Design capability is like a capital asset required to churn out high value returns. It is like a compelling fragrance as it spreads across domains. Design and manufacturing together produce a closed loop system of learning, improvement and further innovation. But, if you do not possess this asset, you are only providing low value manufacturing services while allowing an overseas designer to dictate terms forever.
Design is a very strong capability since it allows continuous upgradation of products and processes. An ecosystem that encourages innovative design yields new technologies and products thereby leading to large-scale local manufacturing and overall economic growth. Design in India should therefore be the larger objective of Make in India.
Over the last 50 years, there have been many examples of indigenous design. Examples in the ’70s include the Sumeet kitchen mixie, the wet grinder, the Good Knight mosquito repellent and early models of washing machines. In the pre-reforms era, there were many truly Indian products for home consumption. Revolutionary inventions in Indian classical music—a traditional niche area—include Radel’s electronic tambura, tabla, sruti box and veena.
Cut to the present. Why are our large business houses importing simple appliances like bread toasters and electric irons from China? Even in the booming automobile sector, there is not a single vehicle in India that is fully indigenous in design, in spite of large private players having manufactured under licence for over five decades.
Many consumer and industrial products were earlier being manufactured here. Why did these industries turn into traders of imported commodities? Electronics was identified as a sector with high potential in the late ’70s. We missed many opportunities to create a vibrant electronics industry. Companies in the US and Europe offered to set up semiconductor fab plants but we refused. Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan accepted these opportunities and are now miles ahead of India. In the strategic defence sector, India has manufactured battle tanks and aircraft under license for over five decades but doesn’t seem to have learnt how to maintain and support these ageing platforms. On the other hand, in spite of sanctions, the Indian Space Research Organisation demonstrated our capability to experiment, learn and ultimately deliver. ISRO is now launching satellites for international clients at a fractional cost. This is the model to be replicated in defence as well.
The problems of designing and manufacturing in India include long delays for routine matters that result in hidden costs. Exorbitant taxes demanded by authorities, lack of uninterrupted power, water and other infrastructure and rampant corruption by police and tax authorities ensure that Indian entrepreneurs, with a few exceptions, are the least competitive in the world. The last straw for the entrepreneur is the outdated labour laws that encourage undisciplined workers to hold establishments to ransom.
There are no simplistic solutions. Governments need to drastically simplify procedures and cut the red tape. Employees and managers in organisations need to change their work culture and ethics. Chinese organisations execute orders in record time while employees of a typical Indian organisation take days to respond to an email. That’s how they get more orders than us.
The Indian education system, from the primary level, needs to teach students how to think and apply knowledge rather than crack exams. We can still become a manufacturing powerhouse with determination, a change in attitude and the courage of conviction. Time, however, is running out.
The problem of either DRDO or a DPSU not delivering results as desired by the Armed Services is analogous to the lack of industry-academia interactions. Just as the engineering educational institutions are detached from practical engineering concepts as relevant to an industry, the DRDO/DPSU is also detached from the User agency. Both sides possess complementary parts of the total domain expertise, which means that they need to work as partners and not ‘buyer-seller’. Each side has to learn from the other through a continuous process of interactions and exchange of ideas. While this must surely have been the purpose behind posting serving officers to DPSUs, personality egos on both sides have prevented a healthy working partnership. As examples, I have known of scientists/engineers working on aircraft projects in CSIR/DRDO without even having seen an aircraft at close quarters. I am quite sure this is true even with many Naval projects. This hypothesis is also proven by the comments of some naval experts who have pointed to the successes of the Navy when Naval officers with the ‘best brains ‘ were sent on deputation to DRDO. I would say that the ‘best brains’ understood the system level performance requirements better than the scientists and ensured that these were met through a continuous interaction with the scientists who were able to apply their ‘best brains’ at the sub-system level.
The private sector is being promoted as a likely saviour for all the current problems. While it is certainly true that this sector is more accountable and keen to prove its mettle, the lack of domain expertise even to the level of the DRDO/HAL is by itself likely to be a severe limitation. The private sector will therefore have to be supported and nurtured through an active assistance from the Navy/Air Force in upgrading their knowledge in specialised domains of defence equipment, be it armaments or navigation or communication or radars, none of which is encountered in commercial and industrial applications. This will once again have to be a hierarchical approach with a large private player creating a cluster of MSMEs as a supply chain with design and manufacturing skills.
The Armed Services need to appreciate that many of the technical officers among them are not conversant with the technologies adopted within the systems and sub-systems of the platform, beyond the scanty maintenance documentation provided by the foreign OEMs. This is where the availability of strong technical and analytical skills available with the ‘best brains’ in the DPSU/HAL/Private sector can be taken advantage of. The existence of highly innovative and competent MSMEs in their own spheres of specialisation is acknowledged widely, but these rarely get to be tapped due to a disconnect between industry and the Armed Services. This is where the Armed Services need to draw on the strengths of industry. It might be interesting to set up defence laboratories by, for example, the Navy, where a private sector player could work for a limited period (like a sabbatical) to familiarise themselves with the on-board systems and even acquire technology through study or reverse-engineering of existing systems.
To conclude, a spirit of partnership needs to be nurtured among all the stakeholders in this whole game so that we achieve synergy leading to a win-win situation rather than a blame game.
Will ‘Make in India’ remain a vision or transform Indian manufacturing? What does the government need to do to enable the manufacturing and hardware industry to turn the PM’s vision of Make in India a reality? We caught up with Raj Narayan, Managing Director of the Radel Group, who has been making in India for 35 years to understand what it takes.
Raj, who grew up in a musically inclined family, was introduced to Indian classical music quite early in his life. He not just learnt but also gave numerous performances. Passion for music led him to create electronics musical instruments after he finished his electronics engineering.
Another passion that Raj was consumed by was aircraft designing. At a very young age he started designing model aircraft. Later, he went to join the designing division of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited or HAL.
A few years later, he turned both his passion into a successful venture and formed the Radel Group in 1979. The Radel Group is into making indigenous design and manufacturing for aerospace and defense sectors and digital music instruments.
Raj Narayan, in this chat, talks about the importance of Make in India and also emphasizes the role of the government, and how things like labour laws need to change in order to not just encourage Indian manufacturers but also encourage investments from other countries.
Raj is also the Chief Mentor of Drona Centre for Excellence, an initiative that focuses on creating skilled manpower especially for the defense and aerospace sector. Drona was conceived out of Raj’s interest in teaching and realizing that fresh engineering graduates lack practical skills to fit into the industry. Drona has a comprehensive training programme which engineers can go through to not just add to their skills but fit in directly into the industry.
When we talk about skilling, most of the time we seem to be focusing on skilling of technicians, machine operators and in general, about vocational training at a lower level. My talk is about skilling of engineers. Today is the time when everybody is talking about Make in India as well as defence indigenisation. I would say defence indigenisation is a sub-set of Make in India, and therefore, I will focus primarily on Make in India and the opportunities that it opens up for all of us.
When people say ‘Make in India’ many people misunderstand this to be just ‘Manufacturing in India’, whereas I believe that it should include ‘Design in India, Innovate in India, Manufacture in India and Consume in India’. Let’s look at all the appliances that we use on a day-to-day basis in our daily lives. We use microwave ovens, we use LCD TVs, we use refrigerators, and various other home appliances. And what are the brands you see in the shops today? They are Korean brands, Taiwanese brands, Japanese and Chinese. So when we talk about manufacturing, it is not manufacturing of these TVs that we should be discussing. We should be talking about Indian brands that are designed in India, and manufactured in India, using Indian manpower. So why do we need to import these appliances? Many people think that we are manufacturing these under licence in India – but I would say “why do we need to manufacture under licence at all?” Why can’t we design and manufacture ourselves, of Indian designs?
At the other extreme of the spectrum we have defence equipment – aerospace equipment that are used on our fighter aircraft, transport aircraft and even ground test equipment which are all completely imported from abroad. Even in the so-called indigenously designed LCA and the ALH which are certainly prestigious projects, we seem to have a high content of imported equipment.
If you want to design and manufacture in India, you need a factory, which we certainly have in plenty; you need modern machineries, which again we have in plenty, technicians – we have plenty of them – operators, as we have seen the automobile sector – they have created the eco-system, and we are even exporting automobiles from India. But then…..the missing link happens to be the design engineers. Whether it is the automotive sector or the aerospace sector or the defence sector – the missing link is the design capability.
Let’s look at the quality of engineers that are coming out of the colleges right now. You have engineers, 1.5 million of them, coming out of colleges every year. And the industries say that hardly 4 – 7% of these engineers are capable of being employed in the manufacturing sector. They say that there are no analytical skills among these engineers. The industrialists say they possess no practical skills. Why? I would say it’s because the engineering colleges do not have the infrastructure and the environment to imbibe these skills into the engineering graduates.
I would say that instead of just churning out engineers they need to be empowered to be capable of designing products, repair and maintain those products. So let’s now look at how we can build this design capability into our engineers. Let’s look at what needs to be done to create practical engineers out of the graduates that are coming out. They need to be oriented towards practical engineering – which means that they need to train on live projects and intern in an industrial environment. They need to get an insight into products – whether they are LCD TVs or refrigerators or microwave ovens. They need to get into the act of dissecting a product, studying the product – how the plastic moulds are made, how the plastic components are designed, how the PCBs are designed, how the circuits have been designed, and learn in the process, and then – perhaps even learn to repair them. In that process, they will educate themselves about how the circuits work, how the products are put together, how they are disassembled, how they are assembled. In this process they would also get ideas about innovating further – the circuits, the PCBs, the machineries and the production process. I believe this is a very strong learning process.
Let’s look at what I have done over the last 35 years in my company called Radel. We started developing musical instruments – electronic musical instruments for the Indian musicians. There were no electronic tanpuras or electronic tablas when I started developing these. I invented these for use by Indian musicians because I knew that they were handicapped by the lack of proper support for their practice and for their travel abroad. That’s how I created the need for these products – I designed the products, and in the process trained many of the engineers on the art of designing electronic circuits, electronic PCBs, and then assembling them and putting them into plastic moulded cabinets. All these activities are done within the four walls of our organisation. This is how we developed the electronic tabla, the electronic tala instrument, the electronic veena, and the engineers were trained on developing software that goes into these products. The engineers were also trained on designing the printed circuit boards on which the electronic components are mounted. And then, the plastic housings which need to be acoustically designed, aesthetically designed, capable of being designed to hold these various components and their parts such that it is easy to manufacture as well as easy to repair and maintain.
This is how we went on to develop a team that learnt the art of designing electronic products. Once we did this, we decided that we could use the same engineers to design not only musical instruments but also hi-tech avionics products for use in Indian aircraft – fighters, as well as Naval ships. We ended up creating a team of engineers that designed and developed the distributor that goes on to the Jaguar aircraft, then a bomb release equipment, an engine starting sequence controller, and various associated ground test equipment which were a hundred percent indigenously designed, manufactured and supplied to HAL, the Indian Air Force, the Indian Navy and various other organisations. This is how, we believe, that we need to create engineers who can participate in this whole ‘Make in India’.
Let’s now look at the common thread that runs through the entire spectrum of creating engineers that meet the need of aerospace and defence on the one extreme and electronic musical instruments or consumer products on the other extreme. The common thread is that we have developed innovative solutions, we have built in a very stringent quality system where the products that are designed, have proven themselves to be extremely reliable, efficient and compact, as required by the aerospace and defence, they are very rugged, and they are also highly miniaturised. This is what we have demonstrated over the 35 years track record of innovation and indigenous development in spite of being an MSME.
Our engineers have got the exposure to the complete product life cycle, right from design, that is – I would say, conceptualisation, design, and also the criticality as associated with Aerospace and Defence. With this 35 year old track record of churning out engineers with the capability to design, manufacture and generate these products, we said we can as well create a separate institution, a vertical, and that’s how the idea of Drona, School of Engineering Practice was born. We have, over the years, trained more than 150 such engineers, who are capable of designing products in the mechanical sector, in the avionics sector, in the consumer electronics sector, PCB design, software design etc, and they have all been absorbed in very reputed MNCs and larger organisations.
We now look forward to training and mentoring such engineers in much larger numbers – and that’s what is going to happen at Drona, School of Engineering Practice.