The dependence on China for manufactured goods is a subject that riles many in India, more so since the recent emergence of geo-political issues between the two. In value, electronics imports is the biggest.
Rai said she has already got Haryana to manufacture an M.2 memory module, and is now looking to manufacture a networking box there. The M.2 memory module is a relatively recent Intel innovation that allows for faster data transfer between the memory, storage, and processor.
Aloknath De, CTO of Samsung R&D Institute India, said there is a lot of electronics manufacturing happening through the government’s SIPS (special incentive package scheme) and in other ways. “We are qualifying components to benefit from the SIPS programme, and whatever components are ready, we are incorporating into products. We are even manufacturing the latest models here, and are getting ready to export them,” he said.
Supria Dhanda, head of Western Digital India, noted that India had just two mobile manufacturing units in 2014, but now there are 200.
We can be about R&D. I’m often asked, why don’t we become a manufacturing destination. I say, capitalise on your strengths, don’t worry about your weaknesses
Supria Dhanda, Country Manager, Western Digital India
However, everyone in the panel noted that getting to do more complex manufacturing and being able to do a semiconductor fabrication (fab) facility will inevitably be a step-by-step process and will take time.
Karthikeyan Natarajan, chief operating officer at engineering services company Cyient, said a sustainable fab would involve $50-$100 billion of investment. “It cannot be spent by TSMC or Intel or Samsung. There has to be some support from the government,” he said. Dhanda noted that it’s also a question of whether there’s enough demand in the world for another big fab.
We get fascinated by Tesla’s market cap, bigger than several auto companies put together. It’s because of software, it’s not about the hardware. We need to recognise that
Karthikeyan Natarajan, Chief Operating Officer, Cyient
So a fab could take many years. Natarajan said India could start by doing low-volume custom chips, and then look at full-blown ones.
Everyone was also clear that while it is necessary to move towards more and more manufacturing, India should focus as much or more on its biggest strength today: engineering R&D. That’s the process of designing products for the world. And since many of the products are now designed using new-age digital tools and many incorporate digital technologies – like sensors in motors and aircraft engines, and AI in cars – India has become one of the world’s biggest hubs in the space, given its massive base of engineering talent.
KS Viswanathan, vice president of industry initiative at Nasscom, said the segment generates $31 billion of revenue in India, and that revenue is growing in double digits. In fact, it is the fastest growing among the three tech segments – IT, BPM and engineering R&D. It employs 600,000 people. There are 1,500-1,600 companies in the space, of which 900 are global capability centres (GCCs or centres of MNCs).
The government too has realised ER&D is the future. Instead of bottling it all under one mass called IT, they are saying segregate it into ER&D etc, for focused attention
KS Viswanathan, Vice President, Industry Initiative, Nasscom
“There is a realisation in the government too that this is the future,” Viswanathan said.
Natarajan said R&D is important for the long term sustainability of our country. “We get fascinated by Tesla’s market cap, bigger than several auto companies put together. It’s because of software. It’s not about the hardware. We need to recognise that,” he said.
India, he said, is generating close to 6,000 patents every year, and is making almost a third of the products to be launched globally for many of the Fortune 500 clients. He said his company, Cyient, has been part of designing the most efficient aircraft engine ever built. It’s already being used in 600 short-haul aircraft, and he expects it will become the most used engine in the world.
Western Digital’s SanDisk brand designs and develops all of its retail and consumer products from India. Its 1TB microSD card was one recent product.
I want India to dream of fabs. I really look at the China geo-political issue as an opportunity. Though I completely agree on focusing on R&D, manufacturing is also key
Nivruti Rai, Country Head, Intel India
Intel India is Intel’s largest design centre outside the US and is engaged in cutting-edge engineering work such as SoC (system-on-chip) design, next generation communications, graphics, software and platform for the cloud/data centre, client and IoT markets involving advanced technology areas like AI, 5G and autonomous systems.
De said that over the past five years, Samsung’s R&D centres in Noida and Bengaluru have been building specialisation in AI, IoT and big data, and how to make their intersection stronger.
We are very strong in engineering R&D and we can go miles. We can go even beyond Silicon Valley in that space by virtue of our prowess, and by taking startups along
Aloknath De, CTO, Samsung R&D Institute India
Most of these companies are also deeply involved with the government, universities and startups in India to strengthen the country’s ER&D foundations.
My thumbs up, Dhanda said, is for electronics manufacturing, “but my fist of five is for engineering R&D.” That looked like the consensus view.