The trouble is Frugal Innovation is often quoted in a different context
Published by : Industrial Automation
Ravi Ramarao, Chief Architect – Industrie 4.0/IIoT/Smart Mfg Platform Solutions.
From global MNCs to local companies, frugal innovation has spawned many success stories. Time to devote more effort and resources in this direction?
Yes, of course. In my thinking, anything that serves the purpose and costing optimally in its life cycle is a must for any situation and time. The trouble is Frugal Innovation is often quoted in a different context. Considered as cheap.
Computers and mobiles are examples of over-engineered products that also now have no frill versions. Can this be extended to industrial hardware?
The answer is yes. No doubt. Having said that, if you carefully evaluate, mobiles and computers are not over engineered. These were designed with a purpose and for a particular target audience at that point of time. Computers were basically meant for programmers and developers.
Bill Gates completely redefined the ‘users’ making all in one on the same platform. In the case of mobiles, Blackberry was the first generation smart phone. In major cities, the branding used to be ‘for smart executives’. Contextually, those were the days where the line between work and pleasure could be drawn fairly well. However, things started to merge with evolution of smart apps and so on.
Steve Jobs was the master to pick this up early and innovated the iPhone with the common man as the user, making it a break-through innovation. More or less, he could achieve the idea of making an average user feel comfortable with the iPhone. If an average+ user can utilise majority features of the product, then, we can certainly say it is adequately engineered to meet the requirements.
In the redefined context of needs, industrial hardware has to necessarily undergo revamp on product definition. Still old templates are mostly followed. Paradigm shift in the fundamentals should happen. Perhaps, that suggests why start-ups are able to come out with radical changes and not the established product companies.
At a time when India is trying hard to scale up manufacturing, can there be more organised efforts in this direction?
I believe it is happening but not on a large scale. Why?
Indian manufacturing units rely heavily on the MSMEs somewhere in their supply chain. Contract outsourcing also have made the large conglomerates to push their inefficiencies into the smaller players. As an overall supply chain, the manufacturing inefficiencies still remain. This pulls down the entire eco system because dynamic response, flexible supply chain, which are a must for large scale manufacturing are lacking and we struggle. China could establish mega factories and huge infrastructure for goods movement at least 3 decades back, which has given them phenomenal advantage in meeting large demands of the supply chain. Having said that, this is a definite opportunity for India to utilise.
In similar vein, Scalable Automation is a concept that is often in focus. How does this work in practice?
Scalable Automation is in place in large corporates and forward thinking organisations. It is not so in the MSME sector. In the MSME sector, I mean in India in particular, focus has always been on immediate costs and not on the returns over a period of time. RoI expectations have always been ‘aspirational aspirations’ and highly challenging to achieve. In the end, this leaves them with ill-defined ‘frugal engineered’ systems, processes and solutions that calls for constant interventions. The mind-set of MSME think tanks has to change.
In recent years, some automation companies are also propagating hybrid systems with manual workstations rather than full automation. Does this make better sense?
It is a difficult thing to generalise. If it serves the purpose and over a reasonable period of time, it should be welcome. The point is there a ‘big picture’ view that is factored in the choice? It could be manual, semi-automatic or automatic – that should be the deciding factor.
Apart from policy changes, what are the essential requisites for a self-reliant economy?
I am a strong advocate of solving problems that challenges the society at large. India provides ample opportunities and for many more years as there is a potential to address the problems. Why, then, it is not happening? Interesting to observe.
Digital India, Skill India, productivity councils, industry confederations, skill development incentives and so on. In the recent past there have been so many policy measures the government has promoted. To be fair not all are super efforts but certainly many have been directionally correct. Then why are we still crawling?
Primarily, entrepreneur mind-set as part of education is lacking. Secondly, risk averse mentality of investor community is another stumbling block. Thirdly, the ‘salary’ driven mind-set of the fresh talent is another big drag.
If one takes a closer look at the economies that are vibrant and leaders – be it Japan, South Korea or China – they all could effectively preserve their native strengths. In colonial countries, education was a tool to get highly qualified clerks. We are still good at that.
Innovation happens when there is impetus in product building, which in turn drives R&D spend. R&D spend is usually very less except in government organisations. ISRO, DRDO are classic examples of what India can achieve if right focus is maintained. This (less R&D spend) in turn demotivates young talent not to pursue a career in product engineering. Many prefer to be in the outer orbits like service, delivery, marketing, etc.
Few factors like the recently introduced New Education Policy, the dire need to invent ‘local for local’ products combined with post Covid scenarios shall steer the ship in the right direction. Again, speed is the essence of success.
NEP is a good beginning and should address these issues in the mid to longer run. However, the teaching community should be incentivised to draw top talents in to education. R&D efforts should be increased in corporate spending, innovative thinking should be supported with patent sharing, profit sharing schemes.
How do you see automation transforming the future?
It is quite logical to believe that more and more corporates shall begin to rely heavily on data to drive choices. Industrial automation shall be the greatest beneficiary is my bet. Reason is quite simple because the shop floor needs to be robust and shall become the strong backbone for over the top sophisticated automation.
Cyber security shall become more prevalent and over a period of time shall become basic hygiene in many industries. Flexible workforce and hence new ways of working with contract associates shall re-define the manner in which human capital shall be built-up.
Finally, thankfully, Covid has brought up a huge transformation in the ‘thought processes’ in many walks of life. Until the recent past pre-Covid era, manufacturing industries worldwide have always promoted conservative views. Not with any strong objectives, but, remained so for many decades. They are the worst hit because of presence of ‘in-house/on the floor’ more than optimal ‘on the field work force’. Manufacturing industries are compelled more than ever and forced to re-think their strategies and priorities. Corona and lack of vaccine has given a built-in time for these industrial captains to re-work their priorities and take advantage of this precious time provided to their advantage. Once again, great and wonderful opportunity for Indian organisations to leapfrog. This time is for sure our time and confident we are going to lead the world!
Ravi Ramarao is International Business Leader with 29+ years of overall experience in Connected Manufacturing – Digital/IoT/Enterprise wide E2E Supply Chain Consultancy to Fortune 10/50/100 industrial manufacturing clients and large global program management. Among accolades, more recently, a special assignment as India National Expert for MSME – I4.0 Solutions, and has worked for Asian Productivity Organisation, Japan under the auspices of NPC, India.
Ravi is presently Chief Architect – Industrie 4.0/IIoT/Smart Mfg Platform Solutions at Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions Pvt Ltd, handling technology, solutions and business models for Smart/IIoT embedded digital manufacturing; and co-creation and building strong partner eco-system using multiple technology and unified platform: 1. E2E Digital Supply Chain; and 2. Domain Driven – Technology enabled inter operable systems. Prior to this, Ravi was a Business Leader – Manufacturing IT & Plant Solutions @ Tata Consultancy Services during 2005-2015; and in Manufacturing – Design, Engineering, Build and Operate in Petrochemicals, Oil & Gas industries during 1991-2005. Ravi believes Sensors, Software Solutions and Platform…is the way forward. Smart Manufacturing, Data Science, Algorithms and Predictive Analytics are the areas to invest – the life lines to remain in the market.
#Septmber 2020 Magazine Cover Story
Frugal Innovations – Scalable Automation How frugal innovations and scalable solutions are helping build a self-reliant India. The Prime Minister’s call for a self-reliant India has inevitably brought into focus several issues faced by the domestic manufacturing sector, and its reliance on imports for critical technologies. Poor spend on R&D has long been a weak link in India’s manufacturing chain. It is against this backdrop that Industrial Automation invited a panel of technocrats to offer their views on how frugal innovations and scalable automation can help the industry overcome some of the challenges. To read the full cover story Please click here