An Address to Mechanical Engineering Students

We had two professors at IIT, Kharagpur who were the alumni of engineering college of BHU of those days. Prof. Belgaonkar was the head of mechanical engineering when I was in IIT, Kharagpur. Prof Rajendra Misra headed the production engineering and management which was the part of mechanical engineering then. Mechanical engineering was the most sought after branch in those days in the only IIT of the time. I had some colleagues too from BHU at HM. That was the reason I thought I shall visit and talk to you.

After IIT, I joined the automobile company- the pioneer of the era, and remained with it for almost 36 years. I was fortunate to know about the automobile manufacturing in totality because of our connection with the biggest in business GM and its allied companies in Germany. UK and then Japan such as Isuzu Motors. I was also exposed to Mitsubishi Motors when HM built its car plant in Chennai. I was responsible for all the new projects after a long inning in production. production engineering, and other technical services.

Auto sector went through three clear cut phases since independence. Prior to Maruti entry (1982-1983), it was a monopoly of two big business families that were manipulating between themselves and used to produce around 40,000 cars at maximum in a year. With Maruti, the monopoly gradually ended. The big reason of the success of Maruti Udyog was also its link to the first family of the country’s dynastic ruling party. Real change came after liberalization of economic policies of 90s. Many rather all global car manufacturers entered the Indian market. But the major historic decision for the sector came from Tatas to enter passenger car market and its remarkable success with Indica. Today the country manufactures about a billion plus cars.

What does the car manufacturing mean? Very simply, it consists of assembly and testing of cars on scale varying from few thousands to a lac or more a year. Naturally the entry cars such as Maruti 800, Indica or Santro with annual production of more than 1,00,000 are having higher in-house manufacturing using large scale production techniques. For low volume, the manufacturers prefer to import from the parent plants and only fabricate, paint and assemble.

Car manufacturing comprises two clear group of components- power train and body.

The power trains are mainly mechanical parts, where major components such as cylinder blocks and heads for engines and housings for transmissions are manufactured in house and the rest such as filters, pumps are procured from local or foreign vendors. Many automakers for large scale production models manufacture the parts, assemble and test the power train units in house. But some, where the volume is low still import or buy from local suppliers.

Car body constitutes of sheet metal panels requiring stampings. Car body is fabricated and finished in various shops – body weld shop, painting facilities, car assembly and testing areas.

In every area of manufacturing, many specialized improvement of technologies have contributed to make the facilities flexible to accommodate the changes required. Perhaps Toyota is a single company that has contributed the maximum in perfecting the tools and techniques used in most efficient car manufacturing today.

Mechanical engineers today have a great scope with auto sector- both OEMs as well as component manufacturers. Alluring areas may be design and development, and production engineering and other industrial engineering services. And with thrust on manufacturing to compete with China and for its capability to create large scale employment, auto sector is growing pretty fast. By 2015, perhaps India will be building 3 million cars.

But all are expected out of the engineering colleges and institutes? All top institutes are trying to build a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation among its students and their success in these areas are the measure of their maturity and excellence. IITs have now incubators with assistance from the venture capitalists who are eagerly looking to the younger generation to come out with ideas that can be backed financially. ISB has Wadhwani Centre for Entrepreneurial Development (WCED) to teach entrepreneurship. ISB is unique as a majority of the students are already with five to six years of managerial experience. Similar centers are getting initiated at other IIMs, IITs, and other institutes of excellence too. As reported, more and more students are going for their own enterprises rather than joining a global company with hefty paypackets.

Interest in innovation must be key of any specialized knowledge and learning. It should rather form part of the national character. The basics for innovative outlook must be known to all- from the first-line-worker to the CEO and that can only improve the product and processes, including services. Innovations mean needs to save time, reduce cost, things faster, make things easier to use, improve safety and reliability, and lessen impact on the environment. Is it not the responsibility of all involved in any task that he is assigned to, be he a housewife or prime minister to innovate for better products and processes?

Today, for all aspiring engineers, there are huge potentials.
It is not only Mittal and Son, it is Jaspal Sandhu too.

Good Communication Matters, but not taught.

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