Making a Fair Point

Dr. V Sumantran, Chairman, Celeris Technologies, shares his insightful views on many a topic ranging from India’s manufacturing goal, mass manufacturing, lean manufacturing, Industry 4.0 to his book in this free-wheeling interview with MMI. An excerpt…

Please share your views on the thought that India has a long way to go before the goal of the manufacturing sector to significantly contribute to India’s GDP is realized.

Dr. Sumantran: Nations like India started their journey after Independence with an economy that was mainly dependent upon agriculture. The planned economy in the years post-Independence saw the beginnings of institutions such as BARC, ISRO, HAL etc. and IITs, IISc, IIMs, Polytechnics etc. for capability-building. However, the prolonged period of the licence raj did our country no favor. When the economy was finally unshackled, the IT industry and service sectors proved attractive as they demanded lower capital investments and employed large workforce. Even so, the realization that the manufacturing sector needed to grow from its current level of about 15 percent of GDP to 25 percent, to gainfully employ a vast population facing an inevitable shift away from dependence on agriculture, has been articulated repeatedly. But this goal has proven elusive. We must sincerely hope that the latest ‘Make in India’ platform achieves meaningful progress towards this much-needed target. For this we need to rebuild a credible level of trust between society, government and industry. This needs to be backed by sound policies, targeted investment, and balanced management of international trade.

The principles of mass manu-facturing led to substantial productivity improvements. How can we leverage its principles in today’s scenario?

Dr. Sumantran: The principles of mass manufacturing remain very relevant today for a large number of industrial sectors. In the coming decades, manufacture of consumer goods, automobiles, solar cells, advanced storage batteries and consumer electronics will all demand that we gain proficiency with mass manufacturing. Mass manufacturing depends upon standardization of product parameters (a well-defined bill of materials), highly repeatable and controlled processes (with enablers like Six Sigma), closed loop process control, process enhancement (Kaizen) and orchestrating a resilient supply chain. Our commitment to leverage these principles must start at the top of the organization.

Indian companies are now increasingly realizing the potential of Japanese Lean Manufacturing. They are now working with tighter constraints to improve efficiency and are being successful in doing so. Your take on it?

Dr. Sumantran: Yes. Thankfully for India, our journey in Lean Manufacturing basically originated when Maruti Suzuki started its operations and developed its supply chain. Dr V Krishnamurthy, who was Chairman of Maruti at the time, was a strong believer in this approach and got Maruti and its suppliers to commit to Lean Manufacturing practices and roped in many Japanese organizations and gurus to help us accelerate on this path. As we absorb this culture, over the past three decades, we are witnessing a growing number of Indian manufacturing organizations win the coveted Deming Prize. Usually, this stems from top management defining such a goal and supporting the efforts of the organization to achieve it. I am hopeful that this culture can spread to benefit much of India’s manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing is now challenged by not just managing productivity, but also managing variety along with productivity in its operations. How do manufacturers cope with this challenge?

Dr. Sumantran: Our pursuit of variety in product development and manufacturing is motivated by trends in consumer demand. From the time of Sloan’s GM in the 1930s, when it established a staircase of products to counter Ford’s cookie-cutter monotony, customers have enjoyed expressing themselves and their individuality and/or status. Since the Millenium, we are faced with a growing demand for customization and personalization from customers. Fortunately, we have amassed many new tools and skills to deliver such variety and product complexity. The digitized development and manufacturing environments provide many of the enablers. Collaborative enterprises and distributed supply chains are easier to manage. Process innovations such as additive manufacturing can be powerful tools. And with the adoption of the principles of Industry 4.0, we can make significant further progress.


How, according to you, Industry 4.0 holds opportunities for India? Our country’s large talent pool in this domain has the potential to make significant contribution to Indian as well as global manufacturing. How much do you agree with this?

Dr. Sumantran: Industry 4.0 is based upon dealing with systems in cyber-physical space. This initiative is something India must take advantage of. Our Prime Minister has personally endorsed this statement. We may expect an explosion in the number of sensors, processors and controllers. Every product and every part of a production system will be defined not only by its physical characteristics but also the data and information that characterize it. This will imply growing dependence upon software to define the performance of systems. India’s relative disadvantage in electronics may, to some extent, be compensated by our plentiful resources to deal with software and system architecture. Mastery of the production and supply chain environment will require mastery of cyber-physical tools.

Your book, ‘Faster, Smarter, Greener’ takes a deep dive into the challenges of mobility and sustainability facing the world and its cities today. We are eager to have your expert view on our country trying to embrace complete e-mobility. How soon, according to you, should we expect this revolutionary shift?

Dr. Sumantran: The drivers of change are relentless: accelerated urbanization in India (and much of the world), and global apathy to concerns of sustainability. Like all transformations that are overdue, we need to start immediately. E-mobility is often associated with only electric vehicles (EVs); to us this is unfortunate. If we all shifted to electric cars, we would still have a major global crisis in an ever more crowded and urbanized world. We believe that we must visualize and operationalize a full portfolio (heterogeneity) of mobility options: walkways, bikes, shared-rides, car-sharing, bus rapid transit, mass-transit metros, etc. Each of these modes can be further enhanced with electrification. When these heterogeneous modes are connected both physically and digitally, powered with intelligent tools and systems, and personalized for each user based on individual priorities, we can have system that can deliver mobility that is faster, smarter and greener.

Furthermore, our research has shown that these technological solutions must be employed in an environment that benefits from sound policies and regulations.

“For us to achieve the target of increasing the manufacturing share to 25% of GDP, we need to rebuild a credible level of trust between society, government and industry. This needs to be backed by sound policies, targeted investment and a balanced management of international trade.”

Dr. V Sumantran
Celeris Technologies


Manufacturing quality and efficiency in India will rise to the level that is demanded by the leadership of the organization. We only fail when top management makes too few demands.

  Facebook   Twitter   Linkedin   Subscribe