From the ramparts of the Red Fort in his first Independence Day speech in 2014, the Prime Minister invited industry — domestic and overseas — to Make in India, with zero defect and zero effect.

Since then, successive significant initiatives have been implemented by the government — Ease-of-doing-business, GST, FDI reforms, significant investment in infrastructure, IBC, PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan, National Logistics Policy, Production Linked Incentive Ssheme for select industries, the Anusandhan National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, etc. — to realise the vision of making India a manufacturing powerhouse and an integral part of global supply chains.

And in his Independence Day speech a a fortnight ago, the Prime Minister clearly reiterated the target of India becoming the third largest economy in the world by 2029. To achieve that target, the manufacturing sector would have to aim to become at least the fourth, if not the the third largest in the world, from the fifth today.

The manufacturing sector has made significant progress since the mid-1990s. It was sandwiched between a capital intensive US, Japan, Europe and a labour intensive China. We had to find our own place and that we concluded would perhaps be through ‘low-cost automation’. Our thought process needed to be thrifty and yet achieve world class quality and scale at least in some sectors.

This we did — example, in automobiles and auto components — under the umbrella of Total Quality Management (TQM) which helped bring focus on quality, cost, delivery, safety and morale, and environment (QCDSE) and the ‘Power of the Five senses’ — see, hear, smell, touch and feel. In 2006, the then Chairman of Renault, Carlos Ghosn, recognised our ‘ability to do more with less’ and even coined the phrase ‘frugal engineering and frugal innovation’ after a visit to India.

However, despite this progress, the manufacturing sector has only been a steady workhorse. It has remained at 13-17 per cent of GDP over the last four decades. The national target has been 25 per cent of GDP for some time. While this worthy goal will also help achieving our position as the third largest manufacturing economy, it is critical for providing commensurate employment for our vast young population at all levels of skills. There is enormous untapped potential, which is a huge opportunity.

There is now — post Covid — a palpable sense of excitement in industry in general and the manufacturing industry in particular. A dynamic geopolitical environment has helped. We increasingly get to hear the chorus from around the world of: China + 1; China no longer low cost; need for realignment of supply chains to friendly shores, led by the war on semi-conductors; India has navigated the Covid period admirably; India’s macro-economic parameters are stable; the Indian economy is the fastest growing large economy in the world.

As a result, there is great interest in India. Also, capacity utilisation in the manufacturing sector is nearing the point where investment proposals reach the boardroom for decision-making.

Tech mega-trends

Simultaneously, technological mega-trends have created conditions ripe for a new industrial revolution — Industry 4.0: a fusion of intelligent digital technologies into manufacturing and industrial processes. It encompasses industrial IoT networks, AI, Big Data, robotics and automation, AR, additive manufacturing or 3D printing, simulation or digital twins, system integration and cloud computing and, importantly, cyber-security. The objective is to enable autonomous decision-making in real time through early involvement of all stakeholders.

For those in the manufacturing industry, these are exhilarating times. Make in India is at an inflexion point; this time for building not only a strong domestic base, but to take global leadership. Industry 4.0 will be the great enabler. It provides us with the opportunity to take a disproportionate leap, using technology, into the future. We have done it in the past with telecom and now with the digital public infrastructure — the India Stack. We are good at pole-vaulting using technology to our advantage.

Rising customer expectations demands flexibility and mass customisation, reduced time-to-market, global quality. Alongside, stakeholders are nudging industry towards improved environment, social and governance (ESG) practices including de-carbonisation, circularity and related metrics which actually leave the manufacturing industry with little option, but to attempt to pole-vault.

So, what do we need to do to build ‘Brand - Made in India’, which will essentially be an agglomeration of individual Indian brands competing globally? The government should continue to: build physical infrastructure and promote ease of doing business; build on the India Stack, which is now globally recognised as world-class; fund Industry 4.0 through start-ups; implement the NRF in letter and spirit to attain leadership in technologies of national importance and build a future ready workforce.

The industry needs an inspirational, well-respected leader to drive Industry 4.0 as a movement, until we attain the goal of becoming the third largest manufacturing economy.

Six-point agenda

And a possible agenda for manufacturing leaders and CEOs would be:

Think long-term. Think global. Think anti-fragility (Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb) over resilience. Think ‘brand’.

Obsess with all tenets of TQM, QCDSE and the ‘Power of the Five senses’.

Build scale. Build a sustainable de-carbonised footprint.

Bet on R&D and innovation. Build partnerships to de-risk. Create and own designs and intellectual property.

Invest deeply in Industry 4.0. Drive cultural change to embed it.

Learning is a life-long process. Diversity enhances learning. Invest in people. Skill. Upskill. Reskill them. Now, more than ever.

The writer is Member, CII National Council; Chairperson, National Board for Quality Promotion; former MD and CEO, Ashok Leyland and JCB India. Views are personal