"Robots Can Replace Sales Officers
in 18 Months"

Many industrial companies made a confident step into the digitalization era. And some of them went even further - towards robotizing production. Pavel Moryakov, CEO of Moskabelmet Group of Companies, told us, why robots become participants of the production process, how their interaction with employees is built, and when the company needs a digital twin.
Pavel Moryakov
CEO of Moskabelmet Group of Companies
– Pavel, what does digitalization mean for your plant?

– First of all, it is necessary to satisfy all customers' needs. It is no secret that everybody who use Internet and social media have come to the fact that their wishes get predicted. In Internet, the system helps you find what you need by delivering targeted advertising, mobile devices are unlocked with one touch. People - and this is right - always try to make their lives easier, because laziness is the engine of progress. So we want to make our work with customers as easy as possible and offer them a good price as well. When your arsenal includes price, quality, and set of services, you're always number one.
Moskabelmet Group of Companies is one of the leaders in Russian cable and wire market. The company specializes in the production of copper wire rod, copper wire, winding wires, optical, power and control cables. It is #4 in total production output in Russia and the first one in the country in manufacturing Russia's unique transposed wires.
– What digital solutions have you already implemented in your company?

– To become faster in working with customers, we have launched a mail processing robot. Its task is to provide the most rapid response to the customer's request. People usually search for a specific product, and the answer should ideally be given within literally 2 or 3 minutes. Then the order gets to the sales officer, who processes the order and enters it into the system, where it is approved by the management and the discount is calculated. At the last stage, the order is again placed with the sales officer who prepares the invoice and sends it to the customer. It takes us no more than three hours to do everything, others may need up to two weeks, what is very long to solve such a simple issue! Three hours are even to long for that.

Very soon our robot will learn and be able to perform all this chain by itself: it will find a customer in the database, calculate a dedicated discount and issue an invoice. The sales officer will only have to confirm the order. The speed of processing requests will be reduced to a minimum.

– And this robot can eventually replace sales officers?

– It will definitely be the net result, however, this process will take at least 12 to 18 months. This requires artificial intelligence. Now our robot is just learning, and so far it level as a salesman is rather below average. However, we expect that in about a month it will have sharpened the skills and will perfectly work with customers.

Our Telegram bot will also take over some of the sales officer's functions and will inform customers about the manufacturing time and the order readiness level upon request. The officer will actually be left with answers to complex questions. For example, a customer calls and asks for the diameter of a wire in a particular cable. In this case even a sales officer has to go to the product developer and to look at the documentation with him. The robot's training may take a year or two or three depending on the complexity of questions asked.

– What about human officers? Is there no need for them at all?

– Absolutely not. In general, about 60% of the salesman's work will be taken over by the processing robot and Telegram robot. And it will free up time to develop other projects! In fact, the officer's job is to be a travelling salesman from the 1990s, a kind of mobile sales agent who goes to the customer and offers him new solutions. Robots have no chance to substitute people here. We have to constantly move forward, to transform our work with customers and to digitize our product. In this work, everything must be as transparent and accessible as possible.

– How do you digitize a cable?

– It's easy. We made such a cable and developed a special application for it. You download it into your iPhone, scan the cable and actually get an electronic product certificate. I'm sure, in two or three years it'll work everywhere. The phone application is a budget option for such a solution - at zero cost. There is even more expensive one when the information is read from a 3-or-4-meter distance with a special scanner. It is ideal for those cases when the access to cable is difficult. Things used to be much more complicated with documentation: it had a product certificate, a test report and much more. As it happens, the customer puts all these papers in a pile and then gets it lost. As the result, he starts calling manufacturing factory and asking for a copy. Everything becomes digital step by step: there are already electronic employment records and medical records, electronic information is used to manufacture of fur coats or alcohol. It's very convenient.
We are already planning to install an additional conveyor, we will "start" three or four more robots and implement a machine vision system as well
– What if the factory database gets hacked? How to protect the customer data? How do you work out this task?

– We use an individual numbering system in working with customers. When making any request, the customer enters a six-digit code and gains access to all his orders. In the future, we want the last two or three digits of order numbers to be changed and generated by the system.

– When did your production take on automation and digitalization, and what was the result?

– We've understood the need for this a long time ago. Everything we did for automation in 2016-2018 helped us to become the productivity leader among Russian electrical engineering companies in 2019. Our two plants were ranked first and second. If we take the whole Russian industry, we are among TOP 100 with such giants as Novatek, Gazprom and NLMK. We were definitely in the second half of the list, but our size is much more modest. Here it became clear that we had reached a critical point, and in order to move forward, we need digitalization: robots, artificial intelligence. And now that's our main task.

– While robotizing the production, you installed a robot arm made by a young Russian company. Why didn't you turn to the world's known manufacturers?

– Well, first of all, they have a higher price. And secondly, their approach does not allow solving production problems in an integrated way. If we had installed one robot arm, we wouldn't have closed the issue of robotizing the process. The robot arm is just one of the three main system parts. The second part is the instrumentation mechanism we ordered in Switzerland. The third one was assembled by us. What modern companies from Japan, Germany, America or Korea offer is mostly confined to the car making industry and construction. Our robot was the first one for the Russian cable industry and we had to find a non-trivial solution for it. Big companies do not like to do it, and we needed the result as soon as possible. Therefore, we preferred not to pay for the brand, but turned to those who initially focused on our tasks.

For example, we had long and detailed discussions with manufacturers about the gripping mechanism of the future robot. The robot had to pick up lead ingots, which are different in shape and packaging, so the standard "claw" was not suitable for us. The ingots have an uneven surface, that's the "suction cup" did not work either. We had been designing for 18 months, but we found a solution!ed it for a year and a half, but we found a solution!
– When the whole system will be launched, what tasks will it perform?

– It'll be launched in the nearest future. Its main task is to make a uniform shell over the entire cable length. This is not easy for a person: he or she needs to constantly monitor the production process, and to throw lead ingots into the furnace, and to check the shell thickness. It takes two employees to do this job. And the system copes with it easily, and it needs only one person to help it. The second one can be assigned to other works.

The robot offers tremendous savings, which means the tasks are expanding. We already plan to install an additional conveyor, we will "launch" three or four more robots, and implement a machine vision system as well. We've got a whole new idea for a pulling robot that will pull the cable instead of people. Can you imagine, it's still done manually!nstead of people. Can you imagine, it's still done by hand!

– Don't you think the digitalization of production is dragging on? Like in a saying: "older boys have more expensive toys".

– Absolutely. However, the most important thing is still the payback time. If it is over three years old, it's not for us. But there is also a drive, a pleasure of solving a difficult problem and to some extent of doing something good, because robots save people from hard physical labor. One lead ingot weighs 20 kg and people have to throw them into the furnace during the whole shift. I did it myself. It's very hard.

– Do employees appreciate this change?

– They're more likely to be wary of the robot for now. For them, it's a strikebreaker that could take away their job. But we're not planning on firing anybody. We are expanding the number of customers, increasing production volumes. It's time for us to introduce the third shift, and we definitely need people in production. It's okay, sooner or later the employees will get used to their robot colleagues as well. It takes time.

– Have you ever thought about digitizing the entire plant, as Gazprom, for example, almost did? Does your company need a digital twin?

– Certainly not now. In general, digital twins are needed to conduct various experiments in a large factory. If you need to understand how to implement the innovations, you run a test simulation, and it shows you what processes and how you need to change. We are not on the same scale, and we see all our tasks with a naked eye: what should be digitized, where the production needs the help of a robot etc. Resolution of these issues is paramount and pays off in one to three years. As soon as we have coped with them, we'll move on to more complex tasks with a payback period of five to eight years. And at the last stage, where projects pay off within 8-11 years, we are likely to reach the scale of Gazprom. That's when we might need a digital twin!

If you want to get familiar with the "father" of the robot, which in operation at Moskabelmet, to learn what is unique in its gripping mechanism and why it won't take part in a machine rebellion, read the interview with Andrey Spiridonov, head of Aripix-Robotics.
Corporate Issue, Moscow Department
of Investment and Industrial Policy
E-mail: pressprom@mos.ru
Audience: 16+