India Shining Silently!

Among the political upheavals, hyperbole things are changing in India, slowly but surely. There was a political slogan, India Shining,” sometime back. But India is silently shining. The surprising part is that the change is happening on the Engineering side of life. The engineering feats are not sexy like IT, where smart men and ladies market their achievements.  

I read a couple of news items today. I found them very interesting for a different reason. One of the articles was about railways, and the other was about DRDO. 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/indian-railways-piyush-goyal-premium-trains-rajdhani-shtabadi-5796304/ 

I will talk about the railways one first. When we speak of railways, we visualise historical systems, dirty platforms, and bogeys. In general, we get to remember inefficiency everywhere. But this article shares details about how a 20-year-old problem was resolved by Railway Engineering arm. The problem was about LHB coaches which were put into service; these were imported from Germany. There was a problem of coaches shaking, giving jolts while braking or at a higher speed. Railway team found a solution locally. There were about five thousand coaches involved. They replaced the Center Buffer Couplers with new design couplers. They also found that the usual braking method also caused these jolts. Hence they asked the drivers to use regenerative/dynamic braking system when speeds were above 30 Km/hr. With a combination of these two, jumping teacups and jolts have become history. There were 5000 such coaches, but with proper project management, the work on all of them was completed in two years. These stories don’t come out with fancy celebrations; these projects were done as part of routine practice. Great story to make everyone proud. 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-israel-spike-anti-tank-missiles-drdo-5796306/ 

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The news above is another silent development of a highly complex military requirement of anti-tank missiles. Initially, the order was placed with Israel, who had a fierce competition with the US. This order was placed in 2014 for 351 launching systems and 8000 plus missiles worth US $ 500/ millions. Indian organisation DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organisation) was also in the process of developing the missiles locally. After successful second stage testing at Ahmednagar, the government decided to cancel the contract with Israel and go ahead with DRDO under Make In India initiative. These weapons are highly sophisticated and use infrared technology which has been proven during testing in hightemperature regions of Rajasthan deserts. No fanfare, the sheer hard work is the key to such success stories. Again this is the story of excellent project management where DRDO will deliver all the systems by 2021 as per requirements of the army! Kudos to DRDO. 

At the end of the second world war, Japan and Germany had lost, and many of their factories and cities were destroyed. All the treaties that were signed ensured that they would not resurrect rapidly. But somehow these nations rose literally from ashes like the Phoenix bird! All this was achieved due to the dedication, will power to excel and love for the nation.  

India, as we know today, became one nation for the first time at the time of independence. With the diversity of people, religions, languages, cultures, it was like Europe or much more complicated. Getting people together itself has been the greatest achievement of the last century, though we do not realise this. India has another significant problem. Our diverse culture has been very mature and has an old history of thousands of years. So, specific thoughts and beliefs are ingrained very firmly in our minds. We take time to change. Added to this was the large population. That India has survived and prospered is a miracle by itself.  

Slowly, we have started to learn to keep the diversity at home and now work together with professional pride as a single proud nation. Reading the above stories gives great hope to me about our great nation and people.  

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The viaduct of Pune Metro!

There are many such stories which are known to us, and we have started taking things for granted. Metro railway is an institution built singlehandedly by the doyen of this technology E Sridharan. He was also instrumental in developing the Konkan railway system. The system was one of the most stringent projects to build because of the tricky mountainous terrain. What Sridharan did was a technological marvel, management marvel. All the projects handled by him were always completed on time.

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Konkan Railway Bridge on the river Panval

My classmate Shashikant Limaye was the chief engineer for bridges on the Konkan Railway project. Shown above is the bridge designed by him on the river Panval (Yes it is supposedly near my native place Panval, where I have never been!). This bridge is 80 meters high from the ground level. It is considered a significant technical achievement in the project. How do people like Sridharan achieve such things? Looking into the smallest of the details has ensured everything works like clockwork on these projects. There is an exciting story about Sridharan. As the Metro lines started becoming operational in Delhi, he would visit different sectors every day to begin his work. Where he would go was not known to anyone. As he entered the station, he would bend and check if there was dust on staircases and escalators by wiping with his hand. What was the result of this dedication? Delhi, Jaipur, Kochi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Hyderabad, Lucknow are all having Metro lines or are in the process of installation. All projects have always been completed on time.  

These projects have proven that in India, we can do worldclass technical work and have excellent project management abilities. In the example of bogeys, do not forget that these bogeys were not in one place but spread all over India. The work was completed without hampering the regular services.  

We have been doing great things in Technology. ISRO has already proven that it is India’s showcase worldclass organisation. It competes and beats others from the world in quality, performance and equally importantly, costs! 

On the business side Reliance has done a fantastic job of creating world-class large business; they have proven the same again in their Jio venture too!

But somehow we are not able to go up the value chain in other areas where we can do it. I am talking about the IT industry. They started doing well in ’90 s of the last century with Y2K! They started making big money and started getting large service contracts. Such contracts led to making even more money. In 20 years, these companies became very large, and have so much money that they did not know what to do with that money. Recently they started buying back their own shares from the market. The buyback indicated that they had no plans for developing new skills and gaining expertise in more modern areas. They have still not shown the willingness to go up the value chain. They have the people, the money but lack the will! I sincerely hope that these companies invest some money, human resources, and efforts in creating world-class products! Don’t just become Billionaires; become proud owners of great products!  

 

 

 

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EV Conundrum!

 

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I am back to my favourite topic, Electric Vehicles or EV! A couple of days back there was a meeting called by NITI Ayog to discuss and decide EV policy for two-wheelers, in India. I am going to write only about the Indian scenario. My observation is that the electric four-vehicle of similar specification as the IC engine costs almost double the price. Plus per charge range of these vehicles is about 110 km. The specs are not good enough for the car to be used for out of station travel. With these limitations, it is going to be challenging to sell such vehicles. But in two-wheelers, I have observed that the price of EV’s is comparable with IC engine version. Distance travelled using two-wheelers is much less compared to four-wheelers. In India, parking two-wheelers at home is manageable compared to four-wheelers.

There are many angles to this issues. First and foremost is the fuel. With limited petroleum product reserves, there is bound to be a tough situation for the whole world if no action is taken, we will have difficulties. Add to this a new dimension; the US has threatened India to stop buying oil from Iran or else! If the US is so much worried about the whole world vis a vis Iran, then they should sell Oil to India at the same price as sold by Iran and that too in Rupees! But the US can get away with anything in diplomacy.

Petroleum product based fuels are adding to pollution is a known fact. The whole world is trying to reduce pollution by tightening the pollution norms, but apparently, there are limitations of investments to achieve the goals. Again the US has opted out of the body which is trying to track pollution world over. Again, it is the act of a bully.

All the nations are trying to reduce pollution in their cities and India is also trying its best. NITI Ayog meeting was held for the same purpose. Four-wheelers are still miles away from reaching the balance between the price targets and the cost. As four-wheelers will be expensive, their sales will not match current sales volumes at a price expected today. The second most crucial aspect in India is the challenge of charging the car batteries. Majority of the cars in India are parked in public places. Many of them are parked on roads and streets. How to provide a facility to charge batteries for such vehicles? Do we provide charging points on roads like we have parking meters? I don’t think that is a practical way of doing it. Another issue is that fast charging techniques are coming up but are still not good enough. With such limitations, NITI Ayog is trying to put pressure on the two-wheeler segment.

As already discussed, EV’s in this segment will have a comparable price, and because of lesser parking issues, charging the batteries using home electrical outlets may be possible. Charging is manageable; costs are manageable, and the number of these vehicles produced is very high. The number of two and three-wheelers manufactured in the latest financial year is 30 million plus. Total of fuel used by these vehicles is massive.  If totally converted to EVs, there can be a significant impact on pollution.

There are two groups in this segment. First and the main is the group of established manufacturers like Honda, Hero and Bajaj. They are already developing EVs. The second segment is the startups who are in the process of developing EVs. They have no hangups and are trying to support the government. But the established ones have the issue of scaling up. NITI Ayog is insisting that by 2025, majority two-wheelers manufactured should be EV’s. The Giants have a vast experience in manufacturing and can visualise or foresee the issues. Startups really don’t have manufacturing expertise and experience. They probably do not understand the meaning of manufacturing 2.5 million vehicles a month.

Now here is a complicated situation. Established manufacturers have to keep on producing IC Engine vehicles and ramp up EV production. Tremendous efforts and money will be needed. Startups may know the EV technology but do not have the wherewithal to manufacture one hundred thousand vehicles a month. Selling these numbers without the right experience is going to be very tough. What about funding? They are solely dependent on financing by VCs. Today I read an article about VCs trying to go away from electric vehicle manufacturers, in China, as there are too many variables. These startups will never get bank funding. Don’t forget that even Tesla is still a VC funded company! They are already facing production bottlenecks, and their sales are going down!

Will Lithium producers make a cartel like the petroleum cartel? It is a million dollar question. India does not have Lithium reserves, but China has done brilliantly. They have taken controlling shares in many mines across the globe. Till foreseeable future, it looks like the Lithium, and to some extent, Cobalt is going to be the key elements. Their control will be the key to success.

https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/india-lithium-ion-battery-market

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The cost of the battery pack was the US $1000/ kW-hr in 2010. In the year 2016, it came down $273. At this rate, the EV’s will become affordable over a period. By 2020 it is expected to be sub $200/. By 2026 the price is projected to be $100/. But till that time it is going to be a tricky question about change over. Those who can afford will buy the EV’s, but the mass production models will take some time to become affordable. In the countries, where parking of cars is an issue, it is difficult to predict what the solution will be.

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One pertinent point discussed by NITI Ayog was that if the pollution goes out of hand, then the courts will intervene. Once that happens then, the discussion will be between manufacturers and the courts. NITI Ayog suggested that some policy decisions need to be taken while interested parties are involved in the debate; it will enable both sides to come to an excellent resolution.

It is more of a chicken and egg situation. It is known that EVs are good for pollution management. On one side, nobody even knows which startups will even survive five years hence. Hence there is no point in putting your money on them. But the existing giants have their issues. They need to run their current business, which has its unique problems. They have to simultaneously scale down and scale up for old and new business. Hence they have shown their apprehension with the year 2025. How will they come out of this conundrum is anybody’s guess.

Are Electric buses the real solution for pollution control and to take people away from personal vehicles?

Emergency, Emergency!

Some of you may consider this as the second part of my blog 996 or else! Possible, but it is a comment on modern working methods not restricted to any specific field.

https://panvalkarpramod.wordpress.com/2019/04/30/996-or-else/

I read an article about school teachers in the UK. With WA groups and email, parents of the children started getting in touch with them regularly and expected an instant reply from teachers.  The late response caused anger in parents and anxiety in teachers. Teachers perform many more activities other than teaching in the class. They set exam papers; they correct the answer sheets. They check essays and have some administrative work too! They have a personal life like you and me! On top of this modern communications have created such pressure in some teachers in that particular school, that some of them wanted to resign and some protested strongly to the management. A parent finds time to communicate at 10.30 pm and expects a reply immediately.

I will tell you about the procedure followed in my granddaughter Rhea’s school. They do not allow the parents to communicate with teachers at all either by meeting or by electronic communication. They have a group of administrators who are available to meet the parents. Parents can meet them, and in most cases, problems get resolved at administrator level itself. Parents can have one meeting with teachers once every term and group meeting every quarter. I was delighted to see that at the end of lower KG this year, Rhea was analysed for twenty different personality points with details. They have a WA group for parents where circulars etc. are sent. Half the parents have no time even to read these circulars.

The same thing happens in other professions. Colleagues send you an email at 6 a.m. and expect a reply asap. WA has made matters even worse! You also know whether your message is read or not. One tends to read the boss’s note right away. But is it right?

First and foremost, there is a need to create a set of WA etiquettes. Secondly, every organisation should give a rethink and decide policies based on previous experience! What did they all do when modern methods were not available? Emergencies were handled even in those days. Years back in Jaya’s office a mainframe computer was being installed. Nobody had previous experience in this field. A call came from her office at 1.30 am, and Jaya mumbled some reply on a minor issue. Next day Jaya and I talked about this while having our morning cuppa! I told her that there would be a call again tonight but let me handle it. When the call came at 2.30 am, I, said, “Please make calls at night only when the fire alarm goes off.” No calls came ever again.

But then some people want to keep and show their importance to the organisation. I know of a guy who got married in the ’80s of the last century. Before marriage, his director called him and said, “Please, don’t travel out of Pune for Honeymoon; we will sponsor your stay in a five-star hotel, in Pune.” The guy did not travel. Later in his life, I have seen people calling him to find out if the knob on a panel is to be turned clockwise or anticlockwise!

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Are things moving in the right direction? As usual, the answer is Yes and No. Every few minutes some hot shot guy is born and wants to change the world yesterday! He goes into midnight email mode. The credit for starting this trend or you may say discredit, should go to Blackberry phone. Blackberry was the first cell phone which brought professional emails on the phone smoothly. Blackberry became a status symbol! People in those days would not say, let me check the mail. They would say, “Let me check my Blackberry!”

I won’t go into details of how email usage on cell phones has become routine, but now this usage is pretty standard. There is some discussion going on about rules and regulations that need to be followed. Unless some infrastructure is created and an attempt is made, things will not change. Some companies are doing their bit, and others are not doing anything. But it is not about the organised sector, but also in the unorganised sector, the change in thinking has to take place.

I will share an anecdote from very early days of email, about limitations of the fundamental knowledge of the systems, about usage, etiquettes. In a large organisation, people would mark a cc to many people. All the emails were replied as “reply all”. The storage made available to individuals was meagre. When I was talking to a friend, he said that his capacity is full every two hours. He did not do anything, no more emails for some time! Nobody had told people how to use email, as the IT people’s knowledge was also limited.

Even today, in the corporate email setups, there is a lot of limitation about storage etc. People when in difficulty, ask for details on personal emails and then download them! Now people have enough technical prowess; systems have understood limitations and discrepancies. But it is the management team that does not form policies where even during “out of office hours time,” communication goes on. It is simple. The system can always “not allow” communication beyond certain times. People should be given “right not to reply” after office hours! Same rules should be made to be rigorously applied for WA and telephonic communications. As usual, these things need to start from the top! There is a saying in the corporate world. If the chairman of the company asks about some delay in a project, the last guy in the value chain gets threatened of losing his job!

A good beginning is already made. France has passed a law, a couple of years back, on the right to disconnect after office hours. Daimler and Volkswagen have a facility where emails sent to employees on holidays get auto-deleted so that after coming back to work employees do not face a flooded email box. Our NCP MP Supriya Sule has introduced the “Right to disconnect” bill in Loksabha. In a small way, attempts are being made to make life easier.

But what about small sectors, professional individuals in business? Doctors get a call from patients at an inconvenient time, and people are upset when they do not respond. It is ok in an emergency but what is an emergency? A good idea would be to send the doctor a message. (They do check messages as all of us do, and respond when needed. They do not return if they are in Bali on holiday) They will decide and act if they feel it is an emergency. I am also told that these same patients do not call doctors if they are getting late for an appointment.

Every work, every profession has its standard timings for doing work. Each individual fixes his/her schedule based on the requirements for personal and social activities. Availability of technology does not mean that the communications channels should be used in “the personal timing” of any individual. Do you call your grocer at 10 pm? Do we call our milk vendor at 9 pm? Yes, I know of someone who went to wine sellers’ home on a dry day!emrgency1 No, I don’t think so. Why? Because in the case of these service providers there is no emergency! Thank god!

 

996 or else!

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You must be wondering if I am going to start writing blogs in the digital language of 010101. Don’t worry; I am not doing it! But what is this 996? Chinese companies now expect their employees to work from 9 to 9, all six days of the week! For workaholics that sounds like great news. But 996 workaholics, by choice, are rare. People do work longer hours. But can that be the reason enough to work 996, all the time? I don’t think so. No sane person can follow that schedule. If you work 9 to 9, all six days of the week, where do have time for family life, time for personal chores? Time for enjoyment and time for quick picnics. Spending time with spouse and children on the seventh day is out of the question because it is likely, that one will sleep it out on the seventh day! Below is the status of 996 people on Sunday!

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How has this come up? Competition? Dictatorship? Fear of losing the job? Unrealistic goals? Or probably it is a combination of all the factors. Add to this, for international companies, with headquarters in America, and offices in Germany, Israel, India and China. Working with colleagues in different continents can play havoc on the lives of the people. In any organisation, the work is done by different teams in collaboration with each other. Hence there is a need for telephonic meetings regularly. But does it mean that 996 should be the norm? How longer hours will complete the complex jobs shown below, more efficiently?

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Jack Ma, the big boss of the Chinese company Alibaba, says, “The 996 schedule – which means working 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week – is “a huge blessing that many companies and employees do not have the opportunity to have.” He further says that if you don’t work this way when you are young, when are you going to work hard? The question comes to mind what the definition of young is In a group of 100 people if 80 members are young and 20 are not so young, then can you have different timings for young and the not so young? He also feels that such a work regime has allowed Alibaba to become a giant on the world stage.

Why do we work? To win our bread and butter, to learn new things, to go ahead in our careers. How many of us are bothered about the last aspect? The main thing is to achieve, is to steadily get our bread and butter, to pay our bills on time. Educate the children and pass life peacefully. Not everybody is looking to become highly successful in life. Would such people be interested in 996? Would they be able to sustain 996?

I remember about a young engineering graduate who was in the US for his master’s degree, for a couple of years. He joined a company in Pune, where the atmosphere was not 996 but hectic. It was a group of smart engineers working to do some great technical work. Three months later, he went and met his boss and said, “I cannot work with such a smart group of people; probably this is not my taking.” Later he started playing bridge and made his career as a professional bridge player!

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Is 996 feasible in the long term? I don’t think so. There is murmur going on, “family or ICU?” The 996 types of lifestyles are bound to create issues — even our 9 to 6, five days a week lifestyle is against the fundamental requirement of the human body. Before the industrial revolution, our lifestyle was based on nature. Sunrise and Sunset would decide the daily routine. 9 to 6, five days a week lifestyle also involves travel, business dinners and late meetings. So even this lifestyle is hectic. What made Jack Ma think that 996 is sustainable in the long term, I would not know.

Following two paragraphs are taken from a webpage

https://hub.packtpub.com/developers-lives-matter-chinese-developers-protest-over-the-996-work-schedule-on-github/

Working long hours at a company, devoid of any work-life balance, is rife in China’s tech industry. Earlier this week on Tuesday, a Github user with the name “996icu” created a webpage that he shared on GitHub, to protest against the “996” work culture in Chinese tech companies.

The 99icu webpage mentions the Labor Law of the People’s Republic of China, according to which, an employer can ask its employees to work long hours due to needs of production or businesses. But, the work time to be prolonged should not exceed 36 hours a week. Also, as per the Labor Law, employees following the “996” work schedule should be paid 2.275 times of their base salary. However, this is not the case in reality, and Chinese employees following the 996 work rule rarely get paid that much.

These two paragraphs indicate what is happening at the ground level. Can the developers come together and fight the system? I doubt, and it may not be possible even in the US as well as in India. But probably breaking laws in China appears to be blatant. Companies are getting away without being prosecuted by the authorities. The latest information says that 996 will be replaced by 10107! Ten AM to 10 PM seven days a week.

I understand the aspect of profitability in business. But will 996 achieve those numbers? It is evident that people are continuing this out of fear, and also because of no immediate options available. Years back I had met one engineer from Wipro on a flight. He said that his job was quite laid back, but every day he felt like changing his job. After office, he took 2 to 3 ½ hours to reach home. In 996 and 10107 the commute time is not even considered. I read on the website that someone changed residence and moved into not a very decent home, to reduce commute time.

Many companies are not into 996 or 10107, yet. But the number of hours put in plus the commute time makes it terrible. If both husband and wife are working, then the practical solution will be to look for jobs in areas nearby and move residence near the workplace. I know of a couple whose total daily commute time is six hours daily, minimum. One of them has a health issue and is required to exercise daily. But this is not possible due to commute time.

The Chinese colloquial term for a developer is “码农. Its literal English translation is “code peasants” — not the most flattering or respectful way to call software engineers. I call them white-collar workers on the lines of blue-collar workers. Mr Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra group, had tweeted, “I feel as if I am a businessman from Dinosaur times.” He made this comment after he read a statement by Uber CEO that Uber will never become profitable! I have a run very small business all these years; I am also surprised that Amazon has never made any profits, ever! I am told that these are 996 companies!

Mr Naraynamurthy of Infosys had sent an email to all Infosys employees to make sure that they leave office on time. But his instructions have never been followed in the spirit! I have discussed with people working in larger companies, especially the coders. All of them have said that they can concentrate on their job for not more two hours at a time. If 996 culture is followed how much will be the real productivity is anybody’s guess.

996? 10107? To me, none of these makes sense but what is the option? We had apartheid! We had slavery! The only difference is that compensations are high in the new bondage! Hopefully, there will be an organised movement against these systems, so let us wait and see, fingers crossed!

End of the road for Diesel cars!

Maruti Suzuki declared today that they would not manufacture cars with diesel engines starting from 1st April 2020! That is the day on which BS 6 norms for pollution will be implemented in India. This time the government is very stringent, and it is declared that from this date, only the cars BS 6 norms will be registered. Forget the selling; there will be no registration of cars other than BS 6! It is a great thing that the government means business, now!

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But is this the beginning of the tumultuous scenario in the automobile domain? Is it a mini tsunami? Has this statement started indicating the way things would happen in the auto industry? All these years life was much more straightforward; introduce a new model, play around a bit with the price and periodically change pollution norms when government forces you. The smooth ride was the norm! But a statement by Maruti says that the cost of development of BS 6 compliant diesel engine and the cost of making the BS 6 engine will be so high that in the small car segment, customers may not be able to afford them. Currently, the price difference between petrol and diesel model of a car is around Rs. One Lac. They feel that this difference could be Rs.2/ lacs for BS 6 cars ( ten lacs is a Million). On a vehicle costing Rs. 5 to 6 lacs, difference of two lacs will be too much, and customers may not be able to afford these cars. For cars/SUV’s costing Rs.10/ lacs and above, though the difference will be similar, % increase would not be high. How this sector will perform from next financial year needs to be watched. For SUV (both mini/standard) good news is Maruti Brezza will not be sold; hence manufacturers will rush to pick up the market share up for grabs. Maruti, however, has left the option open for 1.5 L diesel engine cars, used in Brezza.

Diesel engine cost issue due to BS 6, was expected. Volvo has already declared that they will stop making diesel cars when the norms change from Euro 6 to Euro 7, because of the cost of development and the price of the vehicle. Compared to trucks, the number of cars sold is much higher hence a smaller number of diesel cars will be better from the pollution angle.

Why did people use small cars with diesel engines? The lower price of diesel was the main reason. These cars cost approximately Rs. One lacs, plus plus, more than petrol cars. If the usage of vehicles was not enough, then owning such a car was not cost effective. On top of this, diesel engines have periodic mandatory maintenance cost which petrol cars don’t have. In many cases, it was not viable to own a diesel engine car.

With the imminent entry of Electric Vehicles in large numbers, the market is expected to be shaken further. In the late ’90s of the last century, Toyota came up with Prius, their first Hybrid car. (For those new to this subject, a hybrid car is one which runs on petrol and battery combination; each manufacturer has its own combination of the technology) It was expected that Hybrid would be the future and Toyota was expected to be the leaders. Yes, they are still the leaders in Hybrids. But a maverick called Elon Musk decided to plunge into EV’s. General Motors had manufactured around 500 EV’s at the beginning of this century, but then what happened? Petroleum lobby made sure that this initiative was killed. A few years later GM scrapped the vehicles.

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Combination of Tesla’s efforts, cheaper battery sets (hopefully!) at some stage, fast charging technology are pushing humans towards EV’s. Range per charge still remains the primary concern. Add to this reduction in the price of solar systems is making cheaper fuel for the EV, the Electricity. Now, what is adding to making it more difficult for petroleum products further, are the pollution norms for diesel cars?

What will be the future of diesel engines in the car segment? In India, the overall car segment is under pressure. In the last financial year, four lac more old cars were sold than the number of new cars that were sold. It looks like more small vehicles are being sold in II and III tier cities. Will Maruti’s prediction about diesel engine cars affect thinking by other car manufacturers? Will they also go away from diesel engine cars? Only time will tell.

The current financial year is going to be very tricky for car manufacturers. Let me explain what is involved, as the last date on which the BS IV car will be allowed to be registered. That date is 31/3/2020. To achieve this target, they will have to attempt and sell BS VI models from 1/1/2020. To meet this date, they will be required to push in BS VI vehicles from 1/10/2019. During this transition period, there will be tricky scenarios. BS IV cars will be produced less and less, but customers may want to buy them, as these will be cheaper than BS VI models. There is a possibility that in certain areas there will be customers and no cars; in other areas, there will be cars but no customers. All unsold BS IV cars will have to be sent back to manufacturers for conversion to BS VI at a considerable cost. Predicting requirement from 1/10/2019 to 31/3/2020 is going to be a nightmare for sales teams and along with them the dealers. The trend of lower sales is going to add to the difficulties further.

Will everything be hunky dory after 1/4/2020? That is again a very tough question. To achieve better fuel efficiencies and to go away from petroleum products, there will be efforts to introduce hybrid cars. But except Toyota, nobody has real expertise in this area. The predicted numbers for 2030 are 30 % EV’s, 30% Hybrids and balance IC engine cars, mostly petrol and CNG version. Does it mean that it is a death knell to diesel cars?

Another prediction by Maruti is that for small EV’s, where numbers are high in the typical small car segment, the volumes can be tricky as the price could be between 9 to 12 Lacs. This price is based on battery packs being manufacture in India. Larger cars will cost much more, but the high-price segment is less sensitive to the price tag. How the volumes will be achieved in EV’s, will be difficult to predict. I have not even discussed the charging station infrastructure issues! In India, most cars are parked on the roads for the night, so how and when will the charging be done?

At least in India, there is a significant turmoil about where the car market will go? Will Maruti continue to lead the pack? Will others follow Maruti and go away from small diesel engine cars? Only time will tell.

Money or Monies!

Some advantages of the internet, Google and their brethren are we come to know that we don’t know many things in this world. I had read the word monies many times but had never understood the exact meaning of the word. All I knew was that it had something to do with money. When funds come from different sources, we call them monies. Life is simpler when we are young. The other day I was playing a game of Market with my granddaughter Rhea. She took one rupee from me and said here are your ten kgs of potatoes. Then I gave her a ten rupee note, and she sold me a hundred mangoes. I was elated momentarily. I thought I had become Ambani! I believe that it is too far fetched. I thought again and concluded that I felt like a smalltime politician and had lots of money with me 

When did the concept of money start? It started about 3000 years back. Before that,  the world worked on barter. You go the market to dispose of your product. You bring back some vessels and clothes from respective traders. The situation must have been difficult in those times. You wanted to drive away an Elephant who was troubling you, and you had a stone axe to offer against the services. It must have been timeconsuming to convince the expert that “axe” was the correct price for driving away the elephant. What was the “axe” worth? Was it also worth a sack of grain? Was it the right value of services provided by a doctor?  Did those service providers want your axe?

One of the greatest achievements of money was to fix the value of driving away the elephant or for treatment by a doctor. Initially, a type of prehistoric currency involving easily traded goods like animal skins, salt and weapons developed over the centuries. These traded goods served as the medium of exchange even though the unit values were still negotiable. This system of barter and trade spread across the world, and it still survives today in some parts of the globe. Since the goods did not have a fixed value, the value decided was need-based. It was sometimes like short sell done in today’s times. We do short sale when we need to liquidate the assets in an emergency 

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Sometime around 1100 B.C., instead of using the actual tools for barter, people  started creating small replicas of the same weapons in bronze. But this led to another issue. Carrying and storing sharp tools (currency) became difficult though they were easy to carry. Since they were replicas sharpness was still there. People would get hurt using them. Hence, they switched over to making round coins. But first minted coins were created in Lydia in today’s Turkey. Minted coins started in 600 B.C. The coins were made of a mixture of silver and gold as it occurred naturally. The denominations were fixed by stamping pictures like owl and snake, and were used to differentiate denominations. An earthen jar would cost two owls plus one snake! Standard currency brought ease of doing business in Lydia, and it became one of the wealthiest empires of those times. But the active trade and wealth could not stop attacks from strong Persian armies who attacked and destroyed them, in turn looting the wealth.  

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While Lydia was leading in currency developments, around 700 B.C., the Chinese moved from coins to paper money. By 1270 A.D., the emperor had good control of both money supply and various denominations. The Chinese inscription on notes warned, “All counterfeiters will be decapitated.” Europeans kept using coins till 16thcentury thanks basically to their control on precious metal mines in their colonies. Banks started using currency notes due to ease of handling. But in those days notes were issued by banks and private institutions and not by governments as is done today. 

First paper currency appeared in colonial America. Since the distance between headquarters in Europe and the Americas was considerable, banks would run out of currency. So they started issuing IOU’s which in turn were used as currency. The way coins increased business, usage of notes also had similar effect. Today there is a lot of standardisation world over in currency, where governments control the currency and mints. International conversion rates are decided by markets and various other factors 

After the stability of bank notes, monetary transactions started to take place, in a big way,  using credit cards. This system grew and ran smoothly throughout for about 40 years. But the credit cards are now challenged by debit cards, net banking where money gets transferred from a bank account to another , without any interruptions by banks. Users are gaining more control over transferring money.  

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Credit cards came in different avatars. Initially, cards had raised numbers; and these were captured on paper like we use the stencil. Initially, authorisation was not instantaneous; hence very few people had been issued cards. Then swiping cards came which could be authorised online. Now we have the same cards with “chips” for improved safety. 

The currency system is now coming under different disrupting forces, like Bitcoins. Bitcoins have not made the impact as was expected by some people, and many governments are still not supporting them.  

Now many wallets have come and offering a simpler method of making and receiving payments. Easier payments systems like UPI have come. The onset of online payment has been the real market disruptor. Now State Bank of India has come up with an easier modified system for ATM withdrawals. While leaving home, you can create a request on the mobile app provided by SBI. You get an OTP. The OTP is valid for half an hour. You go to the ATM. Punch OTP at the ATM and your money is in your hands! It looks like the physical presence of cards is going to be history in future. A new method of QR code  reading instead of swiping cards is expected to come up in the next couple of years. You have a credit card; you go to an establishment. Card details will be stored on your cell phone; the app will read the QR code, you punch the amount and vendor gets his money. Easy? No sharing of card number every time on the net, will lead to more secure transactions and hopefully less hacking.  

What is waiting for us in near future? Payment methods started from bartering to, a replica of tools, to round coins with pictures of tools; this was followed by minted coins, then IOU notes, credit card and online transactions. I understand that in future two transacting entities will need onetime authentication using block-chain technology. Their accounts will be linked permenantly by an irreversible process. Making a transfer to each other will be something like sending an SMS! Is it real? Are we dreaming? No, it is coming for sure. When? I don’t know, only the future can tell!  

Later that day, when I was playing with Rhea, she had changed her transaction system She would not accept cash! I had to hand over my card to herShe would swipe it and give me the imaginary machine to punch the  PIN!   

 

 

 

 

 

Shop-floor Anecdotes!

Recently, a comment on one of my blogs mentioned that if I had shared some shop-floor examples in a blog, my blog would have explained my thoughts better. Let me share with you a well-hidden secret. For my first eight years, I have worked in non-ferrous foundries on the shop-floor. In addition to the comment, I met my first boss in the foundry last week at a marriage reception (incidentally the bridegroom was my second boss’s grandson!)  So here I am on the nostalgic trip to the good old days. (I need to  investigate why the old days are always “Good Old Days”) So here we go. 

First, let me share with you an essential but awkward technical stuff (in non-tech language). In both my jobs where I worked, this incident somehow flabbergasted even the technological giants from our customer’s team.

In the first incident, we got an order to supply rods made out of a very special Copper Alloy. We had a tough time developing it. (I am talking of early ’70 s of the last century.) After successfully casting, we used a process called extrusion (imagine hot solid metal coming out like toothpaste) to make the rods. After many trials, we found out that we could not overcome a defect in rods called porosity. The buyer from the customer side was also Metallurgist like me. The final component to be made from the rods was a bush. We decided to make 50 bushes from those defective rods; we handed over the bushes to them. Those were tested and approved. We got the order for bushes instead of rods! (while machining the bush, the defect was machined off)

In my second job, we were supplying an Aluminium casting to the same customer. Their Quality Control manager decided to cut the casting to check for porosity. Certain areas in the casting always had porosity due to faulty design; we used to camouflage the porosity. I was hauled to their big boss. I explained to them the process and proved that it was not possible to eliminate porosity due to design limitations. ( The design was provided by the customer) We kept supplying the casting with porosity, till I continued working for that organisation. 

Now a human story. We were developing an alloy called Cadmium copper. When the heat was ready for tapping, obnoxious fumes started coming out from the melt. In those days masks were not available. Workers refused to pour the charge. We did not blame them. The solution? My friend Jayprakash and I started tapping the metal in ladles for pouring. We put our handkerchiefs as masks. By the end of the shift one worker came forward; in the second shift we kept this worker on overtime, and the show was managed by our other friend Vishwas. From next day onwards, there was no issue. Our leading from the front helped to gain the confidence of the workers.  

Chairman of one of the companies where I worked, was a very sophisticated person. He had his style and before starting a business had worked in large companies. In non-ferrous industry, transactions of selling the scrap and slag were done in cash in those days. I am sure the practice must be still continuing. (Tax saving? Black money?)  One trader was our boss’s favourite. The trader was precisely the opposite of the boss. He could speak only Hindi, his clothing always looked like it needed to be thrown away, they were always gritty, oily and dirty. In the ordinary course, our boss would not have stood within a Kilometre of this person. Once I was having a significant discussion with the boss. Suddenly this trader walks in! (obviously loaded with cash) My boss just said, “Pramod, wait for 10 minutes”. My boss welcomed him saying, “Aao Bhai! Welcome”; he put his hands around the shoulder of that man. The trader was offered tea in the finest cutlery, and the trader slurped it in his usual style, pouring the tea in the saucer! The transaction was done, the so-called “Important” meeting kick-started, again after one hour!  

One event taught me the importance of networking. Phillips had their factory opposite the factory where I worked. Their chief of security was our family friend, much senior to me. He was ten years younger than my father. Once I had gone to his office to meet him and had a cup of tea. Within a month of this social meeting, we had a minor accident in our foundry. A small lid of a tank blew up and hit a worker in his stomach. He collapsed, mainly due to fear. We did not know how to handle the situation. In those days getting an ambulance was a significant process and quite a task. I called our family friend and explained to him the situation. Within five minutes he sent the Phillips bus to carry the worker to the hospital. Within 45 minutes of the accident, we had reached the hospital; luckily it turned out to be a minor accident. Next day, I went and profusely thanked our friend!  

We had commissioned an electric furnace in our factory. As a senior person it was decided that for the first week, I would be present from 7 pm to 7 am. On the third day of the operation, we saw smoke emanating from underneath the furnace. We shut the furnace operation. I went below the furnace platform with a torch. I had told others to remain away from the furnace. It was a minor thing; a tape wound on the copper busbar had caught fire due to molten metal splashing. I turned around to call someone and found that my charge hand was right behind me. He did not follow my instructions of remaining away. When I scolded him, he said, “Sir, I wanted to be around, in case you needed some support! I would never have allowed you to take the risk yourself, alone.” 

In this last episode, I will share how one of my colleagues showed terrific sense alertness and avoided an almost certain fatal accident. In the die casting unit I was working, there was a die weighing one ton; it was in two halves and moved horizontally. Due to heaviness, it was operated hydraulically. In the third shift, a worker was doing routine cleaning of the die. One maintenance person was checking the hydraulic pump which was away from the foundry area. He did not follow the basic safety rule of checking if anyone was working on the dies. He started the pump for testing, and the movable die portion started closing. The person working on the die would have definitely been crushed to death as he was sitting between the halves. My colleague was standing about ten feet away, handling some other situation. He heard the commotion and saw the die was closing. He almost jumped like a football goalie and pushed the lever in the opposite direction. He was hurt a bit because of the dive, but he definitely saved a life.   

One thing I learnt from my shop-floor experience was the camaraderie with all colleagues. We had people who were hardly educated to those who were highly trained but raw like my colleague engineers and me. The experience taught us the importance of keeping the mind open and learning from everybody. Empathy was the most crucial aspect of the foundry. Due to heat, everybody was always a bit irritated, stressed, add to that some personal problems everybody has. It was an atmosphere where sparks would easily fly. But in a couple of years, we learnt to be friendly with workers by sharing tobacco (once in a while) or sharing tea with them.  Plus in the initial phase, we gained a lot of work-related stuff from them. We used to be very open about it and would tell them that they were our gurus.

I could go on and on! But limitations of the blog length restrict me to stop. After these eight years, I moved over to marketing and business development side in my own business. These eight years had taught me many things, including the need to have the depth of knowledge in whatever I did. The inter-personal relationship was another area that helped me to deal with junior most to the topmost people in my later years. When I look back, Metallurgy seems too distant to me. But what reminded of my Metallurgy background? I located my good old degree certificate and a copy of my Master’s Degree thesis! Would I like back those eight years? Oh, definitely! The good old days!