“Setting Up An R&D Centre In India And Managing It From China Is Not Just A Giant Task, But A Major Obstacle As Well”

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Astrum Holdings Limited, a global consumer electronics product and accessories manufacturer, have recently set up R&D and production units in India. However, they find driving design engineering and production in India challenging, mainly due to the lack of component and raw material availability. Yogesh Dhandharia, director of Astrum shares with Baishakhi Dutta of Electronicsb2b.com their plans of bringing R&D and design capabilities to India.

Yogesh Dhandharia, director, Astrum

Q. Can you share some details about your R&D set-up?
We have R&D setup in two places – Mumbai (India) and Shenzhen (China). We are following a strategy that the India centre will be more of a Software Development Centre wherein we are going to make smart applications. In Mumbai, we have around 8 engineers with us who are working on AI, machine learning and deep learning. We are taking support from NVIDIA for the R&D initiatives. We are working on Android for all our smart products and are integrating them with our products so that our end users can benefit from the actual working of the product by controlling them through the application on your smartphone.

Q. You also have a manufacturing unit in India?
Yes, we have a manufacturing facility in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, where we’ve started production. In fact, we have already released our first Made in India product in the audio category.

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We’d initially planned to have 2 centres in India – in Mumbai and in Tirupati. But then we found out that the raw materials that we need to make new products like earphones, headphones, power banks and similar things were only available in China. So, we decided to have our design engineers in China as well. Currently, India is still in the hardware product development phase compared to China. Till the time, the Indian market is mature enough, we will be carrying out our hardware development activities from China, so that whatever new products we think of or any upgrades that we plan will have less time to market. For every product, you need at least 90 to 120 days for development in India. The same thing gets reduced to 15 to 20 days in China.

When you go to China for raw material, you are actually sharing your ideas with them, which they immediately copy. So, your ideas get leaked and before your product is ready, they come up with theirs and you lose.

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Q. What are the real challenges in designing in India?
The raw material is the major challenge and an obstacle because of which many Indian start-ups have to visit China to get their raw material. Dependency on China today is very high. So, setting up R&D centres in India and managing it with the help of China is a major obstacle and is a very giant task because of which many Indian start-ups who have good ideas and designs cannot come forward. 

Another hurdle is that when you go to China for raw material, you are actually sharing your ideas with them, which they immediately copy. So, your ideas get leaked and before your product is ready, they come up with theirs and you lose.

As far as Astrum is considered, for us finding talented engineers is not a challenge, the actual challenge is the availability of components and making moulds. The shortage is when the need of tools and raw materials comes in. However, we are working on it and aim to increase our team in 6 months.

Q. Only software development is happening in India – so no design initiatives in the country?
We have joined NVIDIA Inception Program as a community member for building a smart product, which will be introduced soon by this year-end. The research and development of products will include deep learning, AI technology and data science to support the core elements of Astrum Innovation’s AI offerings.

Q. How do you decide the innovation goals for your R&D team?
There are feedback that comes from our sales channels and from our partner ecosystem to the sales head. From there, a process is followed in which a request is raised to the director of sales. He then filters out what is not needed and is not good for the brand. Then we forward what he finds good. He gives me the technical specification of what he is looking at and provides me with the basic data. 

I look into it and after checking the product specs, decide on what we can give and what we can add. Then I plan the bill of material, go back to purchase by asking them to buy all the raw materials. After buying the raw material, I make the product prototype which I then send it back to the sales team to get feedback from the market. Based on the feedback, the product gets finalised. Then I go for quality checks and go to the next phase (for which I transfer it to the production head).

Q. By when do you expect the tech developed by your R&D unit being used in a product?
The first version will be launched by the end of December 2019. And there are two more software which we are going to launch soon. But those are only for Astrum customers. One is the Astrum app, which will be one app for everything which will help our customers with the service of their products and for product controlling.

The second app that we are launching is for our partners so that they can see what they are doing (which every CRM app does). If a partner sees in the market or has an idea which he/she wants to tell, then through that app it can be done so. There is a full process chain that we have followed in that app which will help and also report to the partner that work is going on for that product and will be launched soon.

Q. Where do you carry out your quality-check? Is it done in-house or by any third party?
We have an in-house facility in China because the hardware product is developed there. Then the China engineers make the SOP (Simple Operation Procedure) for inspection and the SIP (Simple Inspection Procedure) for quality. 

Q) What are your plans for setting up testing facilities in India?
The testing facilities will be set up in Tirupati itself. We have a vision that in the next six months, we will have a full-fledged testing centre in Tirupati. Our production facility is also in Tirupati.

Q. How strongly are you working on bringing IoT to your product line?
It’s clear that IoT continues to expand in the industry and provide an exciting future of how connectivity can improve work and life productivity while ensuring that data and personal details are protected. My innovation team has already started working on AI and IoT based products. There are 2-3 ideas which are under process and which will be introduced soon. Also, we are open to collaborations with technology providing companies for creating next-level innovation.

Q. What’s your vision for Astrum—how do you see enabling India’s ecosystem?
I want to see Astrum as an end-to-end solution house in India, wherein if anybody has any idea, they can come up to me to share it. The patent will be in their name, not mine. I will become their solution house, design PCB for them, create the product prototype and if needed, then also help them in production.

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