By Srabani Sen
Companies in the electronics industry need to innovate constantly to become successful over a period of time. In such a competitive scenario, they need to invest significantly in R&D to develop newer technologies. Academic and research institutes also independently invest their time and expertise on developing next generation technologies. If these two segments can be brought together in the larger interests of the electronics industry, both can benefit.
Collaborative R&D between industry and academia is, therefore, vital. The Department of Information and Technology (DIT) has launched various initiatives to promote R&D for the overall growth of the electronics industry. In one such initiative, DIT commissioned an extensive study on collaborative R&D between industry and academics/R&D institutions through the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Frost and Sullivan conducted the study on behalf of CII and DIT.
Pointing out the significance of the study, R C Chopra, senior adviser, CII, says, “Recognising the benefits of design led manufacturing and IPR ownership, countries worldwide encourage collaborative R&D through different funding models. Considering the predominant share of the private sector in ICTE production in India, their strengths in R&D need to be harnessed. Besides identifying the thrust areas for collaborative R&D, the study covers the R&D support models adopted world wide, an analysis of best practices, and the concerns of stakeholders.”
“In the context of rising R&D costs, there is a need to share risks and exploit the convergence of technologies. The requirement of multi-disciplinary expertise, the need to leverage the complementary knowledge and skills of industry and academia/R&D organisations in a synergistic manner, all indicate
that collaborative R&D is considered important. We have success stories from China, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan and USA to learn and draw upon,” Chopra adds.
Why collaborative R&D is needed
The development of electronics products—from materials to sophisticated chips—involves the interplay of a wide range of technologies, and all the necessary technology expertise may not lie with the industry experts. The research institutes may develop some of these technologies. To bring together all this expertise, there is a compelling need for collaboration. Companies are increasingly finding it necessary to outsource some of their R&D needs. This creates a foundation for the collaboration with academia, which takes care of such outsourced R&D requirements.
According to the CII study, collaborative research activities have diversified enormously in recent years in India. Some companies have even set up centres for research in various leading academic institutes that serve as centres for continuous research in particular areas, for example, the Samtel Centre for Display Technologies at IIT, Kanpur; the Vodafone Essar Centre for Excellence in Telecom at IIT, Kharagpur; the Xilinx FPGA lab, the TI DSP lab and the Intel Microelectronics lab at IIT, Bombay, etc. Academic and technical institutions like IISc, the IITs and NITs have also set up inhouse centres to facilitate and manage collaboration with different companies.
Even competitive companies join hands for collaborative R&D to develop the next generation of technology. This brings together the best researchers and other resources from each company/institute and significantly reduces the financial strain.
But is collaborative R&D possible in India? “The ICTE manufacturing sector in the country is largely operating in the domain of mature technologies, low value addition and a price sensitive market. In order to become competitive in exports as well as in the domestic market, it is important to transition from low value added, assembly oriented activity to design-led manufacturing. The industry needs to be encouraged to manufacture differentiated, value engineered products, using its R&D strengths to move up the value chain. Collaborative R&D between industry and academia is imperative and we need to create a framework in which it flourishes to ensure its success,” points out Chopra.