ACMA’s Vinnie Mehta: 'Skills in new-age materials, AI, robotics, additive manufacturing, and machine learning are already in demand.'

by Mayank Dhingra 30 Dec 2019

As technology permeates into our everyday lives, not many areas have been left untouched by its impact. Many conventional ways of working have been completely transformed or are on the verge of being replaced. For the automotive industry, new tech has enabled companies become faster, efficient and as a result, more productive in manufacturing high-quality products which now match world-class standards.

While this is giving an impetus to the Indian automotive industry to scale new heights, it is also bringing a new challenge of skill deficit, for its incumbent manpower to be able to successfully manage new processes, systems and hence, stay relevant in future times of even higher penetration of advanced solutions.

Up-skilling and re-skilling are the need of the hour and the industry is already being seen to invest considerable effort adapting the latest technologies. The Indian components industry, for one, is certainly taking proactive measures to drive the wheel of change.

According to Vinnie Mehta, director general, Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA), “At seven percent of the national GDP, the Indian automotive industry is not only a significant contributor to our economy, but it also provides employment to over eight million people. Of this total, the component sector alone contributes to the creation of five million jobs.”

“Having said that, the automotive industry around the globe and in India is undergoing a sort of upheaval. Connected, autonomous, shared and electric mobility are redefining the automotive landscape. Various regulatory changes to control carbon and other harmful emissions go hand in hand with these.

“The story in India is not too different, and the past three years have witnessed a slew of regulations on the emissions front, including leapfrogging from BS IV to BS VI. And, along with efforts to make roads safer, several new regulations have also been announced. The government wishes us to be at par with global regulations and has decided to follow the UNECE regulations, albeit with a phase lag,” he adds.

“India is also keen to fast-track introduction of electric mobility. The electronic and software content in vehicles is also increasing rapidly for regulatory compliance, improved product functionality and better user experience.

“While on one hand the regulatory environment has been a key driver for change, on the other, manufacturing and business practices with integration of IT and communications are also undergoing a transformation. The change is probably so rapid that both products and processes in the next five years will be quite different from what they are today,” remarks Mehta.

Making the workforce future skills-ready
Giving his viewpoints on the dire need to up-skill manpower at India Auto Inc, Mehta says, “One of the biggest challenges the Indian auto industry will face in adapting to and managing this change will be that of people, as organics are hard to create and replicate. While the industry will be driven by the need to optimise the manufacturing chain and value-add to products it makes, to stay competitive it will need people with new skills and re-skilling the existing.”

“Automated shopfloors integrated with Industry 4.0, personnel and machines talking to each other, robots and intelligent machines making decisions, AR and VR helping in product design and understanding their behaviour will be the norm of a factory in the not-too-distant future. The moot question we need to ask ourselves is: Can we afford to ignore these changes? Do we have a supportive ecosystem and cost-effective solutions to help us scale up and remain globally competitive?

“Skills in the domain of new-age materials, artificial intelligence, robotics, additive manufacturing, and machine learning are already much in demand and will gain even more traction compared to the conventional ones,” adds Mehta.

“While OEMs and Tier 1s, which are more resourceful, are probably better off, but considering the auto industry has a long and winding value chain, the majority of players in the manufacturing eco-system are ill-prepared for this. The situation is made even more difficult at this juncture as the Indian automotive industry is passing through one of its worst phases ever. Although a downturn is probably the right time for a company to look inwards, cut flab, become lean, streamline its operations and prepare its people for the future through appropriate skilling, it is much easier said than done, especially for the Tier 2s and Tier 3s.

“Widespread implementation and deployment of new-age manufacturing technologies in India maybe some distance away due to challenges such as the need for high investment outlay, inadequate know-how, lack of infrastructure, and a lack of adequate cyber-security norms, but can by no means be ignored.

“Whilst the government aims for a US$ 5 trillion economy by 2025, of which manufacturing would be US$ 1 trillion, convergence of flagship programs such
as Make in India with Skill India and Digital India would be key to achieve this goal. It is also well understood that the government alone cannot drive this; partnership with the industry, especially in upgrading vocational training institutes and ITIs, will be crucial to develop a skill-based workforce to drive the Make-in-India narrative.

“From an automotive industry perspective, a key success factor would be how the OEMs are able to drive and lead the change throughout the value chain by appropriate direction and handholding,” concludes Mehta.

Also read: ACMA's Deepak Jain: 2019 a year of resilience, Indian suppliers' competence powers OEMs in Mission BS VI 

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