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G K Pillai

Director & Advisor

Walchandnagar Industries

2 Ratings

DEFENCE MANUFACTURING The situation will improve, mainly on the strength of defence orders

Sep 28, 2020

With a strong engineering and manufacturing infrastructure to undertake projects and supply of machinery and equipment, in the fields of nuclear power, aerospace, defence and more, Walchandnagar Industries is known for its pioneering achievements in the Indian engineering industry. In this interview with Juili Eklahare, G K Pillai, Director & Advisor, Walchandnagar Industries, talks about the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan being a much-needed impetus for the country, how it is essential that the manufacturing process in different steps/machines are carried out to ensure the final product is in line with the technical & quality specifications and how the lockdown and new norms of work culture after the lockdown lift have strengthened the resolve of manufacturing industries to adopt modern digital methodology. Excerpts....

Walchandnagar Industries' focus has been on defence, nuclear, aerospace (DNA). How have the priorities in this area changed because of COVID-19? How has the inflow of orders been affected due to the pandemic?

Though, for a long time, we have been focusing on the EPC business in Sugar & Co-Gen power, over the last few years, the group’s DNA had been changed to Defence, Nuclear & Aerospace (DNA). Initially, we were a bit sceptical that on account of the COVID-19, the strategic sectors may see a downturn in business and there may be an upswing in spending in agricultural and healthcare sectors. As expected, some of the space programs have been impacted or slowed down a bit. The impact on nuclear is yet to be felt, but on the contrary, with the recent announcement of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan and the initiatives of the Government of India to ban certain items in the defence sector, has really given a good fillip to defence equipment manufacturers like WIL. So, though the order inflow has been affected as of now, the situation will improve in the days ahead, mainly on the strength of defence orders.

Has the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan created new opportunities for the Indian industry and for your company in particular? Does the company have any new manufacturing schemes?

The Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan is a much-needed impetus for the country in shoring up its morale and boosting the economy. To give further acceleration to this process, the Defence Minister has announced a list of 101 items which have been banned for import and the mandate is for the Indian companies to manufacture and supply these items indigenously. This certainly is a great fillip to Indian companies engaged in manufacturing of equipment for the defence sector. Our company is well-versed with the technical and quality specifications/requirements of this equipment in the defence segment and is expected to play a major role in this area. The company is already contemplating focusing on this area and also would strengthen the manufacturing facilities & manpower to meet this challenge, including addition of any capex if needed.

Engineers from ISRO and Walchandnagar Industries began work on India’s manned mission to the moon last year, and the Gaganyaan Mission, in 2022. What action-plan are ISRO and Walchandnagar Industries undertaking for this? How will you look at this mission differently post COVID-19, as there is a huge disruption in the supply chain?

The relationship between ISRO and our company has been built over the years on the strength of strong technology skills, manufacturing skills and quality consciousness at WIL. We have been working closely on all the programs of ISRO, including Gaganyaan Mission. Though there has been a general disruption of supply chain across the country, we, at Walchandnagar, were fortunate enough to restart the plant to almost full capacity within a month and a half. As such, we, at WIL, do not anticipate any hurdle or delay at our end. We will have to see if ISRO has any change in priorities on account of the overall situation in the country post-COVID.

Also, Walchandnagar Industries and ISRO's Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) entered into a contract last year, whereby your company will manufacture and supply head, middle and nozzle end segments for the GSLV M KIII launch vehicle. Can you share more details with us on this?

Though the details of the contract can’t be shared publicly, I can definitely confirm that WIL is fully geared up to undertake it. Additional plant and machines have also been installed to meet the demand and delivery requirements of ISRO.

While you believe that only a synergy of advances like designing, managing the raw materials or packaging of the final product will produce an immaculate product and only then the process can be titled as high-tech manufacturing, how do you suggest this can be achieved, especially during the crisis times such as now, with the pandemic & social distancing norms?

It is equally essential that the manufacturing process in different steps/machines, along with quality assurance checks at each designated stage, are carried out to ensure the final product is in line with the technical & quality specifications. To achieve this during the pandemic time, new norms had to be designed for working to maintain social distancing and workers had to be explained the new methods and taken into confidence, as the productivity would decrease with some of the new norms in place. Multi-skilling and multitasking had to be ensured within a short time, so that jobs which were done by two or three technicians in a group, now had to be done by a single person. Rather, one of the positive aspects of the pandemic is that it allowed people to think of innovation in the real sense and bring in innovative ideas in all aspects of business and life.

Are there any initiatives in the area of digitalisation in your organisation? Do you think the adoption of digitalisation technologies will increase post the pandemic?

The need and importance of digitalisation in manufacturing industries is definitely well known, but the lockdown and new norms of work culture after the partial/full lifting of the lockdown have further strengthened the resolve of all manufacturing industries to adopt modern digital methodology at the earliest. In fact, the good part is that MSMEs are also now realising the importance of going towards digitalisation; this will be a great thing, as this will help improve productivity and better customer satisfaction. We, at Walchandnagar Industries, are also embarking on a phased digitalisation exercise, which is very important for us to be globally competitive and a game plan is almost being finalised soon.

With some often looking on the darker side as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, could you tell us anything that your company has achieved during this unprecedented period? What would be the way ahead for the company post-COVID?

As we all know, the pandemic has definitely made an impact on all spheres of businesses and the economy, totally disrupting the normal life of people all over the country. The cause–effect situation was really an unpredictable one and this also resulted in panic and fear. Industries and organisations have been slowly coming back to their normal operations and many have still not been able to run their businesses the way they were run prior to March 2020.

We were one of the few companies who could start operations partially, even within one month of the declaration of the lockdown. Thereafter, we could start 100% operations within another month. However, the operations kept all the safety and distancing norms as specified by the government. Moreover, being a private colony, we could enforce a lot of effective checks and controls as per the directive of the Government of India/Maharashtra in order to ensure that the colony and plant area is strictly in line with all the restrictions & regulations, including movement of personnel.

Post COVID-19, we would still like to retain some of the disciplines and controls (not masks, etc) to ensure the life & safety of our employees and their families.

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  • G K Pillai is an acclaimed management leader and a well-known name in both public and private sector industries. He is an Engineering Graduate from BITS Pilani and has a total of over 47 years of professional experience. He was also the Chairman & Managing Director of HMT Machine Tools, Bangalore.

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