Business India, July 4-17, 1994
Leaders in Technology
By and large the Indian corporate sector showed little ability to cope with technology development during the Licence Raj. However, less than a dozen companies have achieved technological excellence that is being globally recognized. The investment in technology development by these ‘techies’ is now paying off.
Corporate success worldwide has long been fuelled by technology. But since the 1970s, it has become even more crucial as several technology –strong newcomers hit pay dirt and became mega players in the global marketplace. These companies, called ‘techies’ by Wall Street analysts, are being regularly tracked.
However, the important questions for us are: Does India have its own ‘techies’? If yes, who are they? What has lent them the drive to succeed and who are the people who head them?
Some people feel that these questions are irrelevant at present. They argue that the overwhelming atmosphere for four decades after independence has been that of licensed production in a protected market. Indian businessmen have shown an inability to cope with technology development and have largely used their R&D divisions for tax benefits. So, under the circumstances, how can a technology-driven company emerge, they ask.
Does that mean we have to wait another couple of decades to see technological excellence in some Indian companies? Well, yes and no. Though we don't have a Bill Gates or a Seymour Cray in India as yet, there area a handful of examples of technological excellence in the middle level who are being globally recognised.
This handful of Indian techies that we short listed are clear winners within restricted parameters. They shown farsightedness in either developing their own manufacturing technologies (as in the case of agrochemical and bulk drug companies) or in buying it, mastering it and developing it further, thereby acquiring the know-why (as in engineering). As a result, now when the Indian economy is being thrown open to competition, these companies are more ready than others to take on new challenges.
A feature common to all these leaders in technology was that they are led by men who are themselves technologists or those with tech vision- like Dr. Gharda, Dr Parvinder Singh, Dr. Hamied, Dr. Anji Reddy, Desh Bandhu Gupta, Ravindra Reddy, etc. Surprisingly, the large companies in the corporate sector- Reliance, ITC, ACC, Grasim and Hindustan Lever- have done hardly any technology development compared to their resources and scale of operations. One of the many reasons they do not feature on the shortlist. Their success, according to Business India, is largely due to good financial management, economies of scale, marketing, and technology scouting for initial buying.
The only exceptions to this large-company rule are Telco, BHEL and L&T. Even here, though they are no doubt technology –driven companies, one has to tread with caution. For, most of them are multi-product and multi-plant companies, where technology leadership, it does exist, is uneven; and the impact of a particular innovation on the overall company or industry becomes difficult to evaluate. Thus, L&T may be doing brilliant work in terms of heavy fabrication for the nuclear and space programmes, or petrochemicals but the other sections, like cement, are far from technologically superior. By and large, however, the need to be proactive, ready to experiment and take risks, which are essential for technology leadership, are sorely lacking in the large companies.
Surprisingly the techies do not consist of idiosyncratic geniuses but rather dynamic engineers, technologists and R&D personnel who exhibit good market savvy and are incredibly self-assured. Most of the personnel in these companies enjoy the challenges of the job, love the atmosphere of relative autonomy, the elbowroom to experiment and the opportunity to learn from mistakes. And, finally, they live to see their ideas or innovations actually move from lab into production and get a charge out of competing with like-minded individuals in the marketplace. Obviously, in the world of the technology-driven, the intellectual challenge is everything.
So, which are these centres of technological excellence among our midst? What makes them tick? This is what Business India found out..
This is a sector that has seen a number of Indian companies coming out with innovative processes and successfully competing with multinationals, both in the domestic and international markets. Gharda Chemicals, Excel Industries, United Phosphorus, Lupin, have all done very well by becoming major players in technical grade agrochemicals, that is, pure agrochemical concentrate that is later diluted using various solvents and sold in the retail market. But even among this pack, one company stands out as a real techy: Gharda Chemicals:
Perhaps, the incident that , best sums up Dr Keki Gharda, the leader of Gharda Chemicals, is illustrated by a story that has become part of Indian chemical industry folklore. In the early 1980s, Dr Gharda was invited to an MRTP commission hearing which revolved around a multinational's application for a licence to produce isoproturon. Some Indian companies objected to the application for fear that they would not be able to compete. But Dr Gharda, alone, was of the opinion that there was nothing superior about the multinational's technology. To prove his point, he declared that his company would introduce a new, more efficient process within 18 months and compete with the multinational.
Most of the people who comprised the stunned audience that day would not have imagined that Gharda would be able to pull it off. But he did. True to his words, Gharda realised the danger of using the highly toxic isocyanate route in making pesticides, and came out with a process to produce isoproturon, using urea. Today, he is the second largest producer of isoproturon in the world with large exports to Europe, US and the Far East. The superiority of Gharda's process, which is today internationally known as the ‘Indian process', made even Rhone Poulenc, the European giant which had a monopoly in isoproturon earlier, sweat.
Since then, Gharda Chemicals has become the leading Indian company in technical grade agrochemicals. Cypermethrin - a popular insecticide; cypermethric acid chloride - an intermediate for cypermethrin; anilophos - a herbicide used, for rice, originally discovered by Hoechst though it now uses Gharda's process; chlorpyrifos- a new generation insecticide; and napropamide -- another herbicide, have all made Gharda a power to reckon with in the global agrochemical scene. In the last three years, a number of international agrochemical magazines have written about Gharda and even put him on their cover.
Gharda Chemcals started as a three –men-in- a-garage operation in the late 1960s, in Santacruz, a suburb of Bombay. Dr. Keki Gharda who had returned from the US after PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, joined the faculty of University Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT), Bombay. However, he could not get a permanent teaching position and he turned instead to industry.
His first success, in the field o dyestuffs, came fast. He synthesized pthalogen blue, a dye that was very popular in the textile industry but had to be imported from Germany. Later azo-dyes provided the bread and butter. However, with the tremendous proliferation of process technology in the small-scale sector, dyestuff manufacturing was no longer as attractive, so Gharda changed course midstream into agro-chemicals.
This time it was not as easy. The early 1980s, the years of transition, were difficult. As a plant engineer in Gharda’s Lote factory remarked, “In those days we were literally living hand to mouth. But unlike other industrialists, Dr. Gharda did not retrench any of the R&D staff. The later years vindicated his visionary faith in in-house R&D”.
That vision has helped him to move with the times. When quality and purity export markets of Europe, Gharda changed tack too. Today, his analytical lab is not only top class but has made a number of original contributions: half a dozen of them (in Fourier Transform Infra Red spectroscopy and in High Pressure Liquid Chromatography) have become part of international standards.
Today, Gharda is going through another round of diversification into bulk: drugs and engineering plastics. But why get into bulk drugs when there are so many players already? "While the Indian' bulk drug industry is strong in organic synthesis, they are not so strong in chemical engineering," answers Gharda. “With our strength in both, we will be ore efficient.” Typically, they are building plants for products that are yet to come out of their R&D.
But this confidence has got him his fair share of detractors. “He is and eccentric,” says an indignant major player in bulk drug manufacture. “He wants to spoil the bulk drug market by driving down the prices.” His anger is partly fuelled by the not-so-polite letter he received from Dr. Gharda, which categorically stated that since Gharda Chemicals is going to enter the bulk drugs market in fluroquinolones at a lower price, the existing competitors might as well quit!
Therein lies the essence of the man. Variously described in the industry as a missionary, a Gandhian, an eccentric, and a spoilsport, he has nevertheless always approached the market in his own unique manner. His strategy is to come out with new products at prices that are at least 20-30 per cent lower than the prevailing ones and hold them at that level for years. Aside from driving the competition out of the market, it even makes giant multinationals wary of him. Perhaps one of the reasons why, today, some of them are queuing up to tie up with him.
And he lives by his own rules. For examples, though he has received many awards for novel processes, he has not patented any. He believes that the superiority of technology should be decided in the marketplace rather than in court rooms. He also shies away from breaking up the manufacturing process into a number of stages and carrying these out in different plants to guard hi trade secrets, as most of his competitors do. “This will lead to the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. And you would lose the team spirit where you troubleshoot together and learn from each other” he says. “The name of the game is to come up with newer and better processes and products through R&D and always stay a step ahead of the competition.”
Which he has done. Gharda’s turnover in 1993-94 is Rs 170 crore; exports: Rs30 crore, but with the smooth functioning of the new cypermethric acid chloride and alphamethrin plants at Lote, the 1994-95 results are expected to show at least a 30 per cent growth. Already the profit before depreciation and tax is a hefty Rs45 crore, i.e. 26.5 per cent. Despite the fact that Gharda is not into formulation and retail marketing in a big way, we believe that it will become a diversified Rs 1000-crore-plus company by 2000AD
Off all the sectors that have seen growth, the pharmaceuticals sector is probably the most dramatic. In 1947, the total size of the Indian pharmaceutical market was about Rs10 crore. Today, pharmaceutical production in India exceeds Rs7,000 crore and exports exceed Rs2,000 crore. Moreover, although it was controlled by the multinationals till the end of the 1960s, today Indian manufacturers of bulk drugs and formulations dominate the market. And companies like Ranbaxy, Lupin, Dr.Reddy’s Laboratories and CIPLA are dreaming of becoming billion dollar companies by the year 2000 AD.
There is a common misconception that this fantastic growth has been due to stealing patented technology from the West, for the Indian Patent Act of 1970 recognises only process, not product patents. But the fact is that hardly 5per cent of the Rs2,000 crore exports are covered by product patents. The rest are off-patent drugs and, hence, we are competing in the open market with original discoverers, thereby proving the more efficient nature of our processes and manufacturing costs.
Today there are nearly 800 bulk drug manufacturers in India. Some of them are being wooed by multinationals for tie-ups involving manufacture, marketing and even joint research. Market research has shown that a large number of high selling antibiotics and cardiovascular drugs are going off-patent in the next two years. There is also a growing shift towards generic drugs in the North American market. All of which are contributing to tremendous bullishness in the industry.
Initially, most of the Indian drug manufacturers were opposed to India accepting the Paris convention on patents. But finally, recognising its acceptance as inevitable if India wants to globalise, they quickly readjusted their strategies and started exploring opportunities to grow in the global market. Ranbaxy and Dr Reddy's Laboratories have already started a nascent programme of original research into new drug molecules and Lupin plans to follow. The idea is to manipulate the molecular structure of known drugs and come out with 'me too' drugs. Later, hopefully,' path-breaking ones can follow. This is much the same route that the Japanese drug industry took in the last two decades, and the chances of success seem bright.
Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd.
Overstressed executives might remember Ranbaxy through the popular stress reliever Calmpose. But Ranbaxy, itself, hit big time with Cefaclor. Cefaclor is today one of the largest-selling antibiotics with over a billion dollars worth of sales and one of the top ten drugs in the global market. This advanced cephalosporin, however, is a challenge to any organic chemist trying to synthesize it. According to Desh Bandhu Gupta of Lupin, the problems are compounded by the fact that the discoverer, American giant Eli Lily, made life difficult for potential competitors by patenting various intermediates as 'time bombs' that go off when you reach that stage through synthesis.
Which is why, when Ranbaxy developed their own process technology for Cefaclor and patented it in the us, they not only won a lucrative market and a number of awards in India but made a name for themselves in the pharmaceutical world. A by-product of this success is the tie-up between Eli Lily (1991-92 turnover more than $4 billion) and Ranbaxy, for a joint venture and for joint research and development.
Today, Ranbaxy is buzzing with activity. In its swank R&D centre in Gurgaon, Dr Himadri Sen, who has two decades of experience in the international pharmaceutical industry, and his group are working on novel drug delivery systems and have already come out with some controlled release products and effervescent products. Sen firmly believes that there is still a lot of juice left in the already-discovered drugs, the key is to find effective and more user-friendly ways of administering them.
The bio-technology group, led by Dr K. Kannan, a leading protein chemist, is working on developing diagnostics for hepatitis, blood grouping, pregnancy and AIDS. They are also working on vaccines. The most exciting work, however, is in stem cell-based therapy that could prove a god-send for leukemia, bone marrow transplants and may even be advantageous to the treatment of AIDS. Kannan has done pioneering fundamental work in stem cell haematology, which he is trying to develop into tangible applications.
Dr Sood, who heads the pharmaceutical research, is expecting early results in new molecular research as well. To start with, they have taken the clever route of buying five biological lead molecules and are busy testing them. Information technology is playing a major role in new molecular research by allowing instant patent search hooking into global databases; that way the team can be sure that it is not working on a molecule that was patented only last week.
Ranbaxy has already spent over Rs30 crore on its R&D centre and plans to spend more in the coming years. Dr J.M. Khanna, executive director, who heads R&D, is scouting Europe and North America for further recruits. Everyone you meet in Ranbaxy seems to parrot the goal Dr Parvinder Singh, CMD, has set for the company 'to become a research-driven global pharmaceutical company'. And they seem to be well on their way to achieving it. With a 1993-94 turnover of Rs593 crore and exports of Rs226 crore, Ranbaxy already has joint ventures for manufacture in Canada, China, Malaysia and Nigeria, and is negotiating marketing tie-ups in North America. If all goes as planned, in another two years it may well cross the Rs1000 crore turnover mark.
Any other company faced with the same challenge might have refused to pick up the gauntlet. But Lupin decided to take up the manufacture of Vitamin B-6, one of the first technology successes for which it won awards.
Vitamin B-6 has a complex 12-stage process where some of the intermediates are unstable. Dr. A.V. Ramarao, when he was at NCL, took up the challenge amidst much scepticism from peers and came out with the process. The next major question immediately arose: Was there anyone ready to invest crores in this process, which was as yet unproven on a plant scale? Lupin took the risk and mastered this complex technology. Now, they are doubling their Vitamin B-6 capacity.
Lupin Laboratories (1993-94 turnover Rs510 crore, exports Rs100 crore) definitely seems to have arrived. It is now aiming to reach a billion dollar turnover in the highly competitive international pharmaceutical market in four years! Sounds ambitious. However, if we look carefully at the achievements and strategy of this company started by Desh Bandhu Gupta, a chemistry professor, with an initial investment of Rs5,000 in 1968, it does not seem far-fetched. While DBji as he is fondly called in Lupin is obviously a smart businessman he is also a man with tech-vision. Right now, he is firming up his plans for a world class R&D centre with an investment of Rs 100 crore and 250 to 300 personnel in the next few years.
Today, Lupin is known for its successes in basically three fields. The anti- TB drug ethambutol, of which they are the world leaders producing 60 per cent of the global production, the antibiotic rifampicin and the cephalosporins. Their ethambutol process is so efficient that even the original discoverer, Lederle, is buying the bulk drug from Lupin. The company has also gone into cardiovascular drugs that are going off patent.
In addition, the recent breakthrough made in stabilising their Rs80-crore plant devoted to fermentation products will put them ahead of the rest.
Herbal medicine for export markets is another of Lupin's ventures. Its latest venture is making herbal dressings that heal cuts without needing sutures and without leaving a scar, developed by an Indian, Dr Harbada.
Now, the several strands in Desh Bandhu Gupta's net seem to be meshing with greater cohesiveness. Lupin already has a bulk drug joint venture in Thailand and is planning more in North America, Europe and the Central Asian Republics of CIS. With drugs that sell more than $20 billion going off-patent by 2000 AD, Gupta is confident of achieving his ambition of becoming a billion dollar company by that time.
Dr Reddy's Laboratories
Dr Anji Reddy thanks Ethyl Corp, USA, a petrochemical giant, for making him famous. In 1990, Ethyl Corp accused one of Dr Reddy's companies, Cheminor, of dumping the popular analgesic, ibuprofen, in the US market. In the drama that unfolded in the hearings before the US Department of Commerce and the International trade Council, Dr Reddy proved that his prices were lower because his technology was better. As a result, the antidumping moves were dropped.
Reddy a product of UDCT and NCL, learnt the basics of bulk drug manufacturing in the public sector IDPL. From a modest turnover of Rsl.5 crore, in 1985, his group has crossed Rs300 crore in 1993-94. Now, DRL is setting up joint ventures in Russia and the Middle East.
Investing over Rs10 crore, Reddy has set up Dr Reddy's Research Foundation, (DRF) as an independent unit to develop his R&D muscle. Today, DRL can develop organic synthesis and even commercialise a process faster than anyone else in the world. There have been cases where DRL'S office in New Jersey, has faxed an order for samples of a particular molecule, along with its molecular structure and purity specifications, and the group has delivered it in three weeks. Fast work by any standards!
DRL'S current plans are ambitious: it is now developing a programme for new drug molecules, of which they hope to patent a few within a year. Their programme consists of computer-aided molecular modelling, drug designing and research in plant products.
According to Prof V.M. Kulkarni at UDCT, computer-aided, drug designing considerably reduces the time factor in obtaining the lead molecules, avoiding trial and error.
As proof of Dr Reddy's ambitious plans globalisation, today Izvestia carries as many ads of DRL as any Indian newspaper. This company, too, will hit Rs1000-crore-plus by 2000 AD.
The stock market heard of CIPLA when its share hit an astronomical Rs35,000 this year. What most people don't know, however, is that, CIPLA has long been a leader in anti-cancer and anti-asthma drugs and has very popular brands in fluoroquinolones and antibiotics. But what distinguishes it is its penchant for producing high value, low volume products. Some of its specialised products cost about $1,000 a gram!
One of its major triumphs was the commercialisation of the extraction of vinblastine from vinca rosea leaves, which was then converted to vincristine - a popular anticancer drug throughout the world. Earlier, Indians used to export the dried leaves of vinca rosea and Eli Lily, US, used to make vincristine out of them. The capsules, containing one thousandth of a gram of vincristine sulphate, were sold in India for Rs80each.
CIPLA scaled up the known, but difficult process of extracting the alkaloid vinblastine from vinca rosea, and then converting it to vincristine and produced a capsule that was sold at Rs25 only and even exported it abroad. Similarly, when the drug AZT, that stops the AIDS virus from multiplying, was discovered, Dr A.V. Ramarao, director, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) and his team synthesised it and transferred the difficult technology to CIPLA. Today, CIPLA is the only producer of AZT besides the original discoverer.
If there is one company that consistently and stubbornly fought the Dunkel Draft till India signed the GAIT treaties in 1994, it is CIPLA. Dr Yusuf Hamied, MD, CIPLA still feels passionately about it. "The issue is not my company or even the industry; the issue is affordable healthcare for millions of Indian people," he says. Dr Hamied's concern is commendable considering that many in the drug industry changed tack midway.
Hamied is sceptical of new molecules being introduced by Indian companies. He says "Our undoubted strengths are in organic chemistry but our infrastructure in biological research is hardly world class." He is getting a number of offers for joint ventures and research tie-ups from Europe and is going global like the rest of the pack.
Engineering is a field where considerable activity is customized. Here, incremental innovation, design and analytical skills, concurrent engineering, and a constantly learning manpower, that takes each new job as a challenge, help build up competitive advantage. Three companies stand out in this: MTAR, BHEL and L&T.
An interesting common denominator for all the three companies, is their participation in the nuclear and space programmes. Through this they learnt new technologies of high precision machining, zero defect welding and varied non-destructive testing techniques. They have also learnt careful documentation of each stage of manufacturing leading to traceability of failure. Since each job was a challenge, their engineers were kept constantly on their toes leading to a high level of motivation. Now, they have reached a stage where besides meeting the quality standards of aerospace and nuclear programmes, they can also meet highly competitive delivery cycles and cut manufacturing costs.
If there is one thing that characterizes Machine Tools Aids and Reconditioning (MTAR) it is their ‘can do’ attitude. Set up by ex-HMT engineer, Ravindra Reddy, MTAR, Hyderabad, is probably the largest partnership company in the south (1993-94 turnover: over Rs20 crore). In less than a decade, Reddy built up an impressive stable of more than a hundred precision tools. Recognising Reddy's capabilities the Department of Space invited him to be on the board of Antrix Corp, India's only company to market space technology globally.
MTAR's achievements include the manufacture of critical components for Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors of Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC), nuclear fuelling machines, critical components for Fast Breeder Test Reactor at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, and the prestigious liquid fuelled rocket engine Vikas for the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle.
Another first by MTAR is the capability to manufacture world-class ball screws, varying in length from half a metre to over five metres. These ball screws are essential for any high-speed motion and are thus the mechanical heart of aircraft controls, machine tools, CNC machines, and industrial robots.
Such is the confidence of Dr Ravindra Reddy in his team that he says: "If ISRO solves all the material science problems involved in operation at -250°c, a temperature at which most metals and alloys crumble, then we guarantee that we will provide the engineering back up and deliver the cryogenic engine,"
BHEL is synonymous with power in India. "This public sector giant with manufacturing plants at Hardwar, Trichy,
Hyderabad, Bhopal, Jhansi and Bangalore has built hydro power stations, thermal power stations, gas turbine-based
power stations and has been the single nuclear manufacturer. With its turnkey capabilities, it has joined the elite dozen powerhouses in the world such as General Electric and Siemens.
It has developed the most comprehensive welding capabilities in Trichy making it one of the best manufacturers in the world of large capacity boilers for power production, and industrial processes, besides nuclear reactor vessels, and heat recovery systems. Though they bought the technology from an assortment of companies all over the world, BHEL's strength lies in assimilating it and developing the 'know why' leading to appropriate design changes and developments.
It is the same 'know why' that has led them to develop the technology suitable for high ash coal. India, poor as it is in fossil fuel resources, has one fuel in abundance that will last another 50 years: coal. However, Indian coal has its own peculiarities- it has very low sulphur, making it cleaner in terms of sulphur dioxide emissions, but on the negative side it has low calorific value and high ash content. BHEL thus produced fluidised bed boilers that can very efficiently bum high ash coal, lignite, rice husk, bagasse and other agricultural wastes, literally anything.
In addition, they have developed specialised R&D strengths and designed appropriate conventional boilers for Indian coal. One important development is the large tower type boilers (almost twenty storey high) for 210 MW power stations. The novel design is easier to erect and fabricate there by reducing delivery times.
Direct ignition of pulverised coal (DIPC) developed by BHEL's R&D leads to considerable saving of oil in thermal power stations. If all thermal power stations in India were to use this technology then Rs.1 ,000 crore could be saved annually.
BHEL has also put its thorough understanding of power systems to good use by making the appropriate changes to extend the life of old thermal plants. This requires complex computer simulation, stress, creep and fracture analysis of materials, on-line data analysis, and is a growing area of business for them. Soon this should contribute at least Rs.100crore annually to their revenue. Thus, an old plant running at say a 30 per cent plant load factor (PLF), can be run at a much higher PLF. The additional mega wattage is obtained at a cost of Rs 1 crore per megawatt only, a Godsend to energy and capital-starved power infrastructure.
BHEL's technology strength is reflected in the fact that the German giant, KWU which supplied it the gas turbine technology has itself placed orders for three gas turbines of 60 MW each; Reliance,- well-known for its technology scouting capabilities, has placed orders for two combined cycle gas turbine generators for its Hazira petrochemical project; and Malaysia has repeatedly placed orders for gas turbines and thermal power stations. All these have been won amidst stiff international competition.
That is why despite high overheads like its 74,000-strong work force, large townships, etc, BHEL truly has the potential to emerge as an international engineering giant.
This multi-product company that is into switch gears, cement, electronics, construction and heavy engineering is familiar to many for its board room intrigues in the last five years. But only a small number of people know the technology and engineering strengths in its heavy engineering division.
L&T became a hi-tech, heavy engineering company through its association with the nuclear programme. Prior to the 1970’s they were making some small cement plant and dairy equipment. Fabrications were of the order of about five tonnes. Now, in their Hazira plant, they can fabricate equipment weighing 450 tonnes or more. Thus, while orders have dried up from the nuclear programme, the expertise in engineering, design, analysis and simulation are being built upon to take on bigger challenges.
The thrust of L&T'S effort in heavy engineering is to be recognised as a turnkey Engineering Project Contractor - the coveted goal of any heavy engineering firm globally.
In ferrous metallurgy, basic process technology evolves slowly and gets accepted even more -slowly. Everyone, it seems, wants proven technology rather than taking risks with new ones. The large investments required naturally make one extremely cautious, if not downright conservative. However, Mukand's CMD, Viren Shah, took the plunge and made the bold decision of going for continuous casting technology. Today, the technology is common. But the fact remains that in the late 1960s only two plants in the world had opted for it, though technically it was clear that continuous casting would be more efficient. The third plant to adopt this technology in the world and the first in Asia, including Japan, was Mukand.
Mukand has been a pioneer in more ways than one. In steel refining technology, too, Rourkela Steel Plant and Mukand were pioneers, going for the new top and bottom oxygen-blowing process. Today, all over the world this technology has become the standard in refining.
Mukand's main product line is high quality wire rods. Their R&D team led by Dr R.H.G. Rao, vice-president, technical, has been improving the quality of wire rods while reducing the cost of production. Wire rods that are mainly used by the fastener industry for cold heading need to have special qualities which can only be achieved through advanced refining techniques.
With the upturn in the automobile industry, Mukand's sales have picked up considerably in 1994. It is also developing leaded steels required by the automobile industry. In ferrous metallurgy Mukand is definitely a company to watch.
While we have not much to show in aircrafts we have some thing to show in space. Our remote sensing satellite's and communication satellites are world class products. So the Department of Space of the Government of India set up Antrix Corporation to globally market India's space technology. The tie up between Antrix Corp and Eosat US, for distributing Indian remote sensing data in the highly competitive North American market has hit the headlines recently.
N. Sampath, executive director, Antrix Corp, says, "Liquid nitrogen costs in India are high and we need about a million litres of it to test a satellite in the space simulation chamber. Though component costs are much higher in India, still it works out cheaper to fabricate satellites here rather than in the US or Europe by 20-30 per cent. For I can get highly skilled MTechs and PhDs to do the job at less than 10 per cent of their cost in the US or Europe."
However, international competition in the satellite market has become cut-throat. More than 50 per cent of the satellite market used to be in the military sector which has been drastically reduced. So all the biggies like Hughes, Martin Marietta (GE), Loral Aerospace (Ford), and others are aiming at the civilian market. Though Antrix, on its own, stands little chance of getting any orders in the global market, Loral wants to tie up with it and this should stand the company in good stead.
This fledgling hi-tech company can really hit it big in the future. As a communication revolution sweeps over India in the next five to ten years, there will be a big demand for communication satellites for TV and telecom. At that time, no doubt, Antrix will come into its own.
Telco (Now Tata Motors)
Is there someone out there who can give Maruti a run for their money? We think Telco has the potential not only to do that but even to enter the global car market. One other plus point in favour of Telco: it has an R&D facility that does not even exist in Maruti.
The visionary behind this was undoubtedly its former chairman, the late Sumant Mulgaokar. The first all-new Telco product was the Tata 407, introduced in 1985. It was conceived, designed, developed and productionised in 18 months flat to take on the just-introduced Indo-Japanese light commercial vehicles (LCVS). Today, Telco has over a 50 per cent share of the LCV market.
Amongst all Indian automobile companies, Telco's ERC is, by far, the largest R&D set-up, employing over 800 highly qualified engineers and designers. Headed by R&D general manager, S.K. Shome, its employees and equipment rank amongst the best in the world. A full-fledged, 98-terminal IBM RS/6000 CAD system costing nearly Rs.80 crore helps Telco generate concept proposals through to wire-frame diagrams, designing the inner skins, analysing structural integrity, generating cross-sectional views and defining the templates required to make the, final mock-up.
All sophisticated equipment, however, is quite meaningless without the right people handling it. Telco's resident director, V.M. Rawal, points out: "Technology is of no use if you don't have good people. It's the dedication of the people that really matters. The sophisticated Rambaudi machine was being put to use in two weeks flat, with
no special, training programme. It was taken up as a challenge." At the same time, Telco is not trying to reinvent the wheel. After developing the engine and the body design, for fine tuning them they are using the state-of-the-art services of the likes of International Automotive Design, UK, and AVL, Austria.
In conclusion, our techies may not be at the cutting edge of technology but all of them have used the Indian strengths in knowledge engineering and that too in an atmosphere that did not call for it. Thus they stand out for their farsightedness.-
N. Vaghul, chairman, ICICI is optimistic of the future. "The real industrialisation has started only now. Every businessman I meet nowadays, small or big, talks of technology and is aware that without technology he will be sunk," he, says. If these words are really a prophecy of things to come, we'll be seeing a lot more of the Indian 'techies' from now on.