Innovation – make it smart and frugal

JÜRGEN MÖSSINGERS | Updated on March 12, 2018

Easy pickings The benefits of simple innovation Macrovector /shutterstock.com

Products often come with features irrelevant to a cost-conscious market like India. However, cars, scooters have done better

In the past, engineering feats emanated from industrialised countries. Today, India is ranked among one of the most innovative countries in the world. In fact, over the last few years, the country has been able to advance from the position of a technology borrower to the role of a technology innovator.

India is now a country that is pioneering ‘frugal innovation or engineering’.

Typically, products have been transferred from industrialised countries including, very often, features not needed or not relevant to emerging countries such as India.

To overcome this problem companies tried to develop their available products for India — often with little success.

The key roadblocks remain high cost sensitivity and scarce resources.

More with less

The solution to these problems lies in reducing complexity and costs. All this meant removing non-essential features from a product during design in order to increase its buyability in a developing country.

Frugal engineering entails a sustainable approach focusing on the critical factors like ‘market requirement’, ‘environmental conditions’, ‘resource limitation’ in order to create cost effective solutions, if not new ‘business models’. The real needs in countries like India come into the picture.

The efficient use of scarce resources has increased considerably. Example: The energy efficiency of a washing machine has increased by 63 per cent since 1998, while the water consumption has fallen 31 per cent.

Similarly, the power consumption in a refrigerator freezer has decreased up to 75 per cent over the last 15 years.

In the automotive sector, existing products of an engine control unit (ECU) for diesel systems have been expensive and/or big. The number of electronic control units in a car also increased over the years.

The constantly increasing cost for these electronic control units and the need to meet higher emission norms without a substantial increase in price led to high cost pressure on the OEMs.

The market required the size of the product be reduced by over 30 per cent. Soon the need for a successful frugal engineering approach became inevitable.

The systems approach now focused on higher integration and replacement of sensors by models. There was a 30 per cent reduction in size, 40 per cent reduction in cost, reduction in the number of control units and an elimination of sensors by the use of modelling techniques.

This application of frugal innovation proved to be a great aid to the automotive industry.

Innovating for efficiency

Two wheelers in Asia initially were carburettor-dominant. Also, the emission legislation was beginning to get more stringent.

The market at this stage required a very small cost increase with the replacement of the carburettor by an injection system.

Since many users do not replace their battery in case it dies out, the system also needed to work without battery. Lastly, there were high vibration and temperature requirements.

Totally new design using frugal innovation led to an ECU with the size of a credit card and a new mould technology.

This enabled a cost reduction and the possibility to cope with the needs of an emerging country like India.

Frugal innovation is the key for success in emerging markets, but is not limited to such countries. It has been successfully used in the development of optimized solutions for specific market segments e.g. Dacia Logan.

Successful frugal products can also be migrated to industrialised countries.

Frugal innovation is widely applied by many OEMs today. Successful frugal innovation requires a change in the mindset. An excellent understanding of the market needs is crucial.

Frugal engineering helps raise the standard of people and aids in increasing market size. Lastly, although customers are price sensitive and affordability is crucial, customers need to realise the importance of acceptable quality levels.

To meet this requirement, India seems to possess an inherent advantage in creating attractive frugal solutions with global appeal.

The writer is the vice-president of Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions

Published on January 30, 2015

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