“The Next Stage Of Evolution Will Be To Strengthen The Regulatory Framework Through A Conformity Assessment programme”

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Srinivasa Desikan, sales director - South Asia at Underwriters Laboratory (UL)
Srinivasa Desikan, sales director – South Asia at Underwriters Laboratory (UL)

India’s domestic manufacturing and design environment for electronics and the IoT is improving consistently. As new players and investments come in to enrich the ecosystem, adherence to standards, quality and safety regulations has to be ensured through thorough testing. Srinivasa Desikan, sales director – South Asia at Underwriters Laboratory (UL) talks to Rahul Chopra of the EFY Group about how third-party testing facilities are gearing up for this situation, and what the industry can do to prepare for the challenges down the line.

EB: How would you explain UL’s line of business to a non-technical senior business decision maker (from the electronics or IoT domains), and the gamut of services it offers?
With our global expertise and presence, we help brands achieve their key business goals like demonstrating safety, certifying compliance, enhancing sustainability, strengthening security, delivering quality and performance, managing transparency, protecting brand reputation and building workplace excellence, to gain a competitive edge and earn the trust of the market and consumers.

EB: How is UL different from its peers and competitors, and what are its unique strengths?
We partner businesses, manufacturers, trade associations, international policy makers and regulatory authorities to help manage the safety, security and sustainability risks and complexities of today’s business environment.

What sets UL apart from its competitors is that, in our mission to promote safe living and working conditions for people around the world, our scope of work is not limited to our suite of services—we are an ANSI accredited standards writing organisation in the United States. We also participate in discussions with international and national standards bodies across the globe, including the IEC/ISO and the BIS in India to develop robust standards.

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Standards and codes are the fundamental building blocks of any quality ecosystem, where the ultimate aim is to advance public safety. Talking about UL’s strengths, we have contributed to the creation of more than 1,600 standards that set benchmarks for safety, security, sustainability and performance. We have also forayed into advanced research on standards to address newer areas of risk, and to ensure that the standards we have created remain relevant through all the stages of a product’s or technology’s evolution.

EB: Is ‘Make in India’ having a positive effect on the Indian electronics and IoT ecosystem?
The Make in India programme has laid the foundation for a nascent subsidiary ecosystem of component manufacturing. With infrastructure investments, the growth of this ancillary industry will further boost the prospects of domestic manufacturing in the electronics sector. Simultaneously, the increasing role of startups in electronics hardware and software signals another growth trajectory – from Make in India, we are moving into the domain of Design in India. Startups that are engaging with the latest cutting-edge technologies to innovate new products will need significant spends to support the growth of the design ecosystem. We anticipate that the government will enable this as well.

EB: How’s your India business faring compared to your businesses in other parts of the globe?
Given its consumer-driven economy and high growth potential, India is a priority market for UL. The IoT and electronics businesses are at an evolving stage when compared with mature markets like the US, Europe or other advanced Asian countries. However, the environment is ripe for an accelerated pace of growth – flagship initiatives like Digital India, Make in India and the Smart Cities Mission are laying the foundation for a strongly connected technology ecosystem in the country.

EB: Do you see any specific developments for your business with respect to India’s IoT ecosystem?
The government’s special focus on cybersecurity, data protection and its plans for the rollout of 5G are set to increase the scope for the IoT and electronics sectors, which will concurrently need a strong infrastructure and regulatory ecosystem.

Third-party testing companies like UL will have an important role to play in enhancing the growth of the IoT ecosystem. From a technology perspective, the safety and security concerns for regulators, brands and consumers are similar. Through knowledge-sharing on the need for compliant products, by sensitising customers on emerging regulations, and by ensuring advanced expertise and testing capabilities, we see the IoT as one of our major growth drivers in India; so we are working toward increasing our investments in this sector.

EB: Can you share your revenue figures for the last FY as well as your plans and targets for the future?
India is one of the fastest growing markets for UL. Over the past few years, we have consistently seen a year-on-year growth rate between 15-20 per cent.

EB: Is the recent drive by the Indian government’s Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC) to promote/enforce certification for certain telecom related products adding any business opportunities for UL?
The government is working with the industry to develop a robust compliance framework. For UL, this opens up numerous business opportunities. We can now support manufacturers to show their compliance, both with the law of the land and the changing market dynamics.

We expect that the new mandatory requirements for telecom products, driven by the Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC), the technical arm of the Ministry of Communications, will play a similar role in creating a level playing field for the industry, especially as this has been timed in advance of the rollout of 5G technology.

EB: How will such drives benefit the industry at large?
Regulation always has a cascading effect. Mandatory local testing leads to gradual adoption of global standards to improve quality and safety outcomes for consumers. This increases the market share of our customers, ultimately promoting global market access.

A case in point is the regulation for consumer technology products in India. In 2013, when MeitY (then DeitY) brought in regulation for the local testing of consumer technology products, the Compulsory Registration Scheme (CRS), the ecosystem to support local manufacturing of mobile phones barely existed. Regulation, along with the right policies and the necessary infrastructure, resulted in global brands investing in India to manufacture mobile phones locally, rather than import the products. The steep yet steady growth of the ecosystem, with the support of the Make in India programme, has translated into India emerging as a major manufacturing destination for both established and emerging players in the space.

EB: Are there any other government initiatives that are aiding technopreneurs?
Over the past few years, with the influx of new technologies across verticals, the government has made a conscientious effort to propagate the regulatory ecosystem in the country through mandatory in-country testing for several product categories. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has taken the lead in standards development – India has nearly 19,000 standards at present. The next stage of evolution will be to strengthen the regulatory framework through a conformity assessment programme that will verify compliance with standards, regulations or technical requirements, apart from market surveillance, to ensure post-market compliance.

EB: Have any investments been made with respect to your India setup in the last 12 months?
Currently, we are expanding our facilities in Bengaluru to support the testing requirements of the new telecom regulations. We have received accreditation for safety testing and partial EMC testing. We are also expanding our infrastructure here to include capabilities for Bluetooth, WLAN, cellular and Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) testing. We continue to make investments that support government initiatives for compliance needs in the country. Our current investments also focus on testing the infrastructure requirements to support the overall IoT ecosystem of our customers.

EB: Any further expansions in India in terms of office space?
Apart from the expansion of our capabilities to service the new telecom regulations, in early 2018, we consolidated our North India operations by inaugurating the Centre of Excellence (CoE) at Gurugram. The facility in Gurugram is UL’s second CoE in India after the one at Bengaluru, and is in line with our ‘In India, for India’ strategy to help domestic manufacturers achieve regulatory compliance in order to access domestic and global markets. With the inclusion of this facility, UL now has over 16722.54sqm of laboratory and office space in the country.

UL’s Gurugram facility integrates our erstwhile operations in Manesar for consumer technology and appliances, HVAC/R and lighting businesses with the existing operations in Gurugram, for the consumer and retail services.

EB: Give us some more details on the infrastructure and operations that will be carried out from UL’s Gurugram CoE.
The consolidated Gurugram facility offers complete testing for all lighting products, which includes safety, photometry and life cycle testing using cutting-edge equipment. This is particularly useful for LED lighting which has become increasingly prevalent in the infrastructure and automotive industries.

For the white goods market, the Gurugram facility is capable of evaluating the performance (including energy efficiency) and the safety parameters through extensive testing and certification. The facility can also test the latest consumer products such as laptops, mobile phones, CCTVs, tablets, servers, etc.

Additionally, the facility will cater to products that cut across industries, like LEDs used in light-reflecting sports goods or toys. The Gurugram CoE thus represents the benefits that can be harnessed from integrating various capabilities. With the rapid convergence of several technologies and products, there is a clear demand for easy access to cross-functional testing and engagement under one roof.

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