The Challenge: During the second wave of Covid-19, India saw a massive medical Oxygen shortage. The IT support team at INOX Air Products rose to the occasion to support business and the country, using technology to ensure Oxygen supplies reached maximum patients, in minimum time.
As India grappled with an escalating medical Oxygen crisis during the second wave of the pandemic, INOX Air Products emerged as the country’s oxygen supplier of choice. With 52 plants located across 17 states, INOX AP catered to 65% of India’s medical oxygen requirement during the crisis.
I joined INOX Air Products in 2021. As the Covid virus spread its tentacles and resulted in a massive shortfall in the supply of medical oxygen, INOX AP stepped up to fill the gap. However, the company needed boots on the ground to manage the mammoth operations.
INOX AP was committed to meeting the bulk of India’s oxygen requirement and delivered on this commitment by leveraging technology to ensure its plants were running to capacity, even when there were severe staff shortages.
INOX AP was ahead of time; the company had invested in technology solutions that could track all vehicles on a dashboard with accurate GEO location. This helped deliver oxygen on time to hospitals and trace back empty trucks for faster filling at our closest plant. The INOX Group also had a cryogenic tank business which also helped make supplies efficient.
INOX went the war room-way to boost its manufacturing, and operational efficiencies. The country was split into 7 regions and war rooms were created to manage manufacturing, logistics, technology, and liaison with the authorities.
There were all sorts of emergency situations that arose as roadblocks, ranging from oxygen delivery issues to even running the plants with minimum manpower. And each time, we deployed technology in innovative ways to come out of the crisis with flying colors.
Managing stressful situations became a part of the INOX AP team’s daily call of duty. There were situations when saving the lives of critical patience in hospitals became a tough call. Government officials along with the INOX AP team had to ensure the oxygen delivery was coordinated in such a way that maximum lives were saved.
There was a situation where we got SOS calls from three Delhi hospitals that were located in different directions. We had only a selected number of containers scheduled to make oxygen deliveries in the city, as per that day’s roster.
The war room went eerily silent as the gravity of the situation struck every team member. However, instead of getting overwhelmed, we began hunting for solutions. And technology came to the rescue. The IT support team ensured that all networks, servers, applications, and solutions worked round the clock smoothly and were available for business, and ensured that oxygen was delivered to a maximum number of patients, in minimum time. Many lives were saved; this gave INOX AP a ray of hope to strive for a better tomorrow.
INOX’s oxygen plants were working 24x7, manufacturing oxygen at maximum capacity. It was now our job to ensure this oxygen reached every patient who needed it, on time. To avoid delivery glitches, we used an application that helped track the movement of every tanker on the road. An alert system was installed in the tankers to monitor speed and send an SOS to the war room if the vehicle was over or under-speeding. Cloud technology helped monitor each vehicle.
As per safety norms, cryogenic tankers must maintain a specific driving speed. If the driver revved up, an alert went off, and he was asked to slow down. Going too slow was not an option as well.
Mapping technology made our tankers function like ride-sharing cabs. A dashboard was added to every tanker in order to inform drivers about last-minute changes in route plans, in order to accommodate any emergency oxygen requirements. The new route was immediately displayed on the dashboard. Driver resting time was also given importance. Tracking driver duty was one of the critical jobs of the logistic team. Safety aspects were also closely monitored and training and education of the plant and logistics team were given primary importance.
As Covid-19 went viral, our plants faced the brunt of the virus. One morning, the war room received an emergency SOS from a manufacturing plant, saying all the shift managers and their backups were down with the virus. The manpower crisis was so acute, we felt the plant might not be able to stay up and running.
It was critical to find a way out of the situation - and fast. We turned to technology again. Remote monitoring tools were deployed to monitor and operate the plant remotely. All decision-making along with managing the operation of the plant was done remotely as well – from monitoring, and filling the tankers, to managing machine surge, power, and operational challenges were overcome.
The manpower crisis was an ongoing issue during those months. There was an instance when a plant had oxygen-filled tankers ready to hit the road - but the dispatch person was down with COVID. The IT team stepped in again. A dispatch manager from another location was given access to log in, take control, identify the delivery destinations, and roll out the dispatch on time.
The Covid-induced oxygen crisis is over, but what has stayed with us are the technology learnings. Everyone in INOX AP and our IT team, for instance, became a master of diverse technologies. Earlier only ERP and network professionals worked on these technologies. But Covid-19 led to such dynamic changes in requirements that the IT team had to multitask and coordinate with various functions like sales distribution, material management, and with the logistic team as well. And they did it perfectly!
A lot of turning, churning, and learning happened during the Covid period, which resulted in INOX maximizing its oxygen manufacturing, fine-tuning its delivery mechanisms, and adapting to a whole new way of working.