The way forward for industry is more and more automation
Published by : Industrial Automation
Ranjit Kambil, Founder Director, Orbital Systems (Bombay) Pvt Ltd.
Your entrepreneurial innings began with the quest for self-reliance. 30 years later, we are still talking about a self-reliant India. Any contradictions?
As an entrepreneur, I do not see any contradiction. When we started, we built products that were of import substitution in nature. We wanted to provide the best technology product for the Indian manufacturing sector at Indian prices. We stay focussed on that mission. Today, we manufacture products benchmarked with the best of the world conforming to the exacting standards of developed economies. So, self-reliant India to my mind, is making the best Indian products available to the Indian industry while competing with the best of the world. Therefore I see it more as empowering than contradiction.
What kind of approach and R&D you relied upon for product development during this period?
We invest significantly in our R&D, both in terms of manpower and tools, capabilities and infrastructure. In fact our current products are the result of our constant focus on R&D. Our focus is not just on functional performance, which is critical but also innovation, to ensure a longer run, sturdiness and aesthetic appeal to match international standards. So our R&D is a 360 degree approach with customer at the centre and technology as the enabler of customer satisfaction.
How easy or difficult it was to market indigenously developed import substitutes?
It was difficult initially to convince customers that an Indian company is capable of matching global standards. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating! Today with a wide installation base and a strong customer roster, we have crossed the hump. I also believe, with years of R&D effort going into product development, the product performance speaks for itself. Today, all things being equal, more customers are willing to give a chance to Indian manufacturers than imported products. We have witnessed this change over the years and more so now with the freeze on Chinese products, this will become even more pronounced.
Is the concept of frugal engineering workable or is it a contradiction in terms?
Frugal Engineering is a process of removing nonessential features from a durable good, in order to sell it in developing countries. This presupposes two things – first, that products are built with non-essential things and secondly, developing countries like India are price conscious. I therefore believe that there is an inherent contradiction, because R&D is supposed to make a functional, aesthetic and good quality product, which addresses the needs of the customers. So why pack it with non-essential features that can be dispensed with? The second thing is, Indian customers are
not only price conscious but value conscious. I wouldn't claim that our products are economical but our customers demand value for the price they pay, which is their right. So as along as the customers perceive they are getting the value for the money, price is usually not a consideration.
As a manufacturer of automation products and peripherals, what is your experience with the SMEs in terms of automation or the lack of it?
The question is contextual. Ten years back, one did not see much emphasis in automation in SMEs. But SMEs have slowly warmed up to the idea. There are two reasons – one the availability of global automation solutions in India and the second is falling total cost of ownership. Today more and more SMEs are using manpower intelligently in high skill areas and moving the routine to automation whether they are conveyor systems or robots for pick and place. This not just reduces human effort but also reduces errors and reduces accidents at shop floor. In fact we have seen growing demand for our safety and automation product lines over the last three years.
Six years of Make in India has not made a significant difference in the manufacturing sector's contribution to the GDP. Where is the problem?
I believe as an economy we seem to focus more on services and agriculture sector rather than manufacturing, especially the electronics sector. Focus on manufacturing requires a different mind-set – we need enabling land laws, skilled labour, access to cheap capital and manufacturing management talent where best engineers are willing to work in the shop floor. Today our land laws are complex, our ITIs which were created to create skill shop floor labour are not sought after, cost of capital is high and students from top engineering colleges prefer IT jobs or migrate to the US. We need a long term vision and effort to push manufacturing to its rightful place in the economy. It is in the country's interest.
As an entrepreneur in the post liberalised era, you have had a ringside view of Indian industry. Can you summarise your experience very briefly?
When we started three decades ago, we were considered foolish to have left good jobs and started an enterprise. But over the years we have seen an acceptance of Indian entrepreneurship. Today a startup is a valued sector and much sought after. But it wasn’t the case then. We have seen many high and low cycles. We have weathered the recession of late 90s, the tech meltdown of 2000, the financial collapse of 2008. We have seen the taxation systems undergoing change. But one thing is constant – if the entrepreneur is focussed on the vision, and backs it up with resources while being resilient during low cycles, the business will flourish over a long term.
How do you see automation transforming the future?
In my opinion automation is a tool to increase productivity while utilising human intelligence for more creative functions. The use of CNC machines in shop floors replaced human effort while utilising human intelligence to program a cycle and monitor performance. Today a wide choice of automation tools and solutions exist from conveyor systems to robots and a combination of other tools. We have even seen automation in service delivery and not just manufacturing. So the way forward for industry is more and more automation. The result will not be loss of jobs but different and higher quality jobs for the large numbers of youth of the country. So in my opinion, automation is the future of all sectors of the business.
Ranjit Kambil is one of the Founder Directors of Orbital Systems (Bombay) Pvt Ltd. A post graduate in Electronics and Computer Engineering from Mumbai University in 1984, Ranjit worked in the Process Development Department of Larsen and Toubro from 1984 to 1988, on Robots, Transfer Lines and Special Purpose Machines (SPMs). Launched in 1987, Orbital Systems (Bombay) Pvt Ltd is engaged in manufacturing import substitute Machine Tools and Safety and Automation Systems. Since 2017, Ranjit is also Founder Director and CEO of Orbital Mekatronik Systems Pvt Ltd, a company engaged in Safety, Automation, Robots and Conveyor solutions for industry, through tie ups with several international partners for offering customers world class products.