Investment For Innovation Has To Be In Stages

By Sunil Kaul

Sunil Kaul is the Group President- Technology, Innovation & Automation at Anand Automotive Group, responsible to direct and steer the technological prowess and innovation focus of the Group as a whole, ensuring ANAND is aligned and adequately equipped to face the challenges of the future. He is also a member of the Executive Committee, responsible for directing all policy matters. In addition, he is a member of the Management Committee which oversees operational issues for the Group. He has been an integral member of the Group for the past 27 years and has held various positions of increasing responsibility through his tenure.

The more than 100-year old automotive industry had been slow to change in the past. Still it had been going through continuous changes. Change in this industry has been very expensive and time-consuming and there was reluctance to change as the technology was proven and the risk of change was high. Change is mainly driven by customer needs or regulations. We have been seeing this since a decade, be it autonomous, sharing, connected and EVs. The focus has been on zero emission and meeting aspirations of the generation which has been through the E-revolution.
Anand being one of the largest Tier-1 auto component manufacturers, with many reputed global Tier-1 majors as joint venture partners, has the responsibility to bring the latest to the Indian customer. We at Anand specialise in fulfilling our customer needs, which may be different from the needs of the European, American or Japanese customers. The focus of our joint ventures is on application engineering, keeping Indian customers and conditions in mind. Living up to our reputation of providing the best technology, we continue to look at new and emerging technologies with our existing partners. For some products we are in discussion with new probable partners. Our partners have most of the products in their portfolio ranging from motor to advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).
We believe that 12-15 percent of vehicles produced in 2025 would be with electric drive. Will this have an impact on internal combustion engine (ICE)? I am sure the Indian market will grow more than 30 percent in the next five years. This means that vehicles with ICE will also grow. Both the technologies will co-exist for the next one decade or two. There is a challenge that the existing component manufacturers have to bring technology for meeting BS-VI and safety norms and they have been doing that.
The next challenge is about investment for new technologies. We are focused on bringing product knowledge to our companies, in tune with the demand of the Indian customers. The conditions in India are different from those in Europe or the US. Hence the technology developed elsewhere in the world has to be adapted to the vehicle and its application.
The three areas of exploration for investment are lightweighting, using composites in the multi-material concept mode, the electric power train and drive unit, and the appropriate area or aspect of connected cars.

Lightweighting solutions are a critical enabler for reducing emissions in all automotives -both ICE and E-Powertrain or electric motor. We believe that there are three philosophies in lightweighting which, if deployed scientifically, will deliver results: The first is looking at the current aggregates through the lens of VAVE, by focusing on the function delivered by the part and removing excess non-functional material. This helps reduce weight of castings and forgings. Second is exploring opportunities to redesign the current aggregates during the pursuit of challenges, using structured innovation methodologies, again focusing on function not feature, thus looking at alternative constructions and materials, and reduced number of child parts. The third, which can be in the breakthrough innovation category, is adapting composites, more specifically carbon fibre composites, in multi-material mode that drastically reduces weight.
Breakthroughs have been made in a range of aggregates by almost each Anand company, ranging from dampers and struts, axles and drive shafts, and thermal management to brakes and slack adjusters, by pursuing projects using scientific methodologies.
However, there are challenges in demonstrating advanced technology in real life vehicles primarily because of two reasons: return on initial investment of conceptualising, designing, prototype building, high cost of raw material during prototyping as well as serial production; and risk averseness as it needs to be proven by someone else in a similar application.
The hurdles can only be overcome by finding suitable funding for Application R & D projects, and OEM-led strategic technology demonstration projects with one or more strategic alliances with Tier-1, academia and Government.
The Automotive Growth Council at ANAND has evolved in a strategic direction exploring, identifying, and scoping a range of technologies for different applications in the automotive areas of chassis, powertrain, drivetrain, power electronics, connected vehicles, and lightweighting.
We would like to have early engagements with engineering teams of OEMs to design products specifically for the Indian market. It will take two or three years of interaction and learning from partners to have a design project for India along with the OEMs. During this period we would set up low volume manufacturing units hence lowering the risk of huge investment. I expect investments will be required in the next five years.
When a new technology has to be deployed in a new application, investments have to be made in stages. The first stage would cover aspects ranging from developing a concept, proving the concept, designing an application, prototype manufacturing set-up, to validating the design for performance, reliability and robustness. The critical focus would be to make the investment deliver as many parts and variants as possible to get desirable return on investment. One needs to be conscious of the fact that the new products, especially in the domain of electric mobility, would be at lower volumes than those of the established fossil fuel technologies.
In the immediate short-term and critical aspect that the auto component players need to focus on is an attitude of generating breakthrough solutions, rather than solving problems in a continuous improvement mode. Imagining a new product with new function requires a new mindset and new skill. The need of the hour is to have a totally unique and new mindset similar to that of non-automotive, consumer electronics, data management, and advanced electronics.
To be able to generate cash for investment in technologies for the future, there has to be a great urgency to raise the bar on quality and productivity. This is being taken care of by an initiative of quality culture, which encompasses the entire organisation across all levels and functions. The key deliverables are creating a structured organisation for preventing recurrence of defects and delays in each business process, delivering zero defects in performance and not just delivered to customer and quantum jump in productivity. The main enabler is IoT or Internet of Things. A road map has been evolved for deploying IoT in manufacturing processes and in products.
Skill is another intangible asset that needs investment. The transition from automobile, mechanical or electrical domain to electronics and information technology across the entire manufacturing process of concept development, safety, IoT, servicing delivered parts and sustainability is a challenge in itself.
Bridging the gap between courses offered at educational institutions and the skills of observation, thinking out-of-the box and implementing, upon entry into the industry, require new industry-academia collaboration.

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