In-house innovation

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 original article appeared on The Week.

Quality awareness in Indian products

Recently, a German manufacturer refused to manufacture in India because he wasn’t convinced of Indian ability to meet his quality standards. He compared a simple switch board that was fixed crooked at an Indian public office to a German one that was perfectly in place. A UK based designer working with Indian textiles recently refused to source his products locally from Indian weavers due to lack of quality. This is in spite of the fact that bulk manufacture of Indian embroidery and textiles has a potential to woo international market. A customer at a jewellery store was disappointed with a custom-made silver plaque that was badly crafted despite initially promising good quality, and rejected the piece.

In India, you and I observe this lack of quality awareness in everyday life – be it with household equipment or a garment. In the examples quoted above, all it needed was quality awareness on the part of the electrician who fitted the switch board on the wall – he needed to not only know what was straight and what was not, but also feel the pride and confidence in his own work to ensure that he fixed it straight. The artisan creating the decorative plaque needed to feel pride in his work to ensure that he crafted a perfect piece – and the salesperson needed to know that if the piece was not good enough, he should not have even offered it to the customer as the reputation of his business was at stake.

So, what is good quality? Quality is not just a certificate (such as ISI or BIS) that can be given to products. It is an attitude that reflects the DNA of an organisation or an individual. Sadly, today the spheres of knowledge and performance do not work in synchrony. This emphasises the increasing need for quality awareness in the entire population, whether a factory worker, artisan, salesman or manager.

Holding financial constraints responsible for lack of quality is certainly not justifiable. A sense of pride in work and ownership associated with one’s work can overcome most constraints.

Craftsmen and technicians in India suffer from a lack of exposure to quality in production. The present day social environment has poor esteem for a blue-collar job in all work places across the country, and has very little respect for the dignity of labour. This acts as a demotivating factor for workmen and is hurting India in many ways. This is where China and other countries have an edge over India. Today, China maintains a work culture that is unbiased and treats as equally valuable, the contribution of every type of workforce.

Change must begin with the individual and spread across organisations. Even an average technician must be aware of good quality. He must hold a sense of pride in his work. Quality begins with design and continues through workmanship in the production process right to maintenance and customer service. China, which has a GDP five times that of India and a manufacturing sector ten times bigger, had a reputation some years ago in the international market, of producing poor quality goods. China has overcome that stigma by going on a war-footing and drastically improving quality. Here in India, if a locally produced item is shoddy and lacks basic attention to detail, we can neither aspire to ‘Make in India’ nor transform India into a global manufacturing hub.

The ‘Make in India’ initiative needs to leapfrog over the initial pitfalls of poor quality that China faced, and establish a global reputation of ‘High Quality’ for goods produced in India. This can be only achieved by a concerted parallel effort on several fronts, quality awareness being one of the foremost.


Radel Readying To Tie-Up with Foreign Defense, Aerospace Firms By March 2016

It was literally in disgust that G. Raj Narayan, founder and managing director of Radel Group, quit his job as an avionics engineer in the public sector to become an entrepreneur in electronics. That was way back in 1979. Three-and-a-half decades later, in 2015, Raj Narayan’s company is now a very important supplier of test jigs and aerospace parts to Bengaluru-headquartered Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) that he had left after 10 years of work to pursue his passion.

Today, his Radel Group makes key parts and sub-systems for Indian armed forces’ Russian-origin Su-30 and MiG-29 combat planes, AN-32 cargo planes and the indigenous Dhruv advanced light helicopters. After 36 years as an electronics company and 10 years after venturing into aerospace and defense sectors, Radel is now preparing to tie-up with foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) by the end of this financial year in March 2016 to take its business to the global market.

“Radel is not associated at the moment with any foreign OEMs, but is keenly looking for a partnership with a few. It is hopeful of closing a couple of deals during the current financial year,” Raj Narayan told Arming India in a recent interview. He, however, refused to name the foreign companies that Radel Group is talking to for a tie-up.

Radel group consists of two independent companies. Radel Electronics is the older organization and has been in the consumer electronics products that are designed, manufactured and sold by it. Radel Advanced Technology, established in 2005, focuses on the micro, small and medium enterprises opportunities in the aerospace and defense sectors. Radel Advanced Technology is approved by India’s military certification agency, CEMILAC, as a design organization and has executed over 20 projects for HAL, the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, completely designed and manufactured in-house. These include airborne as well as ground test equipment.

“A strong background in aerospace and avionics is what led to an entrepreneurial stride that combined my professional capabilities as a classical musician and an avionics engineer. The return to the Aerospace and Defense sector was made possible in 2005 when the government opened up these sectors to private sector participation.

“Since electronics lies at the core of almost every system on any military platform, and almost all of them are currently procured from abroad, there is more prospect in this area than a few creative and innovative MSMEs can actually handle. The business potential runs beyond a few thousand crores, though this needs to be tackled in a holistic and planned manner by the government and the armed services. This is where a Vision Group is crucial to creating a long-term plan of action that can ensure a win-win situation for all stakeholders,” Raj Narayan said.

Targeting 60% Growth over the Next 3 Years

Radel Advanced Technology is now aiming to ramp up its operations into the global Aerospace and Defense sector, targeting an annual growth rate of over 60 per cent for the next three years.

“The aerospace and defense industry is characterized by long gestation periods. Radel has successfully crossed this crucial milestone and is now on a high growth path. This position is further reinforced with the emphasis being placed on ‘Make in India’ and ‘Defense Indigenization’ directives of the Indian government. With a strong and proven in-house design capability, the organization is very confident of meeting the growth targets as long as the government remains focused on encouraging indigenous talent and capabilities.

“Opportunities exist in all three armed services as well as Defense Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), but the latter need to look at Indian MSMEs as high value addition partners rather than just ‘sub-contractors’ of low value added services,” he said.

According to Raj Narayan, the Indian aerospace industry is predicted to be poised for a quantum growth over the next 10 years. “In the civil aviation sector alone, a total of around 1,300 aircraft are expected to be inducted, while in the military sector, around 400 aircraft are expected to be inducted. In addition, the current ageing fleet of the Air Force and Navy are expected to be either upgraded or fitted with indigenized equipment. All these activities are bound to result in a rapid growth of the Aerospace and Defense sector.”

Electronics content, Raj Narayan noted, constitute a significant proportion of the cost of any platform or equipment housed within a military platform. Defense electronics, being a much specialized domain with unique and stringent requirements, poses its own challenges while providing huge business opportunities.

“One of the major handicaps is the lack of a component manufacturing base, with the result that Indian equipment manufacturers have to import almost all the components. This, therefore, results in additional costs of Customs duties along with associated handling expenditure and delays. The second handicap results from the fact that the armed services themselves do not have complete technical details and knowledge of the equipment that they wish to indigenize and therefore the procurement process does not lead to a successful result,” he said.

“The solution to the above problems lies in a holistic approach to be adopted by the Defense Procurement Agencies that synergies the strengths of all stakeholders, namely, Armed Services, DPSU (who possess some of the domain expertise), large private players, who have the financial clout to invest in Research and Development, and the MSMEs, who provide the best value for money with their lean organization and innovative minds.”

Economic Reforms Can Help Overcome Sector’s Multiple Challenges

The aerospace and defense sector, he said, faced multiple challenges. “First and foremost, the Indian government needs to facilitate the creation of a healthy ecosystem for the growth of this industry through the provision of incentives as well as improvement of infrastructure. Secondly, skilled technicians and engineers are not available for this specialized sector. While engineering colleges across the country churn out graduates in thousands every year, few possess any practical exposure or experience to make them industry-ready. Hence, both the central and state governments should act as facilitators for establishment of Skill Training schools within public and private industries already operating in the sector.

“Thirdly, labour reforms that constitute a major stumbling block for sustained growth of any manufacturing organization in India, need to be implemented urgently. Fourthly, the productivity and efficiency of the government departments that are involved in import and export of goods and raw material, should be improved far above the pathetic levels existing at present. Free movement of goods from one state to another within the country, through simplified VAT (GST) is also urgently required.”

Raj Narayan felt that the present Defense Procurement Procedures (DPP) failed to recognize and encourage private sector players, especially MSMEs with proven track record and talent. “There is no weightage for quality and competence of a vendor. Therefore, the process mostly fails to enable the armed services to move towards self-reliance that they have been fondly wishing for over six decades. While the DPP has some clarifications on the process of indigenization, many of the procurement agencies are unaware of the same and hence the process is poorly implemented leading to failures and shortages.”

Within the company, the acute shortage of skilled talent in the sector was overcome by a well laid out training program for new as well as existing manpower. The trainees are exposed to the critical and stringent needs of the aerospace and defense sector through live experiences on projects, Raj Narayan, who also is the chief mentor of a training school called Drona, said.

Make-in-India Should Go Beyond Rhetoric

The Radel Group chief noted that the ‘Make in India’ remained at most a “rhetoric” than any concrete progress on the ground. “However, the slogan by itself has energized not only industries, but also DPSUs and the defense procurement agencies. A distinct push for sourcing defense equipment from Indian sources is clearly evident. However, it remains to be seen how far this will result in actual growth in the manufacture of indigenous defense equipment,” he said.

“Make-in-India needs to go far beyond just manufacturing under license from a foreign OEM. Indian companies need to be incentivized and encouraged to design and develop our own products using our own technologies and this capability will then lead to self-reliance through continuous up-gradation of technology that is also developed indigenously.”

Raj Narayan was on the opinion that no foreign company would ever part with any technology or products or processes, especially relating to military and aerospace industry. “The only route to self-reliance is through hard work and indigenous R&D. From this point of view, modification or changes to the Offsets Rules and Guidelines will only have short-term gains, if any, in terms of creating low value, low technology work being outsourced by the foreign companies.”

While this could be significant for MSMEs with no design and development capabilities or domain expertise, MSMEs with proven track record and competence need to be nurtured and supported by the government as well as the armed services, financially as well as morally, he said.

“Even a small part of the R&D funds provided to Defense Research and Development Organization could yield relatively higher returns and long term gains to the stakeholders. Notwithstanding the above, it is heartening to see that many hurdles to the implementation and expansion of the Offsets program have recently been removed. It now remains to be seen how well the foreign companies respond to the amendments and actually execute their Offsets liabilities. This would be a test of their sincerity.”

The original article appeared on ArmingIndia.


Challenges for MSMEs in HR strategy in the wake of ‘Make in India’

‘Make in India’ primarily focuses on manufacturing products in India. It is logical that this should include ‘Design in India’, ‘Innovate in India’, and ‘Support in India’. This therefore requires a holistic approach to not just managing HR, but creating HR right from schools, colleges and training institutions. Though this is a highly demanding task, there is no way we can avoid this. It is the only way that Make in India can succeed. Further, all these activities result in multiple areas of challenges as well as opportunities. The Governments (Central & State) too have their part to play in improving Industrial Relations and Labour laws, since manufacturing will certainly have to percolate to the smallest of MSMEs.

While MSMEs employ 40% of India’s workforce, contributing 45% to India’s manufacturing output, the main problem that they face is the lack of talent – most employees are non-employable for industry needs.

I foresee that soon, there is likely to be such a huge shortage of trained manpower across all levels of the manufacturing sector (operators, supervisors, managers, designers, etc.) that HRM itself can be a challenge for each organisation, especially the smaller ones. HRM will have also to build stronger bridges with educational/training institutions.

At a primary level, flaws in education system cost MSMEs a lot of their resources. Engineers, diploma holders, technicians, operators and clerks need to be given skills that train their mind to analyse and apply, before they can be productive. With this also comes the need to remain relevant at any point in the industry – therefore, the need to upgrade skills periodically. This applies equally to non-productive jobs like accounts and administration where online filing of monthly VAT returns as well as transportation documents are now mandatory in most states.

At a basic level, educational institutions are to be blamed for their flaws in skilling manpower. This, unfortunately, starts right from school. There must be a re-evaluation in the system with focus on understanding and application of skills rather than marks based on rote learning. The management in colleges remains unaware of industry needs and fails to incorporate skills that are required for industry. Thus fresh recruits from colleges lack skills to apply the knowledge gained – some even lack good foundation.

Graduating students are attracted to large MNCs which filter out the few who are capable of being employed. The Micro and Small Enterprises (MSE) are thus left with students who are not qualified for industry needs. If MSMEs employ their scant and precious resources of time and money into training their recruits, then employee retention becomes a problem. Skilling them would make them capable of meeting needs of larger organisations and MNCs. For fear of attrition, MSEs are reluctant to impart the necessary training, besides the time and cost constraints. Such a situation is clearly unhealthy.

The government has recognised the need for skilled manpower. ‘Skill India’ program was launched keeping in mind that only 2.3% of Indian workforce has undergone skill training. While these programs are viewed as being complementary to ‘Make in India’ initiative, they yet again focus merely on low-level skilling of fitters, plumbers, carpenters, technicians, etc. Skilling of graduates – especially engineers, has not been addressed. Further, the essential skills of critical and analytical thinking are not imparted, leading to a talent vacuum in the mid- and higher management levels of any organisation. This is felt most acutely in an MSME.

The growth of MSMEs is already challenged by lack of financial resources, poor infrastructure, and periodic and unfair harassment by various statutory bodies. However, the core problem to be addressed remains that of unskilled manpower.

We need to have a broader vision of Create, Innovate, Design and Make in India. To enable this vision become a reality, Industry, Academia, and Management experts need to work together to create a vibrant pool of real talent – talent that has strong basic knowledge of a domain, along with the skills for critical and analytical thinking. It is the development of these skills that will ultimately lead to the success of ‘Make in India’.


Unveiled! A template for self-governing townships

Electronics City Industrial Township Authority has overcome many challenges, but there are still a few left. Historically, industrial estates have been set up in suburbs and areas distant from residential populations and, therefore, have always been governed by either a municipality or a village panchayat.

The specialised needs of industries are not clearly understood by these governance bodies, thereby leading to a disorganised management, and lack of development. The lack of interest and involvement of industries too in managing their own estates has prevented their needs from being adequately addressed.

The governance of an industrial estate needs to be primarily focused on good infrastructure that includes the following: roads, stable electric power, management of water supply and sewage, cleanliness of the estate, including waste management, mass rapid transportation for employees of businesses, good communication facilities, peripheral support facilities like security, hotels and canteens, banks and shops, and security for people and common infrastructure.

All these call for long-term vision and planning as well as good execution of up keeping at minimal cost.

ECity, the forerunner
while the demand for establishment of self-governing Industrial Townships has been voiced for many years, the Electronics City (eCity) was uniquely positioned to be identified as a forerunner for this initiative. The creation of the Electronics City Industrial Township Authority (ELCITA) under the umbrella of the Karnataka Municipality Act by the Karnataka Government in 2013 was a landmark event across the country. What makes it unique is the fact that this prestigious industrial estate is home to a mix of large corporates, as well as MSMEs operating in diverse fields from IT, ITeS, electronics and mechanical hardware manufacturing, bio-technology, as well as educational institutions.

Further, the eCity has the advantage that it is a contiguous area of industries and commercial establishments with no residential properties included within its well defined boundaries.

The Township Authority comprises of ten members, five elected from among the industry representatives, and five officers nominated from the government bureaucracy. A major challenge faced by Industrial Townships would be participation by industry owners as elected representatives, as they have to take time off their busy routines. It is a challenge to attract competent, mature businessmen to devote time for a collective local governance activity. ELCITA has successfully overcome this challenge due to its existence as a close-knit industry body for over two decades. Other challenges that have been successfully overcome by ELCITA are:

Waste management: ELCITA is addressing the issue of a non-existent sewage system by setting up a cluster of sewage treatment plants (STPs). The first one has just been commissioned and the second one is under construction.

Security, law and order: While law and order within the estate is the responsibility of the jurisdictional police, ELCITA has been playing a proactive role through periodic interactions with them. ELCITA has also facilitated the installation of an e-FIR kiosk in the eCity.

Traffic management: With a high density of employees as well as vehicles of all types, traffic is managed by a dedicated team of traffic wardens with support from the Police.
Water management: ELCITA distributes both borewell and BWSSB water to all the organisations in eCity.
EGovernance: ELCITA has already put in place a transparent eGovernance mechanism that enables all transactions, including tax collections, works contracts, payments, etc. to be conducted online. ELCITA has been issuing Khatha certificates to property owners.
But there are a few challenges that still remain.
Lack of space: Since all plots in eCityhave been sold and used up by industries and businesses over time, there is hardly any space for common amenities
Provision of sewage: Drainage, treatment and disposal is expensive — both from capital investment and operating expenses perspective.

Implementation of building laws: Need a team of specialists that a local governance body does not normally possess.

As demonstrated in the eCity, the success of any industrial township stands on four pillars — cohesiveness of its constituents, transparency, unity, and a democratic approach to finding optimal solutions to the infrastructural needs of the estate.


Another Chairman of HAL talks

HAL seems to have finally realized that it needs to be a final integrator after all! Or has it?LCA

( It now wants to offload major parts of the airframe to the large private players. We can now see the ‘biggies’ trooping to HAL to have a bite of the various platforms that HAL has been struggling to deliver to its reluctant customers.

How sincere is HAL when it makes such statements? I say this because this same intent has been repeated over the years ad nauseum without any action on the ground:



2005 August:

2005 October:…/haloutsourcing/article2193883.ece

If anybody thinks that this would make an impact on the Indian military aerospace sector, they are going to be sadly disappointed once again. All that this would achieve is to allow the large private players to put in place a certified system of producing airworthy structures, besides churning out riveted airframes and that too out of jigs and fixtures to be transferred to them by HAL. What nobody seems to notice is that a large part of a flying platform comprises its accessories and systems, including the most important power plant (engine), that really determines the flying as well as fighting capability of that aircraft. Onboard systems constitute about 25% of the acquisition cost of a military aircraft and along with the power plant, they account for 50% of the total cost. These also need maintenance and upgrades over the long operating lifecycle of at least 35 years. Considering that such systems can be tailored and modified to suit multiple aircraft, this constitutes the core of the aerospace industry. So, isn’t it silly that we are still talking only of manufacturing the shell and nothing about indigenous development and manufacture of all airborne systems such as avionics, electrical, hydraulics, pneumatics, air-conditioning and pressurization, cockpit instruments, weapons control, etc?

The Lucknow division of HAL was established out of the need for self-reliance in the development of accessories and systems. It has miserably failed to meet its mandate and hence this is where a multi-billion dollar opportunity exists for a large number of MSMEs alone. They can do wonders if pool their knowledge base, collaborate and synergize with each other and HAL can benefit by this too. This could lead to the creation of multiple consortia across the country each of which could be a potential exporter over time.

It is interesting that the CMD, HAL has talked of hand-holding. Let us look at their past track record. Five years ago, two divisions of HAL (Nasik and Lucknow) cancelled their outsourced manufacturing orders to a small private company stating that the labour unions had objected to outsourcing of work to the private sector. This was after going through a whole process of tendering, L1, price negotiation, and release of formal Purchase Orders. Is the CMD of HAL now sure that this will not happen again? Or, would the divisions now go to the unions to plead with them?

Talking of the 2600 SMEs that are supposed to be supplying parts to HAL, has anybody wondered what quantum of business each of these SMEs derive from HAL? If they are only manufacturing bolts and nuts, they could certainly graduate to aggregators by putting them together into a bracket or sub-assembly. That’s not what the SMEs would like to aim at. This precisely has been the problem with HAL. They never seem to be able to recognize the huge potential that lies untapped among the many competent and highly capable MSMEs of this country. Had HAL encouraged and facilitated the formation of clusters of MSMEs two decades ago, these would by now have graduated to system integrators, with each cluster delivering a communication or navigation or hydraulic system.

Why has HAL done nothing to support and encourage the existing MSMEs, many of whom are CEMILAC certified, who have already demonstrated their capabilities by manufacturing complete airborne equipment? Why does HAL not realise that creating such an ecosystem would be a force multiplier?

Aerospace manufacturers in Bangalore

Focus on nurturing designing skills

Make in India today is not addressing ‘Design in India’. Except for a few highly sophisticated technologies, we should by now have been able to design most products in India. Why has this not happened in spite of India boasting of the largest pool of young qualified engineers?

Let us look at the thrust sectors over the last two years — Electronics System Design & Manufacture (ESDM), aerospace and defense indigenisation. These areas involve state-of-the-art design and manufacturing capability which should result in truly Indian products and services. However, in spite of a six decade legacy of ‘licenced manufacturing’ of age-old products, we still haven’t demonstrated our capabilities of creating home-grown Indian products.

Over the past two decades, manufacturing in India has been dying a slow death due to various reasons. The most important of which has been the extraordinary growth of the information technology sector and the huge opportunities it provided for employment of graduates. This in turn attracted and encouraged the workforce, especially engineers, to focus on honing their skills in this field, while neglecting to improve their capabilities in the core engineering domains.

Contrast this picture with China where an environment was created that enabled the country to leapfrog over many advanced nations to become a manufacturing superpower. China welcomed global multinationals to set up their industries there — whether they were for fabrication of ICs or manufacturing aircraft. But they did not stop there. Through a close coordination between universities and the industry, China managed to reverse engineer these technologies to create their own design teams — from sophisticated aircraft and semiconductor fabs right down to stuffed speaking toys.

India needs skilled engineers

If the ‘Make in India’ goal has to make an impact on the Indian economy, we need to first skill our engineers in the art of products design and further to manufacture them in innovatively designed factories manned with skilled engineering manpower. This represents the core issue to our problems. We don’t have the skilled engineers to design products and drive the cogs of the manufacturing wheel, especially in the high-end technology fields.

This problem is magnified in the Aerospace and Defence sectors, where we need to build capabilities not only in design but also in robust processes, documentation and project management. Studies show that out of the 1.5 million engineering graduates emerging from universities across India every year, only 4 -7 per cent are employable in the core engineering industries (Aspiring Minds, Report 2014).

An earlier study by the World Bank (2010) shows that employers are not satisfied with the fresh graduates they recruit, providing  evidence that ‘the Engineering education institutions and the system does an inadequate job of developing analytical, evaluating and creative engineers.’

There is a lot of buzz about skilling, but again, the emphasis is only on skilling lower-level technicians. While this is important, it is imperative that we train and skill our engineers in the high value-addition areas of product and engineering design. Engineers aspiring for jobs in high technology companies in the core engineering sector, such as Aerospace, Defence or ESDM, find that they are completely out of their depth, and need to be trained for several months on the job, before they can be productive.

Skilling of engineers cannot happen overnight. This has to be part of an integrated scheme that develops interest, aptitude and aspiration to excel as a practising engineer. Design skills lie at the top of the pyramid that includes a variety of multi-disciplinary skills besides the need for being very systematic and analytical. A designer also needs to continuously keep abreast of technology and use it to innovate continuously.

A good design takes into consideration the entire product life-cycle that includes ease of use (User interface), ease of manufacture, maintenance and repair, among others. Design capability results from a closed loop process comprising Design, Analysis, Manufacture and Testing, as well as Maintenance and Support.

Such skilling cannot be done in a college environment. Universities and engineering colleges need to tie up with industries to provide the engineers hands-on exposure to live projects within the industry. This is where the limitations of the present university education system prevent a holistic exposure to practice. And this is where industry has its role to play, by giving a practical exposure to the aspiring engineers.

The need of the hour is therefore to bring all stakeholders together to the table to chalk out a holistic plan. This includes colleges, universities, industry representatives as well as the government representatives. Each one has an important role to play. To ensure the success of the ‘Make in India’ initiative, we need to think holistically. We need to ‘Create in India’, ‘Innovate in India’, ‘Design in India’ and ‘Manufacture in India’.

The original article appeared on DeccanHerald.

aerospace skilling

This is the level of our engineering graduates

How imperative is it to skill our engineers? When does skilling really start? At the post-graduate level? Graduate? School?

Let me narrate a recent incident to you, and then you can draw your own conclusions.

This is how an engineering graduate with a further six months training in embedded systems, attempted to solve a simple exercise that I had given her:

The task was to calculate digital samples for generating a sinewave. I casually suggested that she could use Excel, if she wanted. She looked quite puzzled and asked ‘How can Excel calculate the samples’? I said, ‘Can’t you give a formula’? She asked, ‘What formula?’ I said, ‘If you specify ‘x’, the computer can calculate ‘sin x’. Anyway, I said she could do it manually with a calculator also if she so wished.

She came back to me with a table written on her notebook with columns of ‘x in 1 degree increments’, ‘x in radians’, ‘sin x in decimal’, ‘Hex value in 8 bits’. She had stopped at 15 degrees since it was taking her too much time to manually calculate the entire 360 degrees. I also noticed that she had not taken the negative values of sin x. So, I asked her to calculate just one sample in the 2nd and 3rd quadrant.
She shot back, ‘Quadrant’?
I said ‘yes. Do you know what is a quadrant’?
She shook her head and sheepishly said, ‘I’ve forgotten. You mean 270 degrees?’
I asked ‘What is the first quadrant’?
Without revealing any anger in my voice, I asked, ‘What is the range of the first quadrant’?
‘Zero. No, 90’
‘What is the second quadrant’?
‘What is the third quadrant’?
At that point I lost my patience and told her, ‘First quadrant is from 0 to 90. Can you now identify the 3rd quadrant’?
‘Yes sir. It is 180 to 270’.
Quite relieved at this huge success, I said, ‘Can you now just calculate 16 samples of a full wave and show me the result’?
She came back after 15 minutes and showed me a set of calculations that were all wrong. She had no idea what she had to do.
I thought I would go to the absolute basics and asked her ‘What is sin 30’?
She quickly whipped out her scientific calculator. I said, ‘You don’t need a calculator for that. Can you not draw a triangle and calculate’?
She stared at me as if I was out of my mind. Then she drew a vague triangle in which not even one angle was a right angle.
So, I drew one and denoted x as the ‘opposite’ and y as the hypotenuse. I said ‘Can you now calculate sin 30’?
‘But both x and y are unknown’.
I helped her by saying that ‘y’, the hypotenuse was 1. ‘Can you now calculate x’?
She quickly and triumphantly wrote ‘x= y*sin 30’!
‘I think you can calculate the value of x in relation to y, can’t you’?
An empty stare.
‘If one angle is 30 in a right-angled triangle, what would be the other?’ I asked.
’30 degrees’!
‘What is the sum of all three angles in a triangle’?
‘180. So, the other angle should be 60’.
So, I drew a mirrored triangle beneath the existing one to create the resultant equilateral triangle and asked ‘Does this shape give you any hints?’
An empty stare. So, I asked ‘Do you see any symmetry in the super triangle’?
‘Yes! If one is x, the other is (1-x)’!
I slapped my forehead and said ‘If there’s an isosceles triangle, can you guess x’?
‘It is x/2’.
With many more minutes of prodding and slapping my forehead, she arrived at ‘sin 30 = 0.5’
‘Now that you’ve managed to calculate sin 30, can you now calculate sin 45′?
She drew another triangle just like the 30 degree triangle, wrote x=0.5 and y=1 and marked the angle as ’45’.
I remarked ‘How did you mark x as 0.5′?
‘Sir, we just worked it out’!
I let it be and asked, ‘If one angle is 45 in a right angled triangle, what is the other angle’?
I was quite relieved that she did not go for her calculator. She actually blurted out ’45’ in just under 35 secs.
‘Great! If two angles are 45, can you figure out any relationship between any two sides’?
‘The base (adjacent) will be root 2’.
I said ‘If the two angles are 45, which two sides would be equal’?
Losing patience, I identified the base and the opposite sides as ‘1’. ‘Can you now calculate the hypotenuse’?
A blank stare forced me to draw dotted squares on the three sides and I asked ‘Does this picture now tell you anything’?
She shook her head. I asked ‘Have you heard of Pythagoras theorem’?
‘I have forgotten, Sir’.
Assuming that x, y & z may be more confusing than the a,b & c that we used to be taught in school, I wrote the latter.
No use.
So, I just wrote the formula c2 = a2 + b2.
Voila! ‘Root 2’ came the answer at last!!!!

‘Now that you have managed to calculate sin 30 and sin 45, can you now do sin 60’?
‘Sure’ was the very confident and proud reply.
She proceeded to draw yet another triangle that looked exactly like the first one and promptly wrote 60 in place of the 30.
She wrote ‘1’ on the hypotenuse and ‘1.5’ on the side opposite 60.
I was horrified.
‘How did you get 1.5 on that side’?
‘For a 15 degree increase from 30 to 45, that side increased from 0.5 to 1. So, for another 15 degree increase, it will increase by another 0.5’!
I thought to myself, “Absolutely brilliant logic”, but preferred to tell her calmly, ‘That’s not correct logic. If that was so, what would happen if the angle increased to 90’?

She proceeded to write two superimposed vertical lines for some distance and said, ‘It will be 2’.
‘How did you get 2? Why not 2.5’?
‘No, it can’t be 2.5’
‘But, you know what sin 90 is in reality, don’t you’?
‘Yes. 1’.
‘So, isn’t your logic wrong’?
‘Yes, Sir’.
‘So, now go back to your first triangle that you drew for sin 30. There’s something that you can see right there for 60’, I said.
She didn’t get it. So, I pointed out the 60 degree angle at the top of the triangle and asked ‘Can you write the sin 60 with reference to this angle’?
‘But that angle is in reverse. It goes beyond 180′.
I could not believe that I was listening to all this coming from an engineering graduate. Maintaining my composure, I took a deep breath.
I quickly drew another triangle as a mirror image of the 30 degree example and asked ‘Does this make any difference to the sin 30 just because the triangle is reversed’?
I was relieved when she said ‘No’.
‘So, can you now calculate sin 60 in the same triangle as the sin 30’?
‘Yes. It is 0.75’.
With anger and pain very visible on my face, I asked ‘How did you get that? Did you apply Pythagoras theorem’?
‘Oh yes. I forgot to do the squaring and rooting, Sir’!

If an engineering graduate has not understood the basics of what she studied in school, how did she not only progress through college but also get marks of over 60 and 70%? So, what’s the use of the examination system, not to talk of the class room lectures? If she does not even know the basic school-level geometry of a right angled triangle, let alone remember the name ‘Pythagoras theorem’, what science is she going to apply in life? What’s even more shocking to me is that many people tell me that 75% of the graduates are of this standard.

The question remains – If our engineering graduates do not learn how to apply basic  mathematical, engineering and science concepts to solve a problem, what do we mean by “Make in India”?

An Inclusive Approach to Defence Indigenisaton

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.

My humble tribute to Dr. Kalam

Dr. Kalam had ignited every Indian’s mind over the last 12 years when he became more visible as a President than he was in his earlier years. His vision that India had to be militarily strong to earn respect from other nations, even without any expansionist objectives, was indeed a sound one. Realising that this could not be achieved without indigenous R&D and hard work, he went about the task wherever he got an opportunity. This blog is therefore dedicated to his memory.

My memory goes back to 1961 when I first heard of Mr. Kalam (not a ‘Dr’ then). As kids, my brother and I used to make wooden scale models of ships and aircraft. It was in 1961 that an Engineering Industrial Exhibition was held at LRDE, then located in the heart of Bangalore. Being an open and free society without any threats of terror or security, the exhibition allowed many individuals also to display their engineering talents. My brother, still a student, displayed his beautiful ship models in one of the halls. Across the road, there was a huge roar of an engine every now and then from the campus of the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE). My brother found out that a guy was experimenting on a hovercraft built in ADE. This person was none other than Abdul Kalam. Hovercrafts were a hot topic of technical discussions for the fact that they were amphibious, can travel over mildly rough terrain and can move much faster on water than ships. Kalam had obviously taken to indigenous R&D right then during his early career. That he stuck to this philosophy right through his illustrious career is a great achievement in itself. His strong belief in teamwork and leadership is widely acknowledged and acclaimed. However, the most striking part of his personality was his passion for whatever he delved into, ranging from teaching children to leading a team at DRDO or ISRO.

I saw him last at a conference on Skilling organised by ASSOCHAM in Delhi in May 2015. Still looking quite fit and agile, he spoke passionately about the need to skill India since we are moving towards being the largest population of youth in the age group of 18 to 45. He talked about human manpower being the most valuable resource that any country could and should harness for rapid economic development. At the end of his address, I could still see the passion of a teacher when he invited questions and went about it in a very organised and methodical manner by picking out people who had raised their hands. When one person in the audience went about making statements rather than ask a question, he told him without being curt, “You are making a speech. What’s your question?” There could never have been an end to a Q&A session with Kalam, but limitation of time did impose an end. So, he ended by saying, “Anybody can email me or post your questions. You will receive a reply within 24 hours. Please visit and post your questions. Ok?”, in his own inimitable style.

It is said that a good bond with children is established when you speak, play and interact with them at their level of behaviour. I am sure Dr. Kalam did this to perfection not only with children, but even with adults who readily accepted him as their guide, teacher and mentor. I would therefore prefer not to tag him as a ‘Missile Man’, but a simple, loveable, practical and ideal teacher, which is what he must have been to anyone he interacted with all his life.