Interfacing Industry and Academia

Sandeep Sarnobat had done a good job of organising this meet. Almost 15 speakers from industry and another 8 to 10 from academics. The start was a little slow, as we had to listen to a lot of officials from the college. It would have been interesting if we industry guys had been able to get more academic insights instead of information about the college. One positive though was that we had a lot of academics from non engineering DY Patil colleges who attended the session. A couple of hundred MoUs have been signed by DYP and industry. Would be interesting to know how many of them have led to project work or some interesting research. I think the beginning should be made with faculty, who can then co-opt students into their projects. (Managed to speak with Arvind Shaligram, who is head of innovation and R&D at Pune university. Should introduce him to Vijay Chheda’s super cap based 30 year warranty solar lamp.)

We need to restrict the number of speakers to 4. Also it should be a half day program. Students and also the industry guys were quite bored by the end of the day. One more thing that happened  because of the quickfire format was that there was not a single question that got raised by anyone in the audience. A lot of value add to the speaker happens when he gets asked questions whose answers he doesn’t know. Possibly, instead of having a huge auditorium seating, we could have had a more intimate classroom audience of 50 students and faculty members. Sandeep is planning to now split up these interactions alongside 3 verticals of healthcare, EVs and IT. So we can only invite folks who are interested in a specific vertical to attend on that day.

Was impressed with Prabhat Ranjan, the vice chancellor of newly established DY Patil International University. Is an IIT KGP engineer and PhD in nuclear fusion from Berkeley. He was a director at TIFAC, a Delhi based think tank, prior to joining DY Patil. He has been part of the founding team at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology in Gandhinagar. An interesting blog post about how he helped set up the university:

VV Palikar, director of R & D E Dighi was a speaker. Was happy to know that the lab has been involved in deploying the satellite destroyer missile launcher. Chatted up with him at lunch, and told him that my dad used to work in this establishment. He remembered him. He also remembered that my sister had done her internship at the lab. (He and Alok Mukherjee are going to retire together in a couple of years.)

Dr SN Kaul was a director of NEERI, Nagpur. Later on was principal of MIT Pune. He talked of research being driven by insights. Einstein’s insight about momentum happened when he realised that if momentum is changing, and if the velocity of light is constant, then the mass must be changing. Dr Kaul believes that any research should answer only two questions: Why and How. When Dr Kaul was young he wanted to be a doctor, but his family wanted him to be an engineer. Environmental engineering was a very good stream to integrate biology with engineering. 

There are 2 elements in the periodic table which have the ability to form an infinite range of compounds. These are the most widespread of elements in nature. Carbon and silicon. Fortunately we have chosen to go with carbon, so it’s been easy to dispose of. Wonder what would have happened if we had decided on silicon instead. He used an interesting analogy from thermodynamics about technology. In thermodynamics you have a heat source and heat sink. Today whatever man touches turns to waste. So what is happening is we are running out of sources and being swamped by sinks. He ended by sharing the principles he leads his life on: 

  • Everything is connected to everything.
  • There is no free lunch.
  • If you know nothing, leave it to nature.
  • Man is a dispersing agent.

After the academic stalwarts had spoken, it was over to industry. Pravin Kolhe is a superintendent engineer with Maharashtra’s irrigation department. He had prepared a presentation of 2 hours, which he had to finish off in 10 minutes. Maharashtra has 10% of India’s area and 10% of its population. It accounts for 15% of the GDP, at 370 billion dollars. But it has a raw deal when it comes to water. 4% of India’s water with 17% of its population. Maharashtra is served by five river basins out of which four are inter-state: Krishna, Godavari, Tapi and Narmada. These interstate basins together account for only 45% of the water. And 55% comes from a single river basin of the Konkan. So to serve the more parched areas of Maharashtra, the government has built a huge number of dams. 1800 out of India’s 5000 dams, or 36% of Indian dams, are in Maharashtra. Most of these dams are near the Sahyadris. Pravin feels that the future will see more lift irrigation schemes like Purandar, Koyna and Tembhu. The tragedy is to see expensive water from these projects used to cultivate rice in Vidarbha. Another tragedy is the amount of water drought prone Maharashtra exports to other states through sugar cultivation. The farmer likes sugarcane because the standard deviation in sugarcane prices tends to be low. Till 2004, irrigation department officials could dictate cropping to farmers based on their assessment of water and soil. Politicians have ensured that today farmers are free to take their own decisions. The department is nowadays only gathering information about cropping through drone surveys. 

Managed to catch Pravin for 5 minutes enroute to lunch and asked him about his views on river linking, which requires massive capex. The study for river linking will have to be interdisciplinary, as it is going to affect large parts of our ecosystem. Pravin’s point of view was that with global warming, the standard deviation in rainfall is going higher. Which means that you will have more areas which are prone to flooding because rainfall will happen in spurts. Dams are very vulnerable to such spurts of rains. The advantage of river basins interlinking is this excess rainfall from one location can be sent to places where it’s not raining at that point in time. 

Prakash Jagtap runs Saj Test Equipment at Mundhwa. COEP Mech batch of 1969. He believes that project work is where real learning happens. While doing his engineering, he bought a 1936 model 3 cylinder car from a scrapyard, spending 700 rupees on the purchase. Through his final two years of engineering, he ended up making it road-worthy. Interestingly out of the 76 mechanical students of 69 batch, 45 left for higher studies abroad. Prakash decided to stay back. There was no shortage of offers, but he was interested in getting into business.

Import substitution was the buzzword in the seventies. Prakash was the youngest of eight siblings. One of his elder brothers told him to visit Kirloskar Oil Engines. They were one of India’s largest producers of agri engines then. They had a requirement for engine testing. Prakash knew nothing about engine testing. So he went to the COEP library to do some research. Also ended up landing up at consulate offices to collect addresses of companies who could be interested in tie-ups. He ended up sending almost 300 letters to different countries, eventually getting almost the hundred replies. Cut to 2019. Saj is 50 years old with a 30 crore revenue. Manufactures 40 sizes of dynamometers from 4 HP to 9000 HP.

Govind Oza from Pari Automation was the next speaker. Pari Automation and Robotics started in 1990. Today they have a turnover of about Rs. 600 crores. He talked about how college interactions help their company. The idea of getting into automated car parking came from a student in a rural engineering college, who had attended his talk. Today this division contributes Rs. 125 crores to the total turnover. Pari is also into electric vehicles. They are suppliers to Ford, Detroit and PSA Citroen, France. They are assembling batteries for hybrids. They also have a technical tie-up with Nuremberg University. My suggestion for the Pari team – please redo the website: It looks quite academic to me. Tried hunting for team members, product lines – could get no information.

Purushottam Darshankar, COEP ’95 batch, works with Persistent. His team works in piloting innovative solutions to their customers. The customer defines innovation as a disruption which leads to at least a 10X, if not a 100X, change. An example he talked of was an app for Cisco, which helps their employees locate wireless routers. He mentioned buzzwords like Continuous Integration and Continuous Development and serverless architecture which I still have no clue about. Each of them possibly calls for a session on its own. Purshottoam believes that in a world of increasing automation, creativity and emotion will be the only differentiators for human jobs. 

Rajiv Narvekar works with the Tata Management Training Centre. He did his MBA and PhD from IIT Bombay’s Shailesh J Mehta School of Management. Research at the Tata group is inspired by three people:

  • Thomas Edison for his abundance and commercialisation of ideas.
  • Elon Musk for championing ideas
  • John Harrington for creating social impact with his ideas. (By the way harrington was the inventor of the water closet or the Western Toilet.)

Rajiv talked about how systems evolve towards increased ideality (functionality), where the extreme result of this evolution is the Ideal Final Result. The ideal system:

  • occupies no space,
  • has no weight,
  • requires no labor,
  • requires no maintenance,
  • delivers benefit without harm.

And is also free. He gave the example of Google. Most of us pay nothing to use Google’s services. Yet, free products only get picked up, if they have value. Unlike Microsoft, we have never had to download patches to make our Google products bug-free. And to drive home the patch-free future he talked then of hardware. Rajeev’s sister bought a Tesla in California. There was a big speed breaker near her house and the car would get scraped at the bottom every time it would go over this speed breaker. She complained to the company about this. She expected that they would ask her to get it to the garage. They didn’t. A week later, whenever she would tackle the speed breaker, the suspension would stiffen, avoiding the scraping. Tesla went on to map all the speed breakers in California and managed to provide this service for all the cars it had on the road. These are the kind of things which customers find value in. 

Bhalchandra Deshmukh of KOEL talked about what they are looking at to electrify off-highway equipment. Unlike yours truly who advised the young engineers in the audience to look at life outside of engines, Bhachandra believes that engines are not going to go out of fashion very soon. Because after all the engine is a power plant, and a battery is only a reservoir. But to paraphrase Vinay Patil, who works at GM, Talegaon. To reduce particulate matter post BS6, you will have to add urea to the exhaust gases of diesel engines. Stuff like this is expected to take up the cost from Rs. 65000 to Rs. 1.5 lacs per engine. 

Was very interesting to hear of farm sector innovation by Greaves Cotton’s Kedar Kanase. Unlike the West, Indian farmers have much smaller plots. Most can’t afford expensive tractors. Greaves got inspired by the multi-functionality of the mobile, and make a versatile modular connected Power Tiller. Starting and stopping of the tiller is possible using mobiles. Theft is a major concern area for the farmer. The Greaves tiller sends an alarm to your mobile whenever diesel levels are going down with the engine off. They are looking at data logs and data analysis to help optimise tiller operations. 

Pramod Khot works with Fiat Chrysler as head of powertrain. He talked of digitisation: which is putting information in digital form. Then he talked of Digitalization: where you use your digital information to simplify processes. And finally there is digital transformation. He gave an example of digital transformation in maintenance. Professional Maintenance Pillars are installed at Fiat Chrysler by SKF. The aim is to increase the efficiency of the machines using failure analysis techniques. To facilitate the cooperation between conductors (equipment specialists) and maintainers (maintenance people) to reach zero breakdowns. As a part of the breakdown reduction effort SKF measures spindles vibration. And play in ball screws. Fiat Chrysler is also looking at augmented reality. Maintenance personnel are given tabs, where they can go to a particular location and look at a live video feed of what is happening inside the machines. This is happening in the user’s environment in real time. Virtual reality is also being used for operator training.

Dr Rajeev Papneja works with Nasik headquartered ESDS. ESDS started off as a service provider to web hosting companies. It realised later on that the future in these services was quite bleak, so it decided to become a data center company. Today they have two data centers in India and two more outside. Rajeev did his masters at the age of 20 and then went on to do his PhD at 27. He started his career in the US, where he worked with the likes of Pfizer in their IT function. He then moved on to Ernst and Young, quitting to start off on his own. He returned to India to join ESDS. 

Rajeev has a good stage presence. He talked of digital transformation. The example he gave was Best Buy, US’ leading electronics goods retailer. Best Buy were about to go bust as it could not compete with the likes of Amazon, who did not have the overhead of brick and mortar stores. The insight came when their CEO asked the question, who will suffer most when we go bust. Consumer behavior in electronics purchase is strange. You go to stores to experience the product, but go online to purchase it. Best Buy’s closure would not affect Apple, who had their own stores all over. But Samsung would definitely be sorry to see Best Buy go. So Samsung was pitched – to open a store-in-store – a Samsung Experience Center. Samsung pays a monthly rental and also does a revenue share on the sales that they make. Having more such experience centres enabled Best Buy to cut losses, survive and then thrive. Giving an Indian example he talked of JK Tyre, who are now selling tyre services to fleet owners instead of tyres. Tyres come with sensors pre fitted. And the fleet owner has a SLA of 20 minutes for tire replacement on road. Digital transformation is not about technology it’s about business models. Technology is only an enabler. The illuminating idea is to sell light, not bulbs.

Udayan Pathak is a DGM at ERC at Tata Motors. He talked about industry 4.0. He believes that by 2045, combined machine intelligence would have outgrown human intelligence at that time. He talked about the reducing time taken for customer adoption. It took 50 years for the phone to reach 100 million users, and one month for Pokemon Go to get to a hundred million. This fast pace of change also means that the future of employment is going to change. Udayan talked of the jobs that are most likely to be going down the drain as the 4D: dull, dumb, dangerous, dirty.

One of the jobs likely to face an axe is the car driver. Replaced by a data scientist. An unequal exchange  – because thousands of drivers will probably get replaced by a single algo-meister. An autonomous vehicle is expected to generate 4 terabytes of data per day. The sources for data are going to be: Radar, Camera, Sonar, lidar and GPS. The big chunk of data will come from the camera and the lidar. Will autonomous vehicles change the way cars are made? The requirement for high strength steels in vehicles has been going up over the years. When you had an accident in the eighties, you were more worried about what happened to your vehicle than what happened to its occupants. Now the concern is less for the vehicle and more for human life. But if fewer accidents happen in autonomous vehicles, would you want to spend so much on high tensile steel?

Dinesh Adiga runs a company called Plustech, which is into paint shop equipment. It’s a 12 year old company that has crossed the hundred crore turnover mark already. It employs just 100 people. Most of the talk that he gave was about placements. The only problem was he was trying to fit in 12 years of learning into a 10 minute presentation. 

Sunand Sandurkar had come from Bentley Systems, which makes a CAD software called Microstation. Their clients are mostly managing their infrastructure through this software.  He talked about what Bentley looks for in fresh hires. One interesting thing he talked of is hobbies. The company gives more importance to non-curricular hobby projects, instead of the typical bought-out college projects. The company measures learnability by finding out if the student has enrolled for and completed at least 1 MOOC course. He feels that every student should have studied at least one economics and one programming course. 

Bentley looks at practical exposure through internships. Though then tend to frown upon any internship which lasts less than 3 months. Ideal is 6 months. Sports indicates a quality of persistence in the student. And once a student joins, the only resume building that counts is that which helps the company’s success. He expects new joinees to figure out things on their own and not act like college students. The indirect message he was giving academia is that industry is disappointed in the lack of independent thinking skills in students today. Although a lot of people join with a computer science background, but it feels that a lot of talent is going to be required in the user interaction design area.



Most research is for building CVs. True research is interdisciplinary. – SN Ghosh

Most of the queries which are sent my mail to Google are answered by algorithms. If you escalate, the call to another algorithm! 

Success is searching for a problem that only you can solve. 

Innovation in the real estate industry will be when you can find a solution which takes care of unsold inventory of real estate and the affordability that customers want.

Subhash Chandra Bose give this slogan to Indians. Tum mujhe khoon do, main tumhe azadi dunga. The new slogan is tum mujhe data do, main tumhe azadi dunga – Rajeev Papneja

The chicken or egg, what came first? Order from Amazon and find out – Rajeev Papneja

Data transformation done wrongly results in faster caterpillars not butterflies – Rajeev Papneja

The future is going to be about human stupidity. Because AI cannot do stand up comedy – Rajeev Papneja