These are exciting times for India. We are slowly coming to a realisation that soft power alone will not sustain the competitive advantage, which has been ours for the past two decades, as other countries catch on. Further, the number of people entering the workforce is growing steadily, thereby, creating a pressing need for employment. These two major needs have rekindled the dream of becoming a manufacturing hub for the world.
India may have a unique opportunity to carve its own path towards indigenisation. This opportunity is afforded by the fact that we are at a juncture in human history that has no precedent.
Communications technology has made information available with unimaginable ease, and at a hitherto unimaginable pace. This means that we can potentially access knowledge on cutting-edge technological innovations at the same time as developed economies. In fact, it would be safe to say that the only thing keeping us from groundbreaking progress is the human tendency to resist change and our ‘chalta hai’ attitude.
Let’s take a recent example of a major Indian tool manufacturer who shows us what’s possible. The company wanted to improve the precision of its tool turrets. Despite the fact that its engineers had no prior knowledge or expertise in this area, the company was able to build its own control circuits, initially by relying on resources available online, eventually completing it under the guidance of some Japanese consultants. The advantage of using such a process for design and manufacturing is that it can allow us to potentially leapfrog the steps taken by other countries in the past (because they did not have this opportunity) and come up to speed faster.
The first step to manufacturing competitiveness is having locally available design capabilities. Historically, this capability was present solely in industrial powerhouses for obvious reasons. First, design is traditionally an extremely resourceintensive process. One needs skilled manpower, sophisticated tools and enough time to experiment. This makes research and development an expensive affair, putting smaller players at a significant disadvantage. These companies can afford neither the resources nor the tools, and therefore, are often held hostage to patented technology from larger companies, thus, reducing margins.
Adoption of simulation apps
Access to the latest knowledge as well as greater availability of user-friendly simulation tools is set to impact the design process. The adoption of simulation apps makes the workflow streamlined and inclusive. Design teams can reach the optimal solution faster by providing other departments with apps to let them experiment with parameters affecting manufacturability and aesthetics, for example. With simulation apps, you do not have to be an expert in numerical simulation to suggest design iteration based on high-fidelity multiphysics simulation results.
The recent trend is of democratisation of simulation efforts by providing engineers from various fields with the software tools to collaborate and simultaneously optimise a design based on geometrical dimensions, material properties and external conditions, while including all relevant physics in the mix. Setting up a computer model and simulation for a specific task requires well-educated and highly trained experts—numerical analysts, physicists, application area experts and more. These experts need to be trained in using the simulation software at hand. This is a very small group of professionals. Much smaller than the group of people who could and should take advantage of simulation tools. Democratisation will speed up product and process evolution.
The Application Builder from COMSOL is a great example of this trend. Using the application builder, specialists can build easy-to-use engineering applications, which can be used by design engineers on the floor, without the need to know or access simulation software. Tools such as this help reduce the time-to-market, as they can be used by anyone in the company— be it a design engineer, a quality control engineer or a manufacturing engineer. This helps reduce reliance on prototyping or on expensive consultants to verify designs. Consequently, it helps to speed innovation.
The adoption of simulation apps makes the workflow streamlined and inclusive. Design teams can reach the optimal solution faster by providing other departments with apps to let them experiment with parameters affecting manufacturability and aesthetics, for example. With simulation apps, you do not have to be an expert in numerical simulation to suggest a design iteration based on high-fidelity multiphysics simulation results. When developing apps, you have complete freedom to customise every aspect of the underlying physics and produce a clean, intuitive user interface free of the clutter often encountered with other tools.
As a simulation expert, one can create the simulations needed with COMSOL Multiphysics and transform these into apps with the Application Builder. Before others can take advantage of the application, they will need access to it. This is where COMSOL Server™ comes into play. It provides the platform for deploying applications created by simulation experts to your design teams, manufacturing departments, test laboratories, and customers and clients throughout the world.
I recently came across an interesting case of how a software application has radically changed the process of designing chairs in Europe. European norms are known to be stringent, and chairs are no exception. Conforming to these norms is a challenge for some smaller manufacturers. Continuum Blue designed an application which can be used by any chair manufacturer (without the need to set up their own complex problems) to test their designs, ensure they conform to norms and also perform fatigue testing. The implication of using such technologies is quite clear—design indigenisation can be achieved faster, innovation is sped up and costs reduced.
This trend provides a great opportunity for Indian manufacturers to speed up the process of new product development as well as process optimisation without investing in expensive technologies and resources. However, we need to move fast and get our act together. More than any technical limitation, the biggest challenge will be India’s immense tolerance for mediocrity. ☐