these are questions, the answers to which are set by experimental way. And a lot of things will depend on it. In the beginning you accumulate history, and then it gives a tremendous effect. The question is the rate of accumulation. I think that the pilot phase will take a year or two, and then the process of introducing these technologies will go very fast.

 Point of no return

 ow do you plan to use the experience gained at the Novocherkassk plant?

  In my opinion, the Novocherkassk experience will make us a real leader, and not only within one industry. The most important thing is transformation management. Placement of equipment, installation of sensors, negotiations with staff, search for agents of these transformations, training, motivation, setting tasks and monitoring their pursuance–earlier, no one did it systematically. We entrusted all new functionality to a separate company.

 What difficulties do you see on the way of digitalization?

  First of all, you will have to face mental difficulties. We can only draw useful conclusions from information that has not been changed. Accordingly, the main thing to do is to exclude the possibility of human influence on the flow of information.

 The second big problem will arise with the first findings, when the problems, that have traditionally been hidden by manual adjustment of information, become apparent. We will need a certain charisma, will, trust in each other in professional and human terms, the desire of all participants in the process to learn about the problems, analyze them and jointly begin to eradicate them. The main goal is to remove impediments that prevent the growth of efficiency, reliability and cost reduction. To this end, it will be necessary to change the culture of relations. It should be aimed not at finger pointing, but at finding solutions.

 I see quite big problems in this, and they are typical not only for “Transmashholding”, but also for digitalization in general.

 The system of relations should be aimed not at finger pointing, but at finding ways to solve the problem

 In your opinion, how ready are the production sectors of the Russian economy today for digitalization?

  Absolutely any enterprise can be digitalized. Another question is how long it will take, because the degree of readiness is different for everyone. I would compare this process to creativity: you create, you make mistakes. Does this mean that someone is not ready for creativity? No, a person is ready for it upon his birth: someone more, someone less, but we are able to create everything. In the same way it is not necessary to ask a question, whether production is ready, speaking about machines and equipment. We need to think about whether people are ready. Is a manager ready to learn, for example, that his employee should be fired? That's the problem. And to buy these or those RFID-tags and to install them on equipment is already a question of equipment, time and money.

  Industry 4.0 technologies are just tools. Implemented in the right way, they allow you to solve a huge number of problems without human intervention. In other words, if people compete with each other now, then it is technologies that will compete in the future. Soon we will pass the point of no return.  

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