R.A. Mashelkar: Breakthrough designs for ultra-low-cost products
November 2, 2009
Engineer RA Mashelkar shares three stories of ultra-low-cost design from India that use bottom-up rethinking, and some clever engineering, to bring expensive products (cars, prosthetics) into the realm of the possible for everyone.R.A. Mashelkar
- Scientist, innovator
Using a principle he calls “convex lens leadership,” R.A. Mashelkar’s vision has catapulted india’s talent for science and innovation onto the international stage. Full bio
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The big residual
is always value for money.
All the time we are trying to get value for money.
What we don't look for
is value for many,
while we are generating value for money.
Do we care about those four billion people
whose income levels are less than two dollars a day,
the so-called bottom of the pyramid?
What are the challenges in getting value for money
as well as value for many?
We have described here
in terms of the performance
and the price.
If you have money, of course, you can get the value.
You can get a Mercedes
for a very high price,
very high performance.
But if you don't have money, what happens?
Well, you are to ride a bicycle,
carrying your own weight and also some other weight,
so that you can earn the bread for the day.
Well, poor do not remain poor;
they become lower-middle-class.
And if they do so,
then, of course, the conditions improve,
and they start riding on scooters.
But the challenge is, again, they don't get much value,
because they can't afford anything more than the scooter.
The issue is, at that price,
can you give them some extra value?
A super value,
in terms of their ability to ride in a car,
to get that dignity, to get that safety,
looks practically impossible, isn't it.
Now, this is something
that we see on Indian streets
all the time.
But many people see the same thing
and think things differently,
and one of them is here, Ratan Tata.
The great thing about our leaders
is that, should they not only have passion in their belly,
which practically all of them have,
they're also very innovative.
An innovator is one who does not know it cannot be done.
They believe that things can be done.
But great leaders like Ratan
And what you said, Lakshmi, is absolutely true:
it's not just Ratan Tata,
it's the house of Tatas over time.
Let me confirm what she said.
Yes, I went barefoot
until I was 12.
I struggled to [unclear] day
was a huge issue.
And when I finished my SSC, the eleventh standard,
I stood eleventh among 125,000 students.
But I was about to leave the school,
because my poor mother couldn't afford schooling.
And it was [unclear] Tata Trust, which gave me six rupees per month,
almost a dollar per month for six years.
That's how I'm standing before you.
So that is the House of Tata.
Innovation, compassion and passion.
They combine all that.
And it was that compassion which bothered them,
because when he saw -- in fact, he told me about eight or nine years ago
how he was driving his own car --
he drives his own car by the way --
and he saw in the rain,
a family like the one that I showed to you
getting drenched with an infant.
And then he said, "Well, I must give them a car that they can afford,
one lakh car, $2,000 car."
Of course, as soon as you say something like this
people say it is impossible,
and that's what was said by Suzuki.
He said, oh, probably he is going to build a three-wheeler
And you can see the cartoon here.
Well they didn't build that. They built a proper car. Nano.
And mind you, I'm six feet half an inch,
Ratan is taller than me,
and we have ample space in the front
and ample space in the back in this particular car.
And incredible car.
And of course, nothing succeeds like success;
the cynics then turned around,
and one after the other
they also started saying, "Yes, we also want to make a car in the Nano Segment.
We'll manufacture a car in the Nano Segment."
How did this great story unfold,
the making of Nano?
Let me tell you a bit about it.
For example, how we started:
Ratan just began with a five-engineer team,
young people in their mid-twenties.
And he said,
"Well, I won't define the vehicle for you,
but I will define the cost for you.
It is one lakh, 100,000 rupees,
and you are to make it within that."
And he told them,
"Question the unquestionable.
Stretch the envelope."
And at a point in time,
he got so engrossed in the whole challenge,
that he himself became a member of the team.
Can you believe it?
I still am told about this story
of that single wiper design in which he participated.
Until midnight, he'd be thinking.
Early morning he'll be coming back with sort of solutions.
But who was the team leader?
The team leader was Girish Wagh,
a 34 year-old boy in [unclear].
And the Nano team average age
was just 27 years.
And they did innovation in design and beyond.
Broke many norms of the standard conventions for the first time.
For example, that a two-cylinder gas engine
was used in a car with a single balancer shaft.
Adhesives were replacing the rivets.
There was a co-creation, a huge co-creation,
with vendors and suppliers.
All ideas on board were welcome.
100 vendors were co-located adjacent to the plant,
and innovative business models for automobile dealerships were developed.
Imagine that a fellow
who sells cloth, for example, will be selling Nano.
I mean, it was incredible innovation.
Seeking solutions for non-auto sectors.
It was an open innovation,
ideas from all over were welcome.
The mechanism of helicopters seats and windows was used, by the way,
as well as a dashboard
that was inspired by two-wheelers.
The fuel lines and lamps
were as in two-wheelers.
And the crux of the matter was, however,
getting more from less.
All the time, you have been given an envelope.
You can't cross that envelope,
which is 100,000 rupees, 2,000 dollars.
And therefore, each component
had to have a dual functionality.
And the seat riser, for example,
serving as a mounting for the seat
as well as a structural part
of the functional rigidity.
Half the number of parts
are contained in Nano
in comparison to a typical passenger car.
The length is smaller by eight percent by the way.
But the current entry-level cars
in comparison to that is eight percent less,
but 21 percent more inside space.
And what happened
was that -- more from less --
you can see how much more for how much less.
When the Model T was launched --
and this is, by the way, all the figures
that are adjusted to 2007 dollar prices --
Model T was 19,700 by Ford.
Volkswagon was 11,333.
And British Motor was around 11,000.
And Nano was, bang, 2,000 dollars.
This is why
actually a new paradigm shift,
where the same people
who could not dream of sitting in a car,
who were carrying their entire family in a scooter,
started dreaming of being in a car.
And those dreams are getting fulfilled.
This is a photograph
of a house and a driver and a car
near my own home.
The driver's name is Naran.
He has bought his own Nano.
And you can see, there is a physical space
that has been created for him,
parking that car, along with the owner's car,
but more importantly, they've created
a space in their mind that
"Yes, my chauffeur is going to come in his own car and park it."
And that's why I call it a transformational innovation.
It is not just technological,
it is social innovation that we talk about.
And that is where, ladies and gentlemen,
this famous theme
of getting more from less for more
I remember talking about this for the first time in Australia,
about one and a half years ago,
when their academy honored me with a fellowship.
And unbelievably, in 40 years,
I was the first Indian to be honored.
And the title of my talk
was therefore "Indian innovation
from Gandhi to Gandhian engineering."
And I titled this more from less for more and more people
as Gandhian engineering.
And Gandhian engineering, in my judgment,
is the one which is going to take the world forward,
is going to make a difference,
not just for a few, but for everyone.
Let me move from mobility in a car to individual mobility
for those unfortunates
who have lost their legs.
Here is an American citizen and his son
having an artificial foot.
What is its price? 20,000 dollars.
And of course, these feet are so designed
that they can walk only on
such perfect pavement or roads.
Unfortunately, that's not the case in India.
You can see him walk barefoot
on an awkward land, sometimes in a marshy land,
and so on and so forth.
they not only walk far to work,
and not only do they cycle to work,
but they cycle for work, as you can see here.
And they climb up for their work.
You have to design an artificial foot for such conditions.
A challenge, of course.
Four billion people, their incomes are less then two dollars a day.
And if you talk about a 20,000-dollar shoe,
you're talking about 10,000 days of income.
You just don't have it.
And therefore, you ought to look at alternatives.
And that is how Jaipur Foot was created in India.
It had a revolutionary prosthetic fitment and delivery system,
a quick molding and modular components,
enabling custom-made, on-the-spot limb fitments.
You could feel it actually in an hour, by the way,
whereas the equivalent other feet
took something like a day, as so on.
Outer socket made by using heated high-density polyethylene pipes,
rather than using heated sheets.
And unique high-ankle design and human-like looks,
[unclear] and functions.
And I like to show how it looks
and how it works.
See, he jumps. You can see what stress it must have.
(Text: ... any person with a below the knee limb could do this.
... above the limb, yes, it would be difficult ...
"Did it hurt?"
"No ... not at all."
... he can run a kilometer in four minutes and 30 seconds ...)
One kilometer in four minutes and 30 seconds.
So that's what it is all about.
And therefore Time took notice
of this 28-dollar foot, basically.
An incredible story.
Let's move on to something else.
I've been talking about getting more from less for more.
Let's move to health.
We've talked about mobility and the rest of it, let's talk about health.
What's happening in the area of health?
You know, you have new diseases that require new drugs.
And if you look at the drug development 10 years ago and now,
what has happened?
10 years ago, it used to cost about a quarter billion.
Today it costs 1.5 billion dollars.
Time taken for moving a molecule to marketplace,
after all the human and animal testing,
was 10 years, now it is 15 years.
Are you getting more drugs because you are spending more time and more money?
No, I'm sorry.
We used to have 40, now they have come down to 30.
So actually we are getting less from more
for less and less people.
Why less and less people? Because it is so expensive,
so very few will be able to basically afford that.
Let us just take an example.
Psoriasis is very dreadful
disease of the skin.
The cost of treatment, 20,000 dollars.
1,000-dollar antibody injections under the skin, by the way,
and 20 of them.
Time for development -- it took around 10 years
and 700 million dollars.
Let's start in the spirit
of more from less and more for more
and start putting some targets.
For example, we don't want 20,000 dollars; we don't have it.
Can we do it [for] 100 dollars?
Time for development, not 10 years.
We are in a hurry. Five years.
Cost of development -- 300 million dollars.
Sorry. I can't spend more than 10 million dollars.
Looks absolutely audacious.
Looks absolutely ridiculous.
You know something? This has been achieved in India.
These targets have been achieved in India.
And how they have been achieved ...
Sir Francis Bacon once said,
"When you wish to achieve results
that have not been achieved before,
it is an unwise fancy to think
that they can be achieved by using methods
that have been used before."
And therefore, the standard process,
where you develop a molecule, put it into mice, into men,
are not yielding those results --
the billions of dollars that have been spent.
The Indian cleverness
was using its traditional knowledge,
however, scientifically validating it
and making that journey from men to mice to men,
not molecule to mice to men, you know.
And that is how this difference has come.
And you can see this blending
of traditional medicine, modern medicine, modern science.
I launched a big program
[unclear] CSIR about nine years ago.
He is giving us not just for Psoriasis,
for cancer and a whole range of things, changing the whole paradigm.
And you can see this Indian Psoriasis breakthrough
obtained by this reverse form of [unclear]
by doing things differently.
You can see before treatment and after treatment.
This is really getting more from less for more and more people,
because these are all affordable treatments now.
Let me just remind you
of what Mahatma Gandhi had said.
He had said, "Earth provides enough
to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed."
So the message he was giving us
was you must get more from less and less and less
so that you can share it for more and more people,
not only the current generation,
but the future generations.
And he also said, "I would prize every invention of science
made for the benefit for all."
So he was giving you the message that you must have it for more and more people,
not just a few people.
And therefore, ladies and gentlemen,
this is the theme, getting more
from less for more.
And mind you,
it is not getting just a little more for just a little less.
It's not about low cost.
It's about ultra-low cost.
You cannot say it's a mere treatment 10,000 dollars,
but because you are poor I'll give it for 9,000.
Sorry, it doesn't work. You have to give it for 100 dollars, 200 dollars.
Is it possible? It has been made possible, by the way,
for certain other different reasons.
So you are not talking about low cost, you are talking about ultra-low cost.
You are not talking about affordability,
you are talking about extreme affordability.
Because of the four billion people whose income is under two dollars a day.
You're not talking exclusive innovation.
You're talking about inclusive innovation.
And therefore, you're not talking about incremental innovation,
you're talking about disruptive innovation.
The ideas have to be such
that you think in completely different terms.
And I would also add,
it is not only getting more from less for more
by more and more people, the whole world working for it.
I was very touched when I saw a breakthrough the other day.
You know, incubators for infants, for example.
They're not available in Africa.
They're not available in Indian villages.
And infants die.
And incubator costs 2,000 dollars.
And there's a 25-dollar incubator
giving that performance that had been created.
And by whom?
By young students from Standford University
on an extreme affordability project that they had, basically.
Their heart is in the right place, like Ratan Tata.
It's not just innovation, compassion and passion --
compassion in the heart and passion in the belly.
That's the new world that we want to create.
And that is why the message is that of Gandhian engineering.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to end before time.
I was also afraid of those 18 minutes.
I've still one and a half to go.
The message, the final message, is this:
India gave a great gift to the world.
What was that?
[In the] 20th century, we gave Gandhi to the world.
The 21st century gift,
which is very, very important for the whole world,
whether it is global economic meltdown,
whether it is climate change --
any problem that you talk about
is gaining more from less for more and more --
not only the current generations,
for the future generations.
And that can come only from Gandhian engineering.
So ladies and gentlemen, I'm very happy to announce,
this gift of the 21st century
to the world from India,
Lakshmi Pratury: Thank you, Dr. Mashelkar. (R.A. Mashelkar: Thank you very much.)
LP: A quick question for you.
Now, when you were a young boy in this school,
what were your thoughts, like what did you think you could become?
What do you think that drove you?
Was there a vision you had? What is it that drove you?
RAM: I'll tell you a story that drove me, that transformed my life.
I remember, I went to a poor school,
because my mother could not gather the 21 rupees,
that half a dollar that was required
within the stipulated time.
It was [unclear] high school.
But it was a poor school with rich teachers, honestly.
And one of them was [unclear] who taught us physics.
One day he took us out into the sun
and tried to show us how to find
the focal length of a convex lens.
The lens was here. The piece of paper was there. He moved it up and down.
And there was a bright spot up there.
And then he said, "This is the focal length."
But then he held it for a little while, Lakshmi.
And then the paper burned.
When the paper burned, for some reason he turned to me,
and he said, "Mashelkar, like this,
if you do not diffuse your energies,
if you focus your energies,
you can achieve anything in the world."
That gave me a great message: focus and you can achieve.
I said, "Whoa, science is so wonderful,
I have to become a scientist."
But more importantly, focus and you can achieve.
And that message, very frankly,
is valuable for society today.
What does that focal length do?
It has parallel lines, which are sun rays.
And the property of parallel lines
is that they never meet.
What does that convex lens do?
It makes them meet.
This is convex lens leadership.
You know what today's leadership is doing? Concave length.
They divide them farther.
So I learned the lesson
of convex lens leadership from that.
And when I was at National Chemical Laboratory [unclear].
When I was at Council of Scientific Industry Research --
40 laboratories -- when two laboratories were not talking to each other,
I would [unclear].
And currently I'm president of Global Research Alliance,
60,000 scientists in nine counties, right from India to the U.S.
I'm trying to build a global team,
which will look at the global grand challenges that the world is facing.
That was the lesson. That was the inspirational moment.
LP: Thank you very much. (RAM: Thank you.)
- Scientist, innovator
Using a principle he calls “convex lens leadership,” R.A. Mashelkar’s vision has catapulted india’s talent for science and innovation onto the international stage.Why you should listen
R.A. Mashelkar holds a long list of directorships, degrees and awards, all focused on advancing science and inclusive innovation in india. He's the president of the Global Research Alliance. While promoting and leading research agencies, he also has spearheaded efforts to protect traditional knowledge and expand intellectual property rights.
Known for his pioneering scientific contributions in polymer science, he is now propagating the principles of gandhian engineering, a system of development aligned with sustainability principles to create more useful goods and services for more people using fewer resources.
The original video is available on TED.com