Beyond Make in India: design and develop in India now imperative

by Sumantra B Barooah and Mayank Dhingra 21 Oct 2017


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Over the years, India has become one of the world's most preferred manufacturing destinations. After 'Make in India', it is time for the country to embark on a 'Design & Develop in India' movement. 

A nation boasting a rich heritage of innovation, India has traditionally been an academic society what with its IITs and many other top-notch technical institutions churning out some of the best brains in the world. The lust for greener pastures abroad, however, has been sweeping this talent pool away, creating a paucity of people who would be instrumental in developing new technologies at the fundamental level.

As a result, India has, for long, remained subdued being just a technology consumer and a manufacturing hub for companies, helped by the low expenses on labour and operational costs. Moreover, the recent Make in India campaign further aims to incentivise production, leveraging the full potential of the country’s manufacturing prowess and prompting companies to establish their production bases in the subcontinent.

Specific to the auto industry, while most OEs have been sourcing technology from their global development centres into India, the local vendor parc also sees joint collaboration with global players. While this benefits R&D, it also means the sector has an overwhelming influence of foreign technology, limiting Indian operations to just manufacturing, sales and marketing.

But the times are a-changing and India is today recognised as an emerging force, instrumental in developing new technologies. With the future set to see strong embedment of electronics into vehicles, a major chunk of global software development is currently being outsourced to the nation’s consultancy firms. As such, Indian auto firms are fast developing their engineering capabilities.

For instance, Tier 1 supplier UNO Minda Group struck a technical JV with Tokarika of Japan around 25 years ago. The Group is now actively looking to revolutionise its business structure and move on from being the manufacturing party in the partnership to transforming into a technology-focused company and becoming self-reliant. Its first technology and innovation centre, set to come up in Pune by end-2017, will develop technologies which will play a vital role in the future automobile, including autonomous systems, connected devices and EVs.

The homegrown Varroc Group and Endurance Technologies are looking to march the same path, with a technology and development centre, and a test track respectively, to strengthen their core capabilities for the future.

The aim is to start moving in the direction of the future, which will enable the Indian auto industry to put cross-functional assets to work and move from the approach of only make in India and instead make, design and develop in India as well.

Bringing up this new movement was the talking point of the annual NASSCOM round-table, held in Bangalore on September 21 and conducted in association with Autocar Professional. The event saw a number of industry stalwarts shed light on the opportunities that could be had. At present, a mere 0.1 percent of the global auto market comprises EVs. Word is that as early as 2022, there will be a dramatic shift towards electrification, almost leading to the eradication of conventional IC engines by 2040.

Having done full vehicle programs, and being involved in development of connected car sub-systems with major global OEs over the last six years, Tata Technologies emphasised that India is on the right growth path. According to Sameer Yajnik, president - Global Delivery and COO – APAC, Tata Technologies, “Indian engineers, thus far, have brought together just a few parts of the jigsaw puzzle in terms of vehicle development, but this is set to be transformed. With EVs, ADAS, autonomous, connected cars, et al, there are a slew of technology-driven changes that need to be responded to and India is an excellent place.” 

 LIKELIHOOD OF MORE INNOVATION

The country is witnessing nurturing of new start-ups in the automotive space, which are pretty clear about their motto of developing technology and putting in their human resources into creating modern solutions for the upcoming future.

Speaking in the panel discussion, Patrick Newbery, Chief Digital Officer, Global Logic, said: “Design and engineering work best when coupled together, and the Indian start-up ecosystem has displayed a good show of that already. When an emergent or a developed country adopts innovation from another economy, the learning curve is not as good as when innovations are born right in the heart of the developing world to solve critical problems.”

“Amalgamating design and engineering, as well as with its ability to innovate and create as a response-stimulus to change, India holds a strong place in developing new future technologies, where even the US would be looking outside to outsource these innovative solutions. There is more likelihood of innovation coming out of such environment”, he added.

While Europe currently leads the pack in its spends on automotive engineering and R&D, putting across a 35 percent budget allocation, followed closely by the US which sees around 25 percent of earmarked expenses going into development activities, India, on the other hand is a source of roughly 10 percent of the total engineering and R&D work in the automotive space.

But, the number is set to triple in the coming three years. All of this is because of the academic talent of the country, and the quick realisation of companies into the design and development sector to be setting hubs in the country.

According to Sanjeev Verma, CEO, Altran India, “India holds a very important place in the whole jigsaw and especially can play a great role in designing passive safety and IoT systems. Altran is going forward with its plans of building two-three centres of excellence in the country as the company’s growth path is set to revolve around developing new technologies here. With the whole ecosystem springing up now, the next three to four years are going to be extremely transformational for the development vertical in the Indian automotive sector.”

Voicing his opinion on the benefits of commencing designing in India, Raman Vaidyanathan, Global Practice Head - Strategic Solutions & Embedded Systems, Tech Mahindra, said, “Indian engineering is bound to be more frugal, compared to the rest of the world because of the country’s legacy in being cost conscious. This is very positive as it implies that a good quality product, designed and developed to a cost in India could be produced in the emerged markets, while the reverse is going to prove rather expensive.”

The Make in India approach is also bringing some of the regulatory requirements into the picture, making it a prerequisite for the product to necessarily be approved and validated in India. “This, in turn, hints towards designing locally, so as to achieve the best cost effectiveness. Regulations like 26262 (ISO) are going to be brought to India and if such things are set to happen, then, there is going to be a boost in the industry in terms of quality, test validations and compliance,” he added. 

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L-R: Patrick Newbery, chief digital officer, Global Logic; Samir Yajnik, COO – APAC, Tata Technologies, Raman K Vaidyanathan, global practice head – Strategic Solutions & Embedded Systems, Tech Mahindra; and Sanjeev Verma, CEO, Altran India; with Sumantra B Barooah, executive editor, Autocar Professional (centre). 


NEW ACADEMIA CHALLENGE

While the apex technological institutions in the country continue to withhold their position in the global perspective, there is a huge concern lying at the supply side of the engineering graduates, coming from smaller engineering colleges in the country. The competency level of these students to be directly deployed in the work of developing technologies is rather alarming and skilling of such graduates is of paramount importance.

Secondly, the change in fundamental education is of high importance too, and NASSCOM has started a foundation course in integrated product development, which has started to pick up steam and has touched close to 1,000 colleges since CY2015.

With IoT becoming a major trend of the future, the industry body is also going to launch an IoT course, which will embed into the sixth and seventh semester of engineering students, bringing in skill enhancement at the graduate level.

According to Yajnik, “Re-skilling the current workforce is also a huge challenge to streamline incumbent human resources towards future areas of development work.”

While the approach to develop new technologies might be universal, the challenges could be specific to each demographic. Infrastructure is a big requirement for the growth of the automotive industry and India has a big challenge ahead lying ahead of it in this form.

DESIGN LOCAL, DEVELOP LOCAL, TAKE IT GLOBAL

According to Yajnik, “There are a number of industrial machinery companies, which are catering to the Indian market right now, but are also ambitious to be selling their products worldwide. So, it gives a clear indication into the level of design and development work that is already taking place in the country and these ambitions are going to be pathbreaking.”

The Indian IT industry is a great learning example, which has leveraged the strengths of the liberalised global economy by this fundamental approach of ‘Design local, develop local, and taking it global’, and now, it is time for the Indian automotive sector to aim big and reach for the stars with locally developed products hoisting their flag across the world. 

 

(This article was first published in the October 1, 2017 print edition of Autocar Professional)  

 


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