«Digitalization is about creativity»

Transmashholding has started a digital transformation of its enterprises.
In terms of scale, the project is to be the largest in the Russian engineering in dustry.
Kirill Lipa, Director General of Transmashholding, has shared with us his perspective on the main purpose of the transformations, the ways the "digit" will change domestic producti on and the requir ements digital technology will set for personnel.
Diving into virtual reality

Mr. Lipa, what is the essence of the TMH digital transformation program and what is its strategic objective?

We are building our digital strategy within the framework of LocoTech-Service and Transmashholding (in August 2018, they announced a merger of assets. — Ed. Note) — now it is a group of companies united on the basis of the technological principle. The entire lifecycle of the locomotive is under our in-process control: design, production, delivery to the railway network, service and overhaul until the moment of disposal. More than 15 thousand units are under permanent maintenance for up to 40 years. The main targets are increased reliability of locomotives and reduced cost of production and service.

Digitalization will allow us to manage a large flow of information on the status of components and assemblies of the operated equipment. All types of sensors generate a vast amount of data which should be collected and analyzed. This information can be used to monitor or adjust the repair program, i.e. influence the current maintenance of the fleet, resolve issues related to traction ma­nagement, and apply it during the design of new equipment.

Today, the overwhelming majority of companies are engaged in digitalization and concurrently form their own opera­ting model. But in reality, implementation of one without the other is extremely difficult. Our competitive advantage is that we have already created an ope­rational business model. Now we are adding tools, including digital ones.
The time of working on a new locomotive from the beginning of design to experimental runs will be halved owing to new technologies
What are the primary areas of the TMH digital transformation program? How will "digit" change the work of enterprises?

The program includes about 40 different initiatives. At the same time, we have refused to implement discrete, single-point projects. We will fully digitize all production processes at a specific site, starting from planning a new development and ending with the release of the machine from the plant. In General Electric's language, this is referred to as a brilliant factory (the ideal enterprise of the future). The pilot project has already started at Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Plant.

First of all, we will transfer the design of new locomotives and parts to the virtual environment. They will be designed in 3D space, and the finished project will be transmitted via the Internet directly to a real machine. Standardizing maps, drawings and all necessary documentation will be processed concurrently to the production process. Do you imagine how this will speed up the process? Presently, work on a new locomotive from the beginning of design to pilot run takes 2-2.5 years. As a result of innovations, this time will be reduced to 1 year.

Even before the appearance of a physical product we can begin tes­ting it in the same virtual environment. We will test our developments by means of modelling any conditions, and, if necessary, make design chan­ges to the model being produced. Of course, we cannot do without tests with the use of a physical sample, but their conclusions are likely to be ano­ther confirmation of the previously obtained information.

Manufacturing Execution System (MES — production process control system) will automatically adjust the plan taking into account the shortage of any resources. For instance, someone became sick and didn't come to work, an accident happened somewhere, a machine broke down, or suppliers failed — MES will reorganize all the work in an optimal way in order to fulfill the planned indicators.
A man will not control this process at all, will he?

There will be no human control. Only at the very beginning employees will have to download a series of data (production capacity, workforce, tasks) to a computer and indicate the decision-making algorithm by setting priorities. If wage savings are a priority, the system will avoid the work of staff on weekends and holidays. If the elimination of equipment downtime is specified as a priority, the program, on the contrary, will issue a recommendation for work of the staff on Saturday and Sunday. This is similar to operation of a navigator: you choose how to move — the fastest or shortest way. In addition, the plant will introduce methods of traffic control, logistics on the territory — so-called RFID system (it uses special tags for contactless transfer of information about movements. — Ed. Note).

The pilot project at Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Plant will last two years. Accordingly, in 2020 we will be able to sum up the first results.
We Don't Change Machinery, we Change Mindset

Will the transition to the "digit" require additional training?

A training program will be deployed. But in general the knowledge and skills that a person gets at home, playing computer, when he manages a 3D image with the help of joysticks are enough for the specialist. He would see the same at his workplace. That is why I believe that di­gitalization should be the driver of chan­ges in the age structure of our team staff. Turnover rate is very low at enterprises, but at the same time this indicator is high among young people. It turns out that young specialists do not see themselves in modern production, they are not comfortable in the conditions we offer them. And, unfortunately, it is often not even a matter of money, but a matter of production culture, its up-to-dateness. New technologies will allow young people to see themselves in the future, show creativity, influence the processes.

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

Is synchronization of plans for digital transformation important in the relations with the main customer?

It is extremely important. "Digit" should be flowing freely. It originated somewhere and should move smoothly and quietly along the entire chain of data transmission, not delaying, not undergoing transformations. Locomotive is owned by RZD. And it depends on the owner how we will receive information from the machine, in what form, where it will be transmitted and who will have access to it. To do this we have deve­loped Trusted Environment project with RZD. It involves the creation of a virtual space in where the information genera­ted during the production and operation of traction will be uploaded to: design 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 for the introduction of digital technologies?

When we talk about digitalization, we are not talking about enterprises and specific sites. The business environment where we interact is definitely ready. Microprocessor control systems are already installed on the locomotive, there are carriers that allow to record and process this information both on the machine itself and on external servers. And both us and our customers possess such capacities.

What is currently not available? There are no mathematical models, tools for processing large amounts of data, and now we are working on it. There are no systems of online delivery of this information to analytical centers. But there is already an infrastructure to orga­nize them, which means that we do not need to lay wires, build data centers, install transmitters. Today, disparate data should be combined into one process.

When do you plan to complete the transition to the digital model of work?

It is a very difficult question. No one has ever implemented such complex projects. We are talking only about the design and implementation of pilot projects. Where to concentrate the points of information flow control, where to process it, where to transmit the results — questions, the answers to which are found by way of trial. Very many things will depend on this. First, you collect history and then it gives a tremendous effect. The question of the rate of collection. I think that the pilot stage will take a year or two, and then the process of implementing these technologies will go very fast.
Point of no return

How are you planning to use the experience gained at Novocherkassk plant?

In my opinion, the experience will make us a real leader and not only within one industry. Transformation management is the most important. Placement of equipment, installation of sensors, conduction of negotiations with the staff, search for agents of these transformations, training, motivation, setting tasks and monitoring their implementation — nobody systematically worked on this before. We entrusted all the new functionality to a separate company 2050.DIGITAL.

What difficulties do you see on the digitalization path?

First of all, we will face mentality-related issues. We can get useful findings only from the information that is not changed. Accordingly, the main thing that needs to be done is to exclude the possibility of human influence on the flow of information.

The second big problem will arise with the appearance of the first conclusions, when the problems that have traditi­onally been hidden through the manual correction of information become obvious. Certain charisma, will, trust in each other's professionalism and humanity, the desire of all participants of process to learn about problems, analyze them and begin to eradicate with joint efforts will be needed. The main purpose is to eliminate the obstacles that prevent the growth of efficiency, reliability and cost reduction. The culture of relationships should be changed for this purpose. It should be aimed not at finding the guilty, but at finding ways to solve a problem.

I see quite big problems in this, and they are common not only for Transmashholding but also for digitalization in general.
The system of relationship should be aimed not at finding a guilty, but at finding ways to solve a problem
Are the production sectors of the Russian economy ready for digitalization today, in your opinion?

Absolutely any company can be digitized. Another question is how long it will take because the degree of readiness is different. I would compare this process with creativity: you create, you make mistakes. Does this mean that someone is not ready for creativity? No, a person is ready for it by birth: someone is more, someone is less but we all are able to create. In the same way it is not necessary to wonder whether the production is ready, speaking of machines and equipment. We need to think whether people are ready. Is CEO ready to find out, for example, that his employee should be fired? That is the problem. And to buy certain RFID tags and install them on the equipment — is already a matter of technology, time and money.

Industry 4.0 technologies are just tools. Implemented properly they allow you to solve a huge number of problems without human intervention. In other words, if people compete with each ­other now, then technologies will continue to compete. Soon we will pass the point of no-return.
Daria Topilskaya
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