Amit Jain, ED — advanced electronics, technology & development, UNO Minda Group speaks to Sumantra Barooah on the specific areas of focus, home-grown technologies, shared mobility and impact of electrification on all products.
Can you give us a good idea about the UNO Minda Group's first technical centre, and what will be its key focus areas?
At a very broad level, this is a move from the UNO Minda Group to have a transformation from a manufacturing-focused company to more of a technology-focused company. At the very high level, that is basically the transition that we would like to have.
We have got a lot of joint ventures. There's a lot of work, lot of engineering along with the work that’s already happening and a lot of engineering that happens outside. Plus, there are also home-grown technologies that we have, but when we look at more of an approach, maybe in some cases we are reactive, in some cases we are future ready and in some we are not.
Basically, the mandate that I have is, to make the Group more technology focused, be self-reliant in technology, and future-ready with respect to technology. So, (we are) working on technologies for 2022 and beyond, working on self-reliance means localisation of a lot of engineering and also, when we approach these technologies we need to ensure that they have all aspects of regulations and different industries covered. For example, when we are coming up with R&D roadmaps, how are we making sure that they are future-proof.
The current technology is changing. What you are seeing today and what you are going to see in the next three years, we possibly haven't seen it in the last 15 years. That is the kind of pace of some of the technologies and electronics. So, my mandate is to set up these tech centres which are focused on these key things.
How big would it be?
Anywhere between 150-200 people. There are three specific areas of focus. We would have a design studio that will focus on industrial design, graphics design, user interaction, usability studies, among others. This will be for exterior products, and interior, right from headlamps to switches to HMIs among those things.
These people will also look at trend analyses, market analyses on the future expectations, for instance, how should a two-wheeler switch look in 2025, what kind of developments are taking place in EVs? What kind of things would you really need with an EV or a semi-autonomous vehicle? How is the landscape going to change? They are going to work on those kind of things.
Secondly, this would be a Centre of Excellence for hardware and software engineering. So, embedded software and hardware would be one of the key areas.
We are also going to set up Centre of Competencies (CoC). When I say CoC, we are looking at say, optics as a centre of competency. We are looking at material sciences, or batteries. These group of experts would serve the entire group, and they will be subject matter experts, and will work with educational institutions, academia and do some fundamental research. We will be hiring PhDs.
The fourth area is innovation that is only forward looking. It starts with building a certain innovation culture within the Group and then having a separate team that is focused on innovation. Generally, many a time, innovation takes a back seat when you have actual programmes running.
You don't have the bandwidth, do you?
Yes. We are going to separate that, carve out and make sure that those people are undisturbed for innovation.
Among the megatrends, electrification is attracting the most attention in India. UNO Minda is nowhere present in the electric mobility space. Is that a key focus area, along with autonomous driving?
There are these 3-4 basic pillars — shared mobility, electrification, autonomous and connectivity which we have to have. In anything that we do, we have to take these into consideration. We are mapping out say for example, how electrification is going to impact all product groups that we have? How, for example, connected vehicles are going to change audio and infotainment, how is it going to change telematics, how is it going to change switches? We are there in all these products. It's just that we need to ensure that when we do the road mapping, the concept development projects, we take into consideration these four pillars.
We look forward to this project shaping up.
We have a pretty steep ramp-up. Mostly, we go live in December. We are also looking at exploring any technology acquisition, trying to explore if we can collaborate with educational or research institutions. We would also be selecting one strategic partner— one design house, one engineering service house that would be a strategic partner, because we can't do this ramp-up on our own. We haven't frozen one but we are looking at that.
Along with the consolidation exercise of the Group, once this is in place, the organisation will become agile.
If you really look at engineering within the Group today, it's done in a fragmented manner. These are technologies that the mass of people, the peer group and teams sitting together. For instance, when a hardware team that works on switches is sitting next to one that works on lighting they basically get a lot of interchange of ideas. That's one advantage we have, and our core advantage is that we span across 26 product lines.
Even in a vehicle, what is basically happening is, for example, there are anywhere between 18 to 30 ECUs in a car today. That is going to consolidate. You may have maybe four computers. There's one computer that does powertrain, one for safety and security and one for cockpit electronics. That consolidation is happening. Now because we are in all these product groups, that gives us this beautiful opportunity to work on this. You rightly said that our engineering centre is enabling that. While the Group does it at a financial level, we will do it at a technology level.
This interview has been published in the September 1, 2017 issue of Autocar Professional.