Developing High Technology Small Industries in Bharatvarsh:
Swadeshi in Action

Developing High Technology Small Scale Industries in Bharatvarsh: Swadeshi in Action

There are numerous technologically competent young Indians, highly trained in modern engineering and technological skills, both here in India and abroad. Many of them are trapped in jobs and situations where they have little opportunity to put the skills they have learnt to productive and creative use. There are indeed many amongst them who yearn to get out of this situation, to start out on their own, and begin some venture that would allow scope for the use and development of their knowledge and skills; and also let them have the satisfaction of contributing to a re-assertion of the Indian identity in the present day world.

A growing and industrialising economy, like that of India, requires a great variety of products and technologies, the development of which would challenge the best skills of our talented young engineers. Given the right engineering attitude it is possible to develop a number of products and technologies that are critical to high technology enterprises. In fact, in the development of such products and technologies it is the engineering attitude and skills that are of paramount importance: investments required are often small.

Many young engineers are kept away from trying their hands on the development of such products and technologies by prevalent notions about the extent of resources required for developing sophisticated high technological products on the one hand, and perceptions about the difficulties of doing business in India on the other. Consequently, a large number of young men who could blossom into creative engineers and astute manufacturers remain tied to their uncreative jobs, that require only managerial or marketing skills, and offer no opportunity for the exercise or development of engineering knowledge. Their training and skills are thus lost both to themselves and the country.

The Swadeshi Integration Group for High Technology (SIGHT) is an informal group of engineers who, starting with little more than their engineering attitudes and confidence in their skills, have during the last thirty years developed a variety of products and technologies that have found critical use in technologically sophisticated Indian and foreign enterprises. This brochure is an attempt to share the experience of the SIGHT Group with young Indians, in India and abroad, who yearn to begin a high technology venture of their own. We hope that the information provided in the brochure shall encourage such aspiring engineers to begin giving shape to their aspirations, and also help them in overcoming some of the more obvious mental blocks and operational obstacles.

The brochure lists in detail the various steps a young engineer shall have to go through in order to set up a viable small scale yet high technology unit producing high value-added and high value products. Later, we give the experiences of a number of enterprises that have followed this path, and have succeeded in making a name for themselves in the national and international markets for high technology products, and have dared to compete with the best in the world.


Acquiring The Engineering Attitude

While beginning a new engineering venture the most essential part is to learn and be convinced that an engineering venture is built mainly on skills, and not so much on money.

Looking at the high technological enterprises of the world today gives one the impression that sophisticated technology is a matter of high capital and complex infrastructure. The kind of infra-structural and capital base that big high technology conglomerates like IBM, HP, GE, AT&T or DuPont command seems beyond the imagination of the governments of many large countries. Resources that even a junior manager of these companies has access to are often beyond the imaginable reach of many. To a young engineer, looking at these enterprises, beginning a high technological venture of his own begins to look like a pipe-dream.

While looking at these great enterprises one should remember that these constitute the apex of a vast base of small, but highly skilled, engineering and technological ventures. Those smaller ventures are often not visible, but without that base there would have been no great engineering enterprise. An industrialising country has to first develop such a base of small, highly skilled ventures that operate at the very cutting edge of high technology; the aspiration of a young engineer ought to be to contribute to this basic engineering activity. In due course, great engineering enterprises would emerge over this vast base of small scale but high technology enterprises. Many of the international enterprises which have grown into unimaginably large proportions today began with the development of basic engineering technologies and products at a rather small scale, more or less in a garage.

Another important attitudinal trait that is required of an engineer, aspiring to become a high technology entrepreneur, is the realisation that creation of wealth is a much more interesting and fulfilling exercise than mere acquisition of wealth. And creation of wealth is never as simple as acquisition through parasitic wage-earning, trade or speculation. An aspiring engineer shall have to learn to measure his achievement by the sophistication of the technology and the product that he has mastered, rather than the amount of money that he has earned. Those who are after quick money are hardly likely to muster the perseverance and passion that is required for mastering a technology and developing a new product.

Finally, engineering is a matter of marshalling all available resources and skills, and putting them to useful purpose. This is something that does not get taught in our engineering training. But a young engineer aspiring to begin a high technological venture in India must exert to acquire the necessary discipline to direct all available time and resources towards the object that he has determined for himself.

Criteria For Product Selection

Value Addition

The first step in beginning a venture is to select the product to be manufactured. While making such a selection it should be kept in mind that the essence of technological sophistication is in value addition. Therefore, if the objective is to engage in a high technology venture, choose to make a product that involves very high value addition in the process of making. A manufacturing process that does not add at least 300 percent to the value of the raw materials used is unlikely to involve any very high technology or engineering skills. It must however be understood that value-addition is not obtained by simply subtracting the cost price of a product from its sale price; value-addition is measured by the cost of the effort that goes into converting the input material into higher performing products of higher value.

There are three aspects to the value of a product. First of all, value resides in the function that the product performs; any product serves a particular function in a system, and where it fits in the system determines its value. A product which is essential for the functioning of a system has much higher value than a product that can be easily replaced by another. Secondly, value is determined by the performance of a product. Consistent performance, consistently meeting the specifications of the system over a determined life time, enhances the value of a product. Thus, evolution of testing procedures, that guarantee that the product meets the specification and shall continue to meet such specification over its life-time, are essential for making a valuable product. Such testing procedures are in fact the heart of good engineering; and we shall have more to say about these later. Thirdly, value of a product lies in the price that the buyer is willing to pay for the product. A product that does not find a buyer, however sophisticated it may be, is valueless. But high price in itself does not mean high value. There are products in the market, like cosmetics and jewellery, etc., which command a very high price because of their perceived value, but which are of no use to any productive system. Such products cannot be called value-added products, at least not in the engineering sense.

Thus, a value-added product is a product that meets an essential need within a productive system, guarantees consistent performance to the specifications of the system, and can be made at a cost that allows the possibility of a judicious profit at the market price. This is the first criterion in the choice of a product for beginning an engineering venture. In the context of India, any product that substitutes an imported product used in high technology Indian enterprises is likely to satisfy the criterion of value-addition. There is always an urgent need for the indigenous development of critical components used in defence establishments, professional service networks, and in high technology industrial manufacture. Also, products that are specially suited to operate in Indian conditions of relatively high temperatures, varying humidity, high atmospheric dust and high corrosion are not only going to be in high demand, but would also fulfil urgent national needs.

Familiarity with the Requisite Skills and Knowledge

A second important criterion for choosing the product is that the technology of the product should be related to the professional knowledge and skills that the entrepreneur is familiar with. The objective should be to begin a venture where the skills already acquired can be put to use. A successful engineering venture shall certainly require learning of a number of new skills and acquisition of a great deal of new knowledge; high technology, almost by definition, involves the bringing together of multi-disciplinary skills to the solution of an engineering problem. But, it is always of help to deal with a product that lies within the general area of professional competence of the prospective entrepreneur, so that the basics of the field do not have to be learnt afresh.

Also, the product chosen should be such that offers a continuing challenge to the professional knowledge and engineering skills of the entrepreneur. Choose a product that offers the possibility of a wide range of customised designs and specifications, and requires rigorous testing. It is only such products that call for continuous engineering and design inputs, and make the concerned entrepreneur indispensable to a wide variety of customers. These are also the kind of products that offer the possibility of acquiring a loyal niche in the international market. Products that are easily amenable to automation and mass production are not the ideal products for an entrepreneur who wants to build his enterprise and reputation on engineering excellence. However, make certain that the product chosen is being manufactured and is in use somewhere in the world; and offers distinct performance advantage in its application. Exercising one’s skills on an entirely untried product often ends up in wastage of scarce time and resources.

Energy and Land Requirements

Besides ensuring that the product chosen meets the above criteria, attention should also be paid to the energy and land requirements, and to the environmental impact of the development and manufacturing process. Products that require very high energy inputs or very large sheds or generate too much of pollution should be avoided. Energy requirements and environmental impact should be evaluated over the whole product cycle, inclusive of the raw materials, processing, bye-products, wastes and effluents, and final application.

High Value

Also, it helps to choose a product that offers not only high value addition, but also high value. A low value product, even if it involves sophisticated technology and high value addition, poses the problems of large scale processing and transportation, which are best avoided at the early stages of a small scale venture.

If the product is chosen thus, and especially if it meets the criteria of high value addition, high value and critical design and engineering inputs, then there shall always be a market for such a product. Undertaking market survey in such cases is not necessary.

Preparing For The Venture

Acquiring the Swadeshi Spirit

The first step in preparing for a high technology small scale venture in India is to acquire a passion for India. Developing new technologies and establishing high technology enterprises in a country that is not amongst the technologically most advanced nations todaythough India in not too distant past was indeed the leader of the world in technological excellenceis always a difficult, time consuming and sometimes frustrating process. Only those who have a deep sense of belonging to India, who are highly motivated to do good work within their own country, who have a passion to enhance the technical capabilities of their country and contribute to the great nation building exercise that is now going on in India, in short, those who are imbued with the swadeshi spirit, are likely to stay the course.

Collecting Published Information

After identifying the product, begin collecting all published information on the product. Collect the manufacturers’ manuals and application notes concerning the product. Collect samples of the product available in the market. Explore the patents that have been issued for technologies connected with the process. Study carefully the historical development of the product. Learn about different methods of production, their evolution, and their special features.

Reverse Engineering

One of the ways of understanding the product well is to reverse engineer it. Take the sample product, disassemble it into its individual parts and components, study each part and component carefully, identify the functions that various parts perform and the role of each in the performance of the final product. Study the relative positioning of different components and the sequence in which they function. Reverse engineering gives an insight into the physical design of the product, and helps in determining the sizes and tolerances of various components and parts. Reverse engineering also gives an initial understanding of the materials used and how these are processed into the making of different components that form the final product.

Studying the Relevant Patents

Another useful way of learning about the product and the process one is interested in is to study the patents issued in the field, and try to duplicate those which seem to be specially relevant. Amongst the potential high technology entrepreneurs there is much apprehension about the question of patents; such apprehension has increased with the current emphasis of the developed countries on aggressively protecting the patent rights of their national industries. Apprehensions regarding patents often form a mental block that put-off many from creative work in high technology areas.

For a patent to be valid, it has to disclose detailed information about the product and the process of making it; the disclosure must be such that by rigorously following the detailed steps it should be possible to duplicate the process and achieve the desired result. Duplicating patents in the field of interest can be a highly creative experience in itself for the prospective entrepreneur. The ability to duplicate a patent in itself implies that the entrepreneur is fully familiar with the state-of-art in the concerned field.

Therefore, it is advisable to carefully study the patents in the field, and try to duplicate the patents that describe processes and products similar to the one that one is planning to manufacture. If at the end of such attempts at duplication, one finds that the desired results cannot be achieved on the basis of information provided in the patent, then one can legitimately ask for the patent to be invalidated. On the other hand, if one is able to duplicate the process, then one is already in grasp of the technology in the field, and from this position it is easy to think of and plan newer processes and products, which may even be more economical and suitable for the Indian conditions.

Technology is a continuously evolving process: there are always new materials and new techniques that keep becoming available. In this evolving environment, someone who can duplicate an earlier patent shall almost always be able to find a way of improving upon the patented process to make a better and different product. On the other hand, patents which cannot be improved upon and cannot be approached through alternate routes are often for processes which are so commonly and widely used that they become more or less public domain knowledge, and no one really worries about protecting patent rights in such cases. Such patents are rare, and these, in fact, ought to become part of the text-book knowledge in engineering.

Thus in most cases the patents prove to be stepping stones, rather than being obstacles, in the path of developing a product. A judicious duplication of available patents and reverse engineering of available products together can lead to the unravelling of most technologies, without infringing the rights of any inventors. Patents are thus an invaluable public resource for the prospective entrepreneur to delve into.

Of course, there is much engineering knowledge which is neither published, nor patented. The really critical information is always kept classified for exclusive commercial exploitation by the inventors. The information is patented only when the state-of-art in the field reaches a level where such information is likely to soon become common knowledge.

Studying the Sequence of Manufacture

Having learnt whatever can be learnt through reverse engineering and exploring published patents, it is often possible to identify the sequence of manufacture from the beginning to end, from the raw materials to the finished product. This sequence should then be thoroughly studied. Study every stage of material transformation, and identify the stages and processes at which crucial transformations take place. Pay particular attention to the transformations that lead to value addition. Later, at the stage of development and production, it may be of use to begin with an intermediate half-finished low value product, and execute only the crucial value-adding stages. Such a strategy would save investment and effort; this saving can be critical at the initial stages of an enterprise. Once the crucial value-adding stages of the production process have been mastered, the remaining stages of the manufacturing sequence can be added in due course.

Studying Specifications, Standards and Testing Procedures

Value addition is a function of the performance of the product. Therefore, before beginning to undertake any development and production, carefully study the commercial and industry specifications concerning the product. Study and analyse the process controls that ensure the achievement of product specifications. And, especially study the testing procedures for determining the performance of the product. Evolution and execution of proper testing procedures shall finally determine the technological sophistication of your product. Standards and testing procedures ought to be studied most carefully, and much thought should be given to evolving your own testing requirements and procedures. We shall have more to say about this aspect later.

Acquiring Experience with the Product

This stage of knowing about the product is also the time for preparing yourself for the enterprise. The exercise of collecting in-depth information about the product to be manufactured is best undertaken during the course of a routine professional career, and much before entering into the field of commercial development and production. It may, however, be found useful at this stage to think of changing to a job that offers opportunities to work with the product that you have chosen for later development and production, and provides hands-on experience with the production process and commercial aspects of the product. Such change of job, executed with care and forethought, can also lead to the identification of possible collaborators in the development and production effort.

Studying the Indian Conditions

For those of the prospective entrepreneurs who happen to be employed abroad, this is the stage to visit India to understand the ground situation, to grasp the state-of-art in the chosen field, to learn about others who may be engaged in developing and manufacturing the same or similar products, to have a fair idea of the equipment that may be available in India and that would have to be necessarily imported, to gain information about possible sites where the future enterprise may be located, and to meet the prospective customers.

It would also be necessary to learn about the kind of adjustments that the family shall have to make on return to India. It helps if the necessary applications for obtaining statutory clearances for beginning the development and production process are moved at this stage. This is also the stage to acquire an address and telephone and fax number in India. It may take more than one visit to make all these arrangements and gather all necessary information. These visits should be carefully planned, and all those who have to be met should be contacted and tentative schedules fixed well in advance.

Building-up Initial Capital

This is also the time to save and build a financial reserve that would be enough to help you meet your requirements at least for the first few years of development and production. Conserving and properly utilising all available time and money thus becomes of paramount importance at this stage; and the habits of such conservation learnt at the preparatory stage prove valuable at the later stages of product development and manufacture. Attempts should also be made, during this preparatory stage, to collect a variety of general purpose tools and test equipment; such tools and equipment, collected slowly at leisure and with relatively small investment, prove extremely useful later.

As a thumb-rule it may be assumed that this preparatory stage of knowing in detail about the product shall take 2-4 years, during which period about a thousand hours per year may have to be devoted to the learning process. The financial reserve acquired at this stage should be enough to carry you through for a period of 3 to 6 years of full time development activity.

Product Development

Once all possible information on the product has been gained, the complete sequence of manufacture has been understood, performance specifications have been grasped and analysed, and appropriate financial and knowledge resources have been gathered, it is time to move to the next stage of full-time development effort.

Begin with Minimal Investment

It is absolutely important for the success of the enterprise to invest minimal possible resources at this development stage. Do not begin by investing heavily in acquisition of land and buildings. Hire appropriate but small workshop and office space. Buy minimal equipment for fabrication and testing. And immediately begin by developing the last major value-adding step in the sequence of manufacture.

Identify a Sponsor

It is of help to locate a sponsor at this stage. Look for someone who has personal experience of setting up a high technology enterprise in the Indian conditions. Such a sponsor need not be of help in providing financial backup. He could provide crucial support by sharing his experience, listening to your problems at different stages, and objectively assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed enterprise. A well established sponsor could also help with the initial requirements of space and with some of the general purpose fabrication and test equipment. More importantly, such a sponsor could help in locating the right technological capacities and the right customers, and in making the right investment decisions, especially in preventing disastrous investments. Perhaps most importantly, an established sponsor could help in relieving the feeling of isolation that an aspiring engineering entrepreneur is likely to face, and in inculcating appropriate procedures and attitudes by the example of his successful enterprise.

Such support can be of invaluable help in the early stages of an engineering enterprise. It is generally not impossible to find such a supportive sponsor in the Indian environment. It can be a pleasant surprise to see how far fellow entrepreneurs are willing to go to help with their experience and advice, both in technologically and bureaucratically sticky situations. SIGHT is indeed constituted to form a non-commercial support group for prospective entrepreneurs interested in developing high technology engineering products in India.

Undertake Extensive Experimentation

The main object of the entrepreneur at this stage should be to master the product. As we have said earlier, begin by duplicating the last major step in the manufacturing sequence. Having duplicated this step, carry out performance and specification tests that have been identified at the earlier stage. It can take thousands of experiments to make a product that meets the specifications and passes the performance tests. Making any high technology product requires fine control and tuning of a multiplicity of physical, mechanical, chemical and other processing parameters; such control and tuning can only be achieved by repeated experimentation. It is not even wise to attempt to achieve perfect performance or results too fast; it helps to proceed step-by-step and in small steps, controlling and tuning a few parameters at a time and hoping for incremental evolution to the final desired level of performance. Therefore, mastering of only the last value-adding step itself can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.

The experiments should be carefully designed, keeping in mind the entire range of possible variations in the parameters, and one should be always prepared to interpolate and extrapolate from the results obtained at any stage. If this range of variations is kept in mind from the beginning, and one is prepared for extrapolation and interpolation, then it becomes possible to design and procure the necessary components quickly and cheaply. Experience with such interpolation and extrapolation also helps in optimising and fine-tuning the final product.

Regressive Integration: Begin with the Last Step First

Usually enterprises are begun by working out a detailed project that includes everything from land and buildings to the final marketing. Effort to put together a complete project of this kind requires high investments and a long gestation period before any production begins. There are unforeseen delays and cost overruns, and consequently many enterprises end up in disaster. As against this usual route, the route of regressive integration that we propose begins with the last value-adding step first, so that production, sales and consequent cash-flows begin before any large investments are made.

Mastering the last value added step in the manufacturing sequence is generally of crucial importance in any engineering enterprise. After the last major value-adding step in the manufacturing sequence has been perfected, production can start immediately. Development and perfection of other steps in the manufacturing sequence, moving backwards from the last step to the preceding intermediate step, can then proceed along with production. Such step by step mastering of the whole process, moving one step at a time and progressively integrating from the last step to the preceding intermediate step, and from there to the next intermediate step, up to the raw material stage, is what we have called regressive integration.

This route of regressive integration, starting from the last step first, assures quick interaction with the customer with a minimal investment. The testing procedures evolved for the last step create customer confidence, and the same or similar procedures can then be evolved for each preceding stage of integration. This approach also helps in generating an early cash-flow into the enterprise. The risk, that is necessarily associated with any kind of enterprise, is thus minimised.

The most important advantage of this route is the customer feedback that it generates. Feedback from the customer quickens the learning process and helps in building-up self-confidence: a discerning customer is indeed a great asset. If the product is well chosen, it shall always attract customers willing to co-operate with an engineering entrepreneur who shows integrity of purpose and a high level of commitment to improve his product. Such customer interaction developed at this stage often evolves into long-lasting manufacturer -buyer relationships. Therefore, these intermediate stages of production should be seen as part of the investment into development of the product, and even if customers have to be found at a somewhat low price, efforts should be made to enter the market as soon as possible.

Master the Technology, Not merely the Product

While developing and perfecting the various stages of the production line, special attention should be paid to mastering the technology. While the immediate object is to perfect the product, the longer term objective should be to master the technologies that are crucial for making the product. Because, once the technology has been mastered, it provides an inexhaustible resource, which can be utilised for developing new product lines, and for diversifying into other areas. A technology once mastered often becomes a resource that cannot be easily copied; and though individual products do become obsolete, technologies remain useful for much longer periods of time.

The effort should be to understand and master not only the technologies that are crucial for the product at hand, but also the basic engineering technologies involved. It is the overall level of engineering sophistication and skills that finally determine the quality and reliability of the product and the worth of an enterprise. No high technology product can possibly be made with low level of competence in basic engineering.

Always Re-invent the Wheel

While learning and mastering the basic technologies, one should never avoid what is contemptuously called “re-inventing the wheel”. If a wheel needs to be used in manufacturing a product, then the technology of making the wheel must be completely under the grasp of the entrepreneur, and often the only way to master a technology is to do it. While thus mastering the technology of what seems a well-known simple process, one shall often find that there are many complexities that need to be understood and many a parameter that needs to be finely tuned for replicating even such a simple process.

Reverse Engineer Every Crucial Component

It is also important to reverse engineer any product or component that is likely to be of crucial importance in the manufacturing process. Entrepreneurs who are interested in technological excellence do not leave anything in their process to the kindness of others. It may be necessary and economical to use certain products and components developed by others, but the technology of those products and components should be always under grasp, so that when necessary these may be manufactured in one’s own facilities. And quite apart from the need that may arise for manufacturing the bought-out components and products oneself, it is necessary to know these components and products fully, if the overall process is to be kept under control. One never knows a product or component well until it is fully reverse engineered and duplicated.

Process And Processing Equipment

The quality and the cost of a high technology product depends crucially upon the process, the machines that are used to execute the process, the testing procedures that are evolved, and the specification and performance guarantees that the manufacturer is willing to provide. The success of the enterprise would therefore depend upon the development of an appropriate process, fabrication of cheaper machines that are suited to the scale of operation and the Indian environment, and on evolving testing procedures that assure better performance of the product compared to others. These, the proper process, proper machines and proper testing, are to be seen as the core features of the enterprise. Evolution of an appropriate process, development of inexpensive but highly suitable machines, and development of inexpensive yet high reliability testing will set apart the kind of enterprise we are talking about from the competitors in the field, both here and abroad.

Optimise the Process to the Context

The process developed through the series of experiments we have discussed above has to be first made appropriate to the context in which production is to take place. The process finally chosen for execution at the manufacturing stage should be appropriate for the available input materials and skills, and for the desired level of performance and quantity.

Avoid Early Automation

At the initial stages of an enterprise, processes that involve high levels of automation, high speed and mass production should be avoided, because such processes require very high levels of investment and reduce flexibility and control on quality. High speed and mass production can be avoided by keeping the scale of operations low, and building the enterprise on the strength of quality rather than the quantity of production. Automation can be avoided by understanding the process better, and evolving processes where manual skills can substitute automated functioning. Automation, high speed and mass production can, of course, be introduced at later stages, as and when the need arises.

At the early stages of an enterprise, however, automated manufacturing adds unacceptable investment costs, which often result in making the enterprise un-viable, especially at the relatively low demand that is likely to be there, at least initially. Automation and high speed manufacturing also make the manufacturing process inflexible. And, perhaps, worst of all, such automation obviates the possibilities of learning and mastering the technology of production; such learning and mastering can take place only by carefully observing and monitoring different stages of the process in a slow step-by-step largely manual production facility.

It should be remembered that the technology of making a particular product and automation of that technology are two different aspects of technological development; technology of automation has little to do with the technology of actually making a product. Automation essentially involve sensors to monitor the process at different stages, feed-back loops, and high-power drives. In the relatively slower and largely manual manufacturing, sensors may still be required in certain situations, but the feed-back loops and high-power drives, which are often very expensive, are never needed.

There pervades a feeling that automation and complex machines in themselves constitute high technology. If a product that performs specified functions to the specified level of perfection can be made by hand, it is indeed a high-technology product: quality and sophistication of a product are not related to the automation of the manufacturing process. Automation of course makes manufacturing faster; but if we need only small quantities automation offers no advantages, it only makes the production un-viable.

Optimising the Machine to the Process

For making the process amenable to execution by mostly manually operated simple machines, the process should be first of all divided into the simplest possible series and parallel steps. Such division of a long complex process into simpler steps, and initially aiming at low volume production, ought to make the kind of machines required at each stage fairly simple. These simple machines should then be fabricated in-house. It is often possible to make machines that can perform extraordinarily sophisticated functions by starting from commonly available equipmentlike domestic pots and pans, domestic mixers, simple gear mechanisms, hand operated tools and so onand by utilising the widely available skills of metal working and carpentry. Machines of this kind can be fabricated at a negligibly small fraction of the cost at which these are available in the market. In any case, the machines available off the shelf are likely to be much less suited to the needs of the specific requirements of a manufacturing process than the machines fabricated for specific needs.

Machines and equipment needed for most technological operations can be fabricated from easily available domestic and common industrial parts, equipment and gadgets. It is advisable to design the machine or equipment around such available standard components and sub-assemblies. In machines that perform highly specialised tasks, there are only one or two parts that are critical. Such machines can be fabricated by acquiring the critical parts from the used parts market, and using standard equipment for the rest. This strategy reduces the cost of highly specialised machines to almost nothing compared to the cost of an imported machine. These strategies work for all machines, except the ones whose performance depends upon a high level of fine-tuning of different components. But if the process has been sufficiently broken down into simple stages of operation, and each stage of operation is fully understood, such highly tuned machines would be seldom required.

Machines fabricated in such rough and ready manner may look clumsy and the efficiency of each operation may seem low. But, from the point of view of the total enterprise such improvised machines indeed offer an elegant, versatile and most efficient solution. At the development stage of the product, such machines reduce the cost of each trial run to a reasonably low level, and offer the flexibility required for making repeated trials with small variations. The slow speed of these machines allows for the possibility of controlling the multiplicity of parameters that need to be controlled in the process. Thus these improvised machines prove to be indispensable tools for innovation. And, as the development process proceeds, and larger scale production begins, the same improvised machines can be slowly upgraded or multiplied to meet the new requirements. Such up-gradation and improvement can proceed without interrupting the production line.

Even at the production stage these improvised machines often prove more efficient than the automated higher speed multi-operation machines. The speed of production is determined by the slowest, not the fastest, operation in the process. In a complex multi-operation machine the slow and the fast operations have to be performed simultaneously in a running sequence. In such machines, matching of the time-motion characteristics of operations that proceed at varying speeds proves to be a very complex and costly exercise. In machines specifically improvised for an enterprise, the slower and the faster operations can be isolated and performed in parallel on separate machines. The throughput can thus be greatly improved at very low costs.

Simple machines that perform each step separately also allow versatility of operations. Different product specifications can be achieved on the same set of machines by merely changing the required parameters from batch to batch. To achieve the same level of versatility through multi-operation high speed machines would require extremely high investments.

Man-Machine Optimisation

In every economy there is an optimal relationship between man and machine. In India, we are in a situation where highly skilled persons can be employed at a fraction of the cost of acquiring and operating a machine that would substitute their skills. In this situation it makes little sense to attempt to mechanise production, where human skills can perform the same task relatively cheaply and with much more flexibility and versatility. The machines that we need to fabricate are therefore the ones where the available skills shall be utilised in the best possible manner. It is possible that as industrialisation proceeds, technological skills amongst the people of India shall start becoming scarcer and more expensive to hire: at that stage it shall perhaps be economically and socially justifiable to make machines that substitute for human skills.

Optimising the Machine to the Economy

Given the present Indian situation, the route of improvising rough and ready machines for specific operations seems to be the most suitable. A machine after all is an implement made for performing a desired technological task in an optimum fashion. And what is optimum in a given situation depends upon a number of factors including the volume of demand, and the level of prevalent technologies and skills in the given situation. Therefore, different economic and technological environments necessarily demand the fabrication of different kinds of machines, even if the operations to be executed happen to be the same. The improvised machines that we are talking about prove to be the optimum machines for the Indian situation, where the volumes of demand are typically low and there is not much exposure to high-speed highly-tuned industrial operations. A highly-tuned and high-speed machine shall prove economically un-viable, socially wrong, technologically cumbersome, and operationally hazardous in such conditions. There are many examples of large enterprises built around expensive automated machines coming to grief. If the machines are improvised, beginning with the available equipment and skills, then the situation of low demand itself becomes an asset, opening up the possibility of sophisticated and flexible enterprise for which there is always a niche in the international markets.

Complex machines evolve from simple machines designed for performing specific tasks in specific conditions. To begin from simple machines, and to keep integrating different operations and automating different steps as the situation demands, is the only way of making complex machines. Complex machines are built from simpler machines, not from scratch. This is the path that all technologically advanced countries have taken to arrive at their complex machines of today. And this is the path we shall have to take, if we want to build up a technological culture of our own.

Machines Should Not Be Globalised

In this sense the current stress on globalisation, where all nations are expected to be using the same machines and same kinds of technologies, is the route to technological disaster. Importing complex machines without having improvised and worked with simpler machines leads to a situation where we never acquire the confidence and skills to develop technologies and build machines ourselves. Working with imported machines that have not been fully understood tends to reduce our skilled engineers to mere salespersons and operations supervisors of marginal value.

Importing machines is not always simple. For most processes the imported machines prove to be extremely expensive, and the lead times for starting operation on imported machines are often long. What is more, machines for making products that are critical to defence or to development of high value industries are generally not available in the market for any price. Globalisation of this kind will surely tie us down to perpetual technological inadequacy and dependence. Making the technologies and machines uniform everywhere, also deprives us of the niche markets that would be ours precisely because we happen to be working with simpler technologies and simpler machines.

Testing: Test Procedures, Test Equipment and Conformance to Standards

Testing is Crucial at All Stages

Testing runs as an undercurrent throughout any high technology process of development or manufacture. It is testing that establishes a continuous and reliable relationship between the characteristics that are to be built into a product, and the characteristics of the raw-materials as well as the intermediate products that arise during the process. Testing therefore has to begin with the raw materials, continue through the whole of the manufacturing process, and end with the certification of assured performance of the final product. It is certifiable and assured testing at all stages which is the major feature of any high technology and high value-addition process.

At every stage of development of the product, it is important to restrict testing to a level that is sufficient and appropriate. Testing is an expensive activity, and undertaking highly complex and sophisticated testing of some of the parameters up to a level of accuracy that does not match with the overall performance levels of the product, makes the product uneconomical. Testing procedures thus must evolve and become more and more sophisticated as the process becomes more sophisticated and product performance is improved. Appropriate testing procedures at every stage of development also help in identifying the causes of failure of a given process, and thus testing becomes a tool of development. Evolving optimal, simple and cost-effective test procedures and equipment is central to the success of a high technology enterprise. Innovation in the area of testing shall immediately lead to competitive advantage internationally.

Complex and expensive equipment is not sufficient for reliable testing. High professional skills and practice are essential. To be able to interpret a test and correlate the results to the inadequacies of the process and materials calls for even higher levels of professional skills. This is what gives the edge to innovative Indian engineers over the highly-paid salesman of foreign products in high technology niche markets.

Identify the Minimal Critical Characteristics

Test procedures begin to come into the picture as soon as one decides upon a product. Every product has some critical characteristics which define the product. For example, for an electrical cable the breakdown voltage critically defines the cable; or, in a membrane filter, the bubble point test defines the filter; or, in a high-tensile fastener the break-load defines the fastener. Therefore, the first task is to determine the most important single critical characteristic of the product, and to develop simple, quick and reliable testing methods and equipment for testing that characteristic. Such tests are often yes-no kind of tests
either the product passes the test or does not and do not require sophisticated measurements or equipment.

Development of a process involves identifying the minimum set of parameters that must be measured and controlled, and the maximal range within which these parameters may be allowed to vary at different stages of the process for the final product to pass the critical performance tests. Testing methods and equipment should assure that the defined parameters indeed remain within the range during the process.

Complying with Detailed Specifications

A process standardised as above should lead to a product, which will invariably pass the critical performance tests. Then fine tuning to achieve compliance of the product to more detailed specifications begins. This involves adding to the minimal set of parameters that need to be measured and controlled, restricting the range within which the parameters may be allowed to vary, and refining the testing methods and equipment to make finer measurements and control possible. Developing a process is thus development of proper testing.

After the product has been developed, further tests have to be evolved to provide assurance of continued reliable performance to the customer. The manufacturer must be able to assure that his product shall continue to function at the specified level of performance under a specified set of conditions over a determined period of life. Such assurance must be given through tests which, except in a few cases of destructive sample testing, do not degrade the product. In high technology ventures such assurance is critical, because in most situations it is not possible to evaluate a product in the actual application situations. It would be simply too hazardous to put a product of indeterminate performance characteristics into a high technology system, and in any case the working of a product in a particular system is never sufficient to guarantee its performance in another system. Therefore, performance under specified set of conditions must be guaranteed beforehand. Evolving tests for assuring such performance often involves the accumulated scientific and engineering wisdom of many generations.

Evolve Your Own Testing Procedures and Equipment

Testing is such an integral part of development and manufacture that it forms a significant component of the investment, and critically affects the productivity of a process and the costs of production. Therefore, identifying optimal testing methodologies, and developing low cost, but adequate and reliable testing equipment is essential to the success of any engineering venture.

As in the case of machines for manufacturing, it is generally inadvisable to buy testing machines and equipment available off the shelf. Such machines and equipment are too expensive and inflexible for most situations. It is often possible to make one’s own rough and ready testing equipment using commonly available tools and gadgets. Such equipment involves very low costs, can be altered to meet the varying requirements of different processes and customers, and because of its simplicity and consequent transparency, offers better control and understanding of the changes in parameters at various stages of the process. Automatic on-line testing equipment can of course be installed at later stages of the enterprise when high volumes have to be produced; but high technology entrepreneurs seeking niche markets with highly sophisticated high value addition products would probably never need such automation.

Calibration and Traceability

Calibration of test equipment, to ensure repeatability and sensitivity of measurements, is one of the more crucial aspects of testing. Such calibration against precision standards with insistence on traceability can be very expensive. In early stages of an enterprise, test equipment can however be adequately calibrated against passive and stable components commonly available in the market. Such calibration would suffice for most situations. At later stages of the enterprise, however, it would be necessary to seek traceable calibration of some of the equipment that measures crucial parameters. Traceability adds to the cost of calibration but also adds high value to the product; a product that has been tested with established traceability can be three to five times more expensive than the untested products. In many cases however absolute testing against traceable standards remains impossible; for example, it is extremely difficult to traceably test levels of noise, sound, vibration, light, etc. For such parameters, substitution testing methods would have to be evolved to assure performance.

Begin by Conforming to Industry Specifications

Performance specifications and test methods for products that are already in the market are generally available in the printed product information of the established manufacturers. Standard specifications and testing procedures for most situations are listed in the standards issued by American Society for Testing Materials, commonly known as ASTM. Similarly, US Federal and Mil Specs provide fairly detailed information about test specifications and procedures in various situations. All these sources form the basic knowledge resource for evolution of testing procedures in the specific manufacturing context on hand.

Of these, ASTM standards are perhaps the most basic and thorough. Any material and process, to offer an acceptable level of performance, shall have to comply with at least the applicable ASTM standards. These are voluntary industry standards evolved through negotiations between the manufacturers and users. Standard ASTM specifications for a material or process list the scope of the specifications, and describe the simplest accurate and low-cost testing methods and equipment. The Standards also sometimes describe alternate, more complex and expensive methods which may be in use in the industry. But the simplest ASTM tests are often the agreed reference tests for dispute resolution within the industry. The ASTM standards are continuously reviewed and updated, and thus offer an insight into the state-of-art in a particular field. Incidentally, the ASTM standards are written in an extremely precise and concise fashion; properly following these standards is a discipline in itself. The ASTM standards thus can be used as the basic testing standards; conformance to these basic standards must be ensured at all times.

Then Go Beyond the Industry Specifications

The industry standards, like the ASTM specs, are the minimum standards that a product must satisfy. Products in the international market however conform to much higher levels of performance. In order to compete in the world markets, one has to offer a product that at least equals and preferably betters the international levels. Ensuring such level of performance often requires subjecting the samples of the product along with samples acquired from reputed international manufacturers to ultimate performance or destructive tests under comparable conditions. The necessary confidence in the performance of the product is acquired only by conducting thousands of such destructive tests over a long period of time on representative samples.

Initial stages of development and manufacture can closely follow the ASTM standards with sufficient tolerances. But, as the development of a product proceeds it becomes essential to make the standards tighter. All available standards often prescribe one-end-open specs. In such cases, setting one’s own standard for the other end, and to keep making it tighter, makes the product more and more valuable. A thumb rule is to set the other end in relation with the standards prescribed for the next lower or higher size or type. Similarly, in many cases the prescribed standards allow a parameter to vary over a wide range between the minimum and maximum. In such a case, efforts to reduce the divergence between the minimum and the maximum add value to the product.

There are also parameters for which no standards are prescribed. Such parameters generally relate to non-critical aspects of the product, like colour, surface finish, texture and so on. Setting one’s own workmanship standards for such parameters improves the repeatability and sensitivity of the operations and adds to the confidence of the customer.

After the standards for different parameters have been set on the basis of the industry standards and one’s own tighter specifications, it is important to set the level of tolerance that must be allowed for each of the parameters, so that in every case the minimum standards are met. The level of tolerance depends upon the level of control and confidence one has in the manufacturing process. Initially, the tolerances can be kept wide. But in time these must be made tighter. Tightening tolerance adds value to the product, and often leads to significant cost advantages, especially in high value products.

Once the state-of-art level of performance is achieved, it is advantageous to evolve new tests, which are not defined in the standard specs. Offering such additional testing often makes the product much more valuable for high-technology users. What additional tests are to be undertaken and what parameters are to be controlled depends upon knowledge of different fields of application of the product.

Special situations often arise in customised new designs and applications. In these cases, neither standard specifications are available nor the customer is able to frame clear specifications on his own. The entrepreneur must therefore be able to propose a set of tests that would satisfy the buyer of the suitability of the product for his purpose.

Testing for Total Performance

Testing for total performance assumes special significance in the present context, where many high technology applications require zero-defect products.

High technology products have to work in varying environmental conditions. For a product to be acceptable for high technology users the performance must be tested under a wide range of simulated environmental conditions.

An important characteristic of a high technology product is that it must continue to perform satisfactorily under a number of extreme conditions imposed simultaneously. Knowing the extreme conditions that are likely to arise in a particular application area, simulating these conditions in the laboratory, and testing the product performance under these, makes the product highly valuable for the concerned user.

High technology manufacturers must also be able to specify the life time over which the product shall continue to perform satisfactorily. Evolving accelerated life time and endurance tests to determine the useful life of a product is an art in itself. Such tests shall have to be evolved and implemented before the product becomes acceptable for use in high technology systems.


The enterprises of this type are anchored in small volume, yet economic, production of high value, high technology products. These small quantities often have to be offered over the entire range of product sizes and types, and production has to be customised to the requirements of even a small volume customer. Such a special enterprise obviously requires a special marketing effort.

Approach the Actual Professional Users

Marketing of these products in fact depends crucially upon the establishment of a direct relationship between the entrepreneur and the user. The entrepreneur should, therefore, always avoid approaching the customer through dealers and middlemen. Within a customer organisation, approach should always be made directly to the professionals who are themselves going to use the product and can thus appreciate the value and performance of the product on offer.

Dealing with professionals helps in getting the product specifications prescribed in a clear and precise manner, and getting the compliance of the product properly evaluated. Making a product that exactly matches the requirement of the user is an important measure of the sophistication of technology, and this can be achieved only through direct contact and discussions between the entrepreneur and the professional user.

Offer Application Support

While dealing with the professional customers, it is often found that they have been forced to use an imported non-optimal product, because that is the only product available. Such imports are effected through dealers who have little knowledge of the product or its applications, and are in no position to offer any sort of application support. Offering proper application support to professional users opens up the market for the indigenous product, and also is a very rewarding and satisfying experience for the entrepreneur and the user. Direct approach to the professional users, and offering them adequate application support often proves crucial in breaking down the initial resistance that most buyers of high-technology products have towards products made in India.

An entrepreneur should also aim at educating the buyer about proper tools and equipment for installing and using the product, and about the proper conditions in which the product ought to be working. Such advice about the proper tools, equipment and conditions is best offered in a direct relationship between the entrepreneur and the professional user.

There may arise situations where the buyer is unable to provide detailed specifications of the product required. In these cases, instead of counter-questioning the buyer, it is advisable to offer a product which is likely to meet the application requirements, and provide complete performance parameters to enable the buyer form a proper appreciation of the product.

Build Abiding Relationships

Sale of a product should always be followed up with inquires about installation, use and maintenance. Such queries not only help the user in getting the desired performance from the product, these also generate feedback for the entrepreneur to properly tune his process and product. Situations where a product is bought and kept unused by the user for long periods should therefore be guarded against. Sales of this nature add nothing to the reputation of the entrepreneur.

With a continuing relationship between the entrepreneur and the professional user, it often becomes possible to introduce new products in unusual situations, leading to quantum improvements in the economic efficiency and technological sophistication of the user industry.

Remain Commercially Alert

While endeavouring to offer the best possible application and product support, and building an enduring personal relationship with the professional users, an entrepreneur should always specify clear business-like terms and conditions for all contracts. In the market for high-technology, the need of the buyer to buy is at least as urgent as that of the entrepreneur to sell. Therefore, there is never a reason to hurry into vague and poorly defined terms and conditions. Insist on clear written-down specifications and rigorous terms of payment. Look into the details of the written conditions and try to foresee and guard against situations that may lead to unmet specifications or delays in payment. A positive cash flow is the life-blood of any enterprise, and delayed payments that stem the cash-flow can lead to highly risky and sticky situations.

The product in most cases should be offered at a price which competes with the world-price of the same or similar products. Initially, the production costs may turn out to be higher than the returns available at the world price. But these losses can be seen as part of the investment in product development, and the objective should be to make the production efficiency quickly reach a level where sale at competitive world-wide prices becomes profitable.

Become a World Player

The ultimate objective of any high-technology entrepreneur should be to become a player in the world market. It is important in itself that each individual enterprise within the country achieves a positive balance of payment: ideally every enterprise should export more than what it imports. Even more importantly, having a stake in the world market is perhaps the only way for an enterprise to have access to the latest developments in the field, and thus remain on the cutting edge of technology.

Therefore, as soon as the production process has been stabilised, a sufficient base has been built in the home market, and through continued interaction with home users the early imperfections have been rectified, efforts should begin to explore foreign markets, especially markets in the technologically advanced parts of the world. A flexible, low-investment, high-skill and high-technology entrepreneur shall often find that he has extra-ordinary competitive advantages in such markets. Economies of his small scale production would allow him to undertake low volume orders for customised manufacture, which major players in the field with their high investments and relatively inflexible production facilities find it difficult to execute. These in-built advantages along with a sharp sense of the application areas and potentialities of the product can help in building a niche market in the world, where others would find impossible to compete. Such niche markets are especially easy to develop for entrepreneurs who have acute design skills and can combine these with economic and timely production.

However, to develop application-driven niche markets, it is necessary for the entrepreneur to be well-grounded in the fundamentals of engineering, and well-versed in the critical parameters in the wide range of applications, where his product may find a use. The interaction between a well-versed engineering entrepreneur and the users often leads to very rewarding and original areas of application for a product.

Foreign Markets Need Perseverance

While marketing in the international market, the same considerations should be kept in mind as were evolved in the home market. Thus, efforts should always be made to approach the end users of the product directly rather than going through dealers and middlemen: the latter in the international market can devour almost all the margins and wipe out the competitive edge of the entrepreneur. Direct contact with professional users abroad helps the entrepreneur in fully communicating and exploiting his special technological possibilities.

It takes at least two or three visits before an effective rapport is established with a foreign buyer; and even after a foreign buyer is convinced of the technological competence of an entrepreneur, he wants to be assured that he can rely on supplies from the entrepreneur on a long-term basis. Transparent commitment of the entrepreneur to his engineering enterprise and perseverance thus have special significance in the eyes of serious foreign buyers.

It helps to begin operations in the international market somewhat cautiously. Engage in the export of low-volume but highly specialised and thus high value added products. And in cases where a large order is obtained, an advance sample from the production lot should always be sent and approvals obtained before shipping the full order. Sending an unacceptable lot into the foreign markets can create almost insurmountable difficulties. Incidentally, an enterprise which deals only in small volumes of customised products can easily afford air-freighting, and thus can operate at par with local producers in terms of deliveries.


We have sketched a simple step-by-step pragmatic approach to developing small industries producing high value-added and high value products capable of complementing and serving the world market in high technology areas. These steps have evolved in the actual course of trying to solve the problems that occur naturally in the Indian context. There is nothing original, unique or exclusive about these; any one seriously engaging in setting up this kind of enterprise in India shall perhaps discover the same or similar steps.

Following a systematic approach, acquiring the right frame of mind, carefully identifying the product that one wants to manufacture, building up the knowledge and material resources for the task, studying and understanding every aspect of the process, improvising the machines, insistence on continuous testing and quality control, clean and transparent dealing with the customers, and developing abiding relations with the users, are all important in such an enterprise. But the inspiration to persist with this systematic approach and persevere in all difficulties arises from a passion for doing high technology in India with Indian resources. One has to have the attitude that any achievement, howsoever great it may be, is a small repayment of the perennial debt that we owe to our motherland. This sense of indebtedness not only gives the strength to overcome difficult situations, but also the sense of belonging with the Indian people and an urge to deal fairly and honestly with them.

The underlying thread in our approach to high technology is that there is nothing exclusive about such technology or about those who pursue it. The high technology can also be practised simply, at a small scale, and with the help of skills and resources available within India. By keeping the high technology simple, it is possible to maintain harmony with people, the surroundings, and the nature at large. This harmony of all enterprise with the people, the surrounding and the nature at large is the essence of Swadeshi. What we are trying is to transform foreign technology to bring it in harmony with Indian ethos and bring Indian engineering in consonance with the times, to make videshi swadeshanukul and swadeshi yuganukul, as Sri Deendayal Upadhyay put it.

In the following chapters, we give some examples of enterprises that have followed this approach and succeeded. We hope that many more such efforts shall soon flourish across the country