In the World of Innovations in Manufacturing - Part II

R Jayaraman

Author: R Jayaraman

Date: Fri, 2017-12-15 22:56

An innovation strategy is needed for encouraging, promoting and making innovations happen in a systematic way. For example, for large governmental programmes which seek to bring about massive change, for Make in India, for Skill India, MNREGA and so on; for corporates who want to stay relevant to their markets; R & D programmes for their very survival and educational institutions which seek to influence thoughts and actions of their stakeholders. The creation of a culture of innovation helps the cause of serial innovation. To successfully create and commercialise inventions, companies must commit themselves to the process of innovation. There are many such processes available. The three box solution by Dr Govindarajan, the 5 E process being proposed by the SPJIMR innovation movement (Enable, Experiment, Execute, Empower mavericks, Extend), the TGIF ( the Tata Group Innovations Forum) process for promoting corporate innovations, and, including innovations as a part of the continuous improvement process, which is what the current models of business excellence like  Malcolm Baldrige or the EFQM would exemplify.

Creating an atmosphere is very important. The ambience to be creative is what makes innovations happen. Innovations can happen under different circumstances, the process cannot be boxed into compartments. However it can be facilitated. Funding, recognition and rewards, channelising energies through engagement and goal / target setting. For example, in the good old days, 3M used to include in its score cards, a target for sales revenue from “new products”, of, say, 25%. These new products were then created through a process of innovation which the company had installed in its operations.

Are some people more adept at innovation than others? This is like asking, do you need a chartered accountant to certify a balance sheet? Or an engineer to design the components of a new machine? Innovation involves skill, thinking, knowledge, an ability to toil despite temporary setbacks, a never-say-die spirit and a dogged but intelligent perseverance quality. Only this combination can lead to serious innovation.

The first outside manifestation of an innovation is the design, a sketch, a drawing. It is like the egg that a hen hatches. From this springs the life of the innovation. Just like the hen has to prevent the eagle from taking away its newly hatched eggs, the innovator must preserve the designs and then work on commercialising the output. Without the commercial part, the innovation is like a newly hatched egg which has been consumed for breakfast by the eagle. Without design an innovation remains in the mind of the innovator. It is design which gives the innovation a currency to manifest itself to being of use to society.

 

From design to commercialisation : value delivery through an innovation

The design is but the first step in making an innovation happen. The reverse is also true- without a design, there is no innovation. Engineering, using technology,  is what gives shape to the innovation, making its production on a large scale possible, making it transferable to many locations, enabling the use of the innovation by society.

Engineering and productioneering are most important, to deliver on the promise. Take the example of Dell Direct. The promise was to deliver a laptop computer in four days, anywhere in the world. This was a great process and product innovation of its time and could revolutionise many concepts in the manufacture and delivery of a laptop. Engineering and technology elements which would make this succeed included a nimble supply chain, a flexible manufacturing line, a quality oriented production process, a supporting IT infrastructure, a speed oriented delivery chain. That Dell succeeded very well in its efforts has been  recorded in business literature. Similar is the case with the new models introduced by several automobile manufacturers in India – Duster and Kwid by Renault, Ciaz and the Ertiga by Maruti, the Ace by Tata Motors, the XUV by Mahindra and so on. The creation of the bank accounts of several millions of marginal Indian families in a record time of one month is another example.

All these examples show that the mere idea or the design is not enough to make an innovation – it must be backed up by great engineering and technology for commercial exploitation, to close the loop. While there are many such examples in Indian industry, it must be said that the “jugaad culture” of innovation that is prevalent in India has inhibited the growth and application of engineering and technology to innovative ideas. Our inventors may be good at imagining things, thinking about innovations, designing them, but when it comes to production on a mass scale, there is a big bottleneck. And this is an area which needs to be addressed on priority.

One way to do it, and this has been the way for so many years, is to get into collaborations, joint ventures, partnerships, and so on, to commercially exploit the innovations that Indian inventors may come up with.  The other way is for eminent Indian engineers to return to India from abroad, especially the advanced countries like the USA, Canada, Germany, or get into a working arrangement with the government / private companies to create the engineering / technology elements that can make an invention become an innovation.

A key missing piece, why the inventions do not make the grade as innovations, is the “ ambience”. Unlike thinking up designs for innovations, in which Indians are very good at, converting them to innovations is a weak area,  because of cultural and other hamstrings. Traditionally, Indian businessmen have been great traders, buying and selling, but not known for their manufacturing prowess. In fact, Indian history, although replete with airplanes, atom bombs, other weapons of mass destruction, has no mention of how these things came about, were they manufactured indigenously or imported?  Who designed them?  And who built them?

In spite of these handicaps, Indian business has prospered and become a force to reckon with. Practices like TQM, business excellence, benchmarking, working with foreign companies under technical or management collaborations have all enabled the Indian industry to build on its inventive manpower. In fact, a key enabler of innovation is the participation of people in the movement. Without people, ideas are absent, and there is nothing to build on. While at the company level the corporate sector can play a leading role within its boundaries, competition will force companies to erect walls and barriers through IPR to protect and safeguard innovations,  so that the originators of the innovations can get the maximum benefits. That is capitalism.

However, in a developing country like India, there is an important role for the legislative and the executive branches to perform. The government should act as a facilitator, provide facilities to an extent, but, perhaps, most importantly, remove obstacles (vigna hartha), such as, bureaucracy, documentation, approvals, tracking and reporting to excess. This is what is the “creating conditions to ease business conduct”, or, creating the ambience. While no one disagrees that there should be rules and regulations, it is good to simplify and streamline , many times by “just not having it”, so that the innovators are empowered and find the ambience favourable. 

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Comments

It was a very thought provoking topic discussed in the above blog. I fully agree with blogger on the matter that innovation strategy is needed in our country for encouraging, promoting and making innovations happen in a systematic way. All the facets of the topic have been covered very nicely such as creation of atmosphere conducive to innovations, role of engineering, production and technology required for its commercial exploitation. Today we find that many innovative ideas do not get the recognition due to lack of funds and marketing platform. In this regard blogger' suggestion of collaborations / JVs / partnerships and the support from our legislative and executive set up for commercially exploiting the benefits of innovation is very appropriate. With your permission, I would like you to examine whether the following is also relevant in this regard: a. Today we have a compulsion on Corporates to spend 2% of their profits on CSR activities. Similar contribution can be made mandatory for them investing in innovative ideas. In return the corporations may partly reap the benefits of that innovation. b. There should be specific focus with a strategy on various areas for innovation such as strategic (Defence / Space missions), social requirements and scientific inventions etc. c. The strategy should also provide for an open platform to present ideas and get the required support for addressing monetary and marketing requirements. Probably the above may be existing in some form for e.g. government organizations like DRDO / ISRO etc. But we need a more for reaching open platform for submitting the innovative ideas of all Indians. At the end I thank for sharing very good insights on the subject.

I really agree with the thoughts! Innovations are the backbone for the business excellence in this competitive world. Innovation are borne with passion, nurtured & commercially realized with dedications. The person who comes across with the journey of innovation sometimes doesn’t know the value of knowledge created. In many of the academic institutes, universities and small scale industries brilliant innovations happen but not realized. In our country lot of innovation remain un-recognized without hand holding of commercial agencies or Government. In real scenario worth of innovation diminishes in the want of encouraging collaborations till commercialization. An ideal way to approach can be to register innovation under intellectual property rights for legal protection and then simultaneously look for its valuation through market survey and tie –up with Industries for commercialization. Research innovations to be taught as a subject in graduate classes so that students should be aspired to think and learn further. Sometimes we have a fear of failures, which deprive us from success and thereafter taking up the challenge. A collaborative efforts of academia and industries can make the innovation fearless and make it glow with the sunshine. Indian Government is promoting innovations under various research programs and initiatives under make In India program. In spite of this, lot of research output is being taken up by other countries for nurturing Indian borne innovations in terms of immigration. It’s the time now, when we should realize value of our in-house strengths, nurture it further for our country’s growth and frequent nominations for Nobel Prizes. A DREAM to treasure and realized!!!

I appreciate blogger’s holistic approach to address the topic of innovation strategy and agree that manufacturing is a key for commercial exploitation of any ground-breaking idea. From my limited experience of working in MNC and in a manufacturing start-up, I can say that post liberalisation large Indian players could manage to fill the gap between technology and quality standards through technical tie-ups and joint ventures with foreign companies. Today in manufacturing sector, process excellence has been implemented through TPM and World Class Manufacturing programmes which have helped big Indian players to match their product quality with global standards. But at the same time, there is a large number of companies who despite having frameworks, struggle to implement them on production lines. This is mainly because of the so-called Jugad mindset prevalent in us which is rightly pointed out by the blogger. We need to understand the fact that process excellence standards and frameworks are not meant just for successfully clearing the quarterly audits but are made for long-term benefits. If we want to excel in the manufacturing sector we need to get rid of “temporary-fix” mindset. Unless we excel in manufacturing, we cannot convert inventions to innovations. In order to reinvigorate the innovation culture in the nation, well-coordinated joint efforts by government, SMEs, and big companies are needed. As large section of SMEs is still struggling to acquire necessary skill-set to commercialize the innovation, we may need to start institutional mechanisms backed by state and central government for implementing technology upgradation and adoption programmes across the manufacturing sector. I would like to throw some light on one more aspect which is government’s role on ease of doing the business. It has been observed that bureaucracy, at times hampers the innovation growth. Though we have improved our ranking from 130 to 100 in ease of doing the business as per the latest World Bank annual ratings, there is a huge scope for us to work in this space.

A very well written article on innovation as the need of the hour in the Indian manufacturing sector and how we can commercialize on an innovation. Any economist would agree that without the growth of the manufacturing sector, an economy cannot flourish, and it is doomed to collapse. In the past decade, the Indian economy has witnessed a great boom and mostly due to the IT sector and a strengthening dollar which was a blessing in disguise, due to the high volumes of IT exports by the country. This has led to a booming economic bubble waiting to burst. To correct the course, India needs to do away with bureaucracy and the mystifying red tapism, in order to boost growth in the manufacturing sector. I agree to the statement that the government should act as a facilitator. The steps by the government such as “Make in India” and GST will definitely help to bring in FDIs in the manufacturing sector, by increasing the “ease of doing business” in the country. However, one must keep in mind that the goal should not be to bring in foreign money, but, to encourage domestic manufacturing, in order to increase exports and generate more revenues for the national exchequer. I would like to contradict your point that “jugaad culture” has inhibited the growth and application of engineering, in fact, I believe, it should be the starting point of innovation. If we take a deeper look, a jugaad is nothing but a proof of concept. The next step is the onus of the engineers, to polish the idea and perfect it to be marketable and eventually capitalize on the creation. In fact, most of the products in the market started as jugaad, until someone down the line realized its potential and marketed it. A stumbling block for the Indian manufacturing sector is the Indian mindset which is more of a servicing nature than that of a creating or producing nature. One of the first thoughts that comes to mind of an Indian is “Someone must have already done this” or “This is not my job.”. I believe, that Indians have a great potential of innovation. One of the examples, is the 6-sigma certified process of “Mumbai Dabbawalas” which was developed by need and perfected over years, making it one of the most efficient manual systems ever conceived. The problem does not lie with the lack of innovation, but in the mindset, which I feel, must be changed in the formative years of children, by proper coaching and expanding their horizons. The boost should be at the root and not at the shoot. And finally, I believe no model can be effective for innovation. Innovation needs to be free and modeling tends to bind. So, if you want a creeper to grow in a specified direction - model it, but if you want a plant to find its own path and innovate, then just let it grow. I agree, that innovation is the growing need of the hour for the manufacturing sector and the way to do it is not only with models but by instilling a progressive mindset and just letting the kids (“our future innovators”) and surely our current investors, fly without chains.

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