Q & A
President Sales & COO – Asia-Pacific, Tata Technologies Limited
Interview by: Anirudh Raheja
Q. Tata Technologies is associated with Tata T1 truck racing. How is it helping the company?
A. There was complete disbelief when we got a call initially. This, despite us being an quintessential part of the Prima truck development at Jamshedpur, and in Korea. The positioning element was clear. Tata Motors wanted to position it (the truck) as a unique technology driven product in the market. There was also a need for a strong social angle. Trucking in India is looked down upon. The need was to change this perception. It was also about showcasing truck racing from a current and futuristic technology point of view. At Tata Technologies we saw a strong reason to drive improvements in the truck. Our focus on three markets – automotive (PV and CV), aerospace and Industrial Heavy Machinery (IHM), gave us a reason to drive technological advancements for different applications. We were clear about being associated with this project. It was in the third year that a question arose: How much more exciting and different can this get? The social angle, brewing in the background, was brought in, and not as a chance. A full fledged process of bringing the drivers up to racing standards made for much learning. We brought those elements into our courses in India. We are looking at them to provide a better means to train engineers; to make better vehicles, and to operate them successfully.
Q. What role is Tata Technologies playing in the CV space?
A. Our association with trucking in not only limited to product development, it also involves fabrication, painting, and other tasks. We simulated a line that is ergonomically designed; it is a result of much pre-work. In the case of the 1000 hp race Prima, CAE application was used. Simulation is pervasively involved in the early thinking stages, and all the way through to testing and validation. It helps to understand how different things put together will fare. Dynamic simulation, static simulation, ride and handling simulation, crash simulation, NVH simulation, and durability simulation is carried out. There is the ‘connected’ part with the use of different materials. The suspension system of the 1000 hp Prima race truck is connected to the LCD screen in the cockpit. We were involved in activities like the water jets; the temperature at which they will work. They are linked through sensors. Simulation is necessary for mechanical as well as the electronic side of it. It is also required for testing. For automobile companies to dominate the market, it is necessary to take down competitor vehicles; tear them down, and run them on the test track to understand the dynamics. We partner to simulate and understand how the product being conceived should be positioned in the market, and at what cost. Also, how it should be positioned. We partner to understand how a product should be developed from the pre-concept stage so that the price is right. We talk to suppliers, negotiate with them for the OEM. The early concept prototype that is built should come out at the right ball-park. We do talking through to New Product Introduction (NPI) and production. We are involved throughout the cycle – from the concept stage to the grave. We also help dealer management; capture data and feed it to the engineers. It is not just about concept-to-market, but also about concept to aftermarket. The insight obtained is ploughed back into the development cycle.
Q. Isn’t the work you do overlap with some Tata Group companies?
A. There are areas of overlap, but there are many more areas where we complement each other. If you look at an auto OEM, there are a lot of things that need to be done, including infrastructure management. We are very strong in that space. We have grown overtime in engineering. We were born and brought into the market to help companies engineer a product and provide technology enabling services around it. We have found a good balance while working with OEMs like Chrysler and JLR.
Q. So, you are a software and a hardware company?
A. I would say that we are a product-centric services company. This is good because it makes us good at networking and hardware management. We know how the whole thing works. A company specialising in software may make great automation software, we are about application of technology for building a product.
Q. You are neither a supplier nor an OEM. What makes you an associate of the CV industry?
A. We call our engineers PFLE (Passionate Fun Loving Engineers). There is a lot of innovation that can be attained, and when challenged by the problems faced. Simple things like noise and vibration can pose a challenge. A certain level of noise and vibration is just not acceptable in passenger cars; not in India either. When a minor or major innovation can help to deal with the challenge, there is a reason to be excited. It can be patented, and helps to get involved with an OEM. It can be used across different industries. Since we operate in different manufacturing environments, the lessons we have learned in one industry can be applied to other industries. The lessons that we learned in the digital factory, we are now using in the aerospace industry. It is exciting that such learnings can contribute to product improvement.
Q. Technologies like block chain and telematics are drawing attention. How do you look at them?
A. The involvement of suppliers in product development often starts at a later stage. The involvement of core suppliers in the development of a new product should start early. This would help to keep cost, weight and performance targets from becoming unpredictable. While technology is driving the sub aggregates, the big question that arises is, how early can they get involved. There is a need to have strategic suppliers. At the time of negotiation, 90 per cent of the concept is already in mind, and frozen. They (suppliers) are in no position to influence. It is therefore necessary to build a process that bridges the gap and brings them (suppliers) early into the equation. This would enable work through cloud of options to facilitate a product that is priced right.
Q. Amid the changes experienced by the CV industry, what role is Tata Technologies keen to play?
A. We were taken seriously when we made an impact outside. We did connected architecture for a brand new EV coming out in the Chinese market. Tata Motors was surprised. Our acceptability is growing. For the new norms, on the product development side, we looked at packaging, at cooling systems, and how everything will change when new engines are incorporated. Running analytics is important. It will provide valuable insights. Consultants can provide data regarding OEMs, and their supply chain, They can tell about vehicle performance in geographic terms. Not just for Tata but also for others. Mobile Apps. are coming in. They are finding their way into factories as well. The whole process of integrating the vehicle in a factory can be sequenced far better. Better inventory management can be achieved. Digitisation of manufacturing place is what we want to excel in. We understand how things should be sequenced such that they fall in place; are right. We are not going to be just a service provider but also run in the field, and beyond.
Q. As a home grown MNC, how do you seek a balance between domestic and international business?
A. We spend a lot of time on engineering outsourcing. We work with our clients to improve the product. This calls for an amount of balanced on-site and off-shore capability. The need for on-site presence could be as much as 70 per cent. Off-shore capability may call for much local engineering. Of the US $ 430 million revenue, almost US $ 150 million came from Europe, riding JLR primarily. In US, Chrysler and Caterpillar are our big clients. In India, we are in talks with new auto companies.
Q. Many companies are looking at India for off-shore activities. Is it because of the frugal engineering abilities?
A. I would say it (frugal engineering) is injected into our value proposition. May it be us, or Magna Styer, for example, we both can offer what is needed at a cost. Only our cost is much more balanced. We have a lot of engineers working together. They are in India, Romania, Thailand, and at other locations. Western engineers provide you a proposition in terms of product development and enabled engineering at a cost point that is higher. Having done scores of vehicles to build a database, we are ready to work on vehicles.
Q. How intensive is the business model. The amount of risks involved?
A. We got an opportunity to work with western OEMs; to benchmark with them, when we worked on the Nano project. It was then that we realised, it was a great way of starting an engagement. We thought about building our own lab. It is investment intensive. It is however necessary to understand that it works as a differentiation for us in the manufacturing world.
Q. Driverless vehicles are drawing attention. Is Tata Technologies playing a role?
A. We have been involved with technology companies in California where they are trying and testing driverless vehicles. In the space that we are in, the relevance of driverless vehicles is not as much as it is for driver assistance. We recently set up an innovation lab in California. The idea is to engage with technology companies, which will give us those insights. We are also working with companies that have to comply with EuroVI emission standards. To that end, we are already training our people. We are making them understand what they would be up to. We have a specialist organisation in Romania that focuses on powetrains and engines. We have had the opportunity to work with customers that wanted to progress to EuroVI. We co-invest with our customers; understand their current capabilities. We take what they have, put in our own talent, and help them frugally develop a product that is compliant. The lessons we learn, enrich our ability to develop frugally engineered products.
Q. Do you conduct tear down analysis in India?
A. We derive a cost advantage by doing tear down analysis in India. We set up a center at Pune, and since most of our customers wanted to see the operations happening in front of them. It would have been far more expensive to carry out the same in western countries. Even if it is a high end vehicle, we can bring it here, and tear it down. We are already doing it for multiple OEMs.
Q. How much of your business comes from CV segment?
A. Nearly 65 per cent of our business comes from automotive. Add 10 per cent for IHM. About 30-40 per cent of this total is from the commercial side. About 45 per cent of our R&D spend is on automobiles. Apart from our Pune centre, we have a center at Romania and Thailand. Through Land Rover we have got a fairly big team of highly specialised people involved in light weighting at Coventry. We also have a centre in Detroit, which is smaller and does work for dashboard and interiors. We also have one in China, We will go to Chennai this year. Our growth rate would be more than 10- to 15 per cent.
Q. CVs are modernising. What opportunity does Tata Technologies see in them?
A. A lot of our competitors have built software for connectivity, for embedded electronics, and do it on a mass scale. It is not that we don’t want to do it, where we are involved is in the area of connected architecture. It is about talking to the central servers by the means of telematics and service providers. Through NASSCOM we want to play a role in the IoT standards. The IoT devices that are coming up, have not been tested for human safety. There are no mandated standards as yet. We want to be involved in the setting up of those standards. Safety is quintessential in everything we do. It is a part of our sustainability criteria. We are trying to develop a network of companies that will help define those standards. I have an IoT lead section that works with NASSCOM COE.
Q. How long will it take and how it will effect automobiles?
A. When you talk about standards, there are standards available in the European market which are stringent. They are however closed. There is a need to connect with them. Standards are needed in India too. How long it will take is an interesting question. It is an ongoing process. We are working with the government in each country that we are present in. Ultimately our proposition is to apply technologies. We also connect with construction equipment companies and work with them in setting new standards for safety.
“We are involved throughout the cycle – from the concept stage to the grave.”
We were born and brought into the market to help companies engineer a product and provide technology enabling services around it.
We are about application of technology for building the product.