Driving Innovation from India
Date: Monday , March 05, 2012
Walk into the carpeted corridors of the Texas Instruments (TI) office in Bangalore, and you see a string of cubicles, engineers in front of their computers or in the labs busy designing integrated circuits and professionals exchanging ideas in small groups. At the first look, you may feel that there is nothing different about this place as compared to a thousand other technology companies in the Indian Silicon Valley.
But then looks can be deceptive. A closer look into the organization is enough for one to realize that this Indian subsidiary of the global semiconductor major is nothing but a powerhouse of innovation, consistently creating products that bring value to customers worldwide. TI in India, housing minds from the best educational institutes and collaborating with other TI locations globally, has created many innovative and world-class semiconductor products. In developing chips for markets such as industrial, consumer, medical, automotive, communications and connectivity, the team has been bringing out cutting edge innovations into its everyday work. Most importantly, these products have been bringing significant value to customers. No surprise that the team also excels in filing patents and presenting papers in highly acclaimed global conferences.
Texas Instruments, the pioneering company where engineer Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit and essentially launched the modern electronics business, is today focused worldwide on Analog, Embedded Processing and Wireless solutions for a broad range of applications. Several of these products push the envelope of ultra low power, high performance, etc. As the global demand for electronics and hence semiconductors rise, so should TI.
Twenty six years back Texas Instruments bet on the Indian talent and became the first global technology company to set up an R&D centre in India. Dr. Biswadip (Bobby) Mitra, President and Managing Director, TI India, joined the company then as a software engineer after completing his B.Tech in Electronics Engineering from IIT Kharagpur. Bobbyís focus on customers and innovative value-added products/solutions over the years is unmistakable.
"Over its history of more than 80 years, innovation has always remained a priority of Texas Instruments globally. As the semiconductor content in electronics keeps growing, so does our opportunity to innovate and add increased value to our customersí products and applications. That is complemented by razor-sharp focus on execution excellence to meet customer commitments," says Bobby.
Since 2006, TI has increased its focus on India as a growing semiconductor market. In applications ranging from Energy meters to LED lighting, UPS and Inverters, from Consumer appliances to Surveillance, Medical electronics to Education, from Automotive to Infrastructure, TI sees many opportunities to impact. "At the heart of all these applications are innovative products that contain semiconductors. As these innovations continue to grow, the demand for semiconductors would increase exponentially", says Bobby.
So TI India decided to expand its footprint across the country to move closer to its existing and potential customers across India.
"The semiconductor business is about understanding the customersí requirement and the environment in which they operate", says Bobby. "Itís a collaborative effort. Our engineers are always at close proximity to our customers. TIís broad semiconductor product portfolio in Analog and Embedded Processing gives us the opportunity to partner with our customers to bring value to their systems. This will be an important vector for TI in the years ahead," says Bobby.
One of the early innovations by the TI India team back in the mid-1990s was the design of the first microcontroller in India, code-named Ankoor. Originally designed for motor control applications for hard disks, Ankoor is still in production in the form of its variants. These chips are used in multiple HDD (hard disk drive) designs. Some of the applications built around Ankoor include industrial drives, motor control, digital power supplies, renewable energy, power line communication and electric power steering applications.
Today there's hardly a product at TI worldwide, not touched by innovations from TI engineers in India. In fact, TI and other chip design and EDA houses that followed later, from Intel to Cadence, have collectively made India one of the critical chip design hubs for the world.
Bobby emphasizes that innovation essentially must be embedded within the DNA of the organizational culture. Hence, right from the point when the company hires the best of minds from the academia to inducting them and training them into thinking out of the box, encouraging them to work closely with customers and looking at ways to differentiate, the culture of innovation is instilled in every step.
At TI, innovation starts with engineers understanding the customerís electronic system. "Innovation comes into play at all levels Ė from systems, applications, micro-architecture to IP development, design and verification, packaging and test, and essentially through the entire development chain. Several of these areas are highly inter-dependent. So we must look at innovation with a wide angle lens to develop system understanding, yet focus deep on the specific aspect one is working on," says Bobby.
But driving innovation across teams and varied experience levels is not easy. ďThe key is to do this consistently. Only then it becomes part of our culture. Global teaming with experts across the TI world is also an important way to sharpen the innovative edge,Ē says Bobby.
TIís Technical Ladder is a coveted recognition that encourages its best technical talent. The company has well-defined rungs in its technical ladder and election is through a global peer election process of technical experts. Several technical talent from TI India have been elected over the years based on their innovation and impact.
Association with Universities
Around ten years ago, TI India started a University program, under which it partners with several universities across India. Today it partners with over 800 universities across the country, by far the largest network amongst the companies in this space in India.
Additionally, TI has been successfully organizing the Texas Instruments Analog Design Contest for engineering students across India for the last three years. The contest aims at promoting analog IC-based hardware system design in engineering institutions. Undergraduate and postgraduate students from all recognized Indian academic institutions are eligible to participate.
The contest has helped in encouraging system level design and innovation among engineering students in the country. Last year, 93 teams from 26 colleges participated from across India. IIT Madras and Kalasalingam University, Tamil Nadu jointly won the First Prize.
Last year TI India also initiated a microcontroller design contest open to all companies engaged in electronic system design. Winners are judged on several parameters, including how innovative the application is.
PragaTI, the Ďuniversityí within the organization, provides a powerful way to invigorate creative minds. PragaTI was set up at TI India in 2006 to make its engineers truly world class through continued focus on innovation and learning. With internal and external faculty who are the best in their domains, PragaTI has since proved to be the harbinger of progress for a large number of TI India engineers who have reaped immense benefits from the various programs that are offered.
In addition to solving customerís problems through great products and field support, TI also understands that ideas can come sparking from even a small thought across employees in different business units. To encourage such freedom of exploring the possibilities, the company in 2009 set up Kilby Labs in Dallas, named after Jack Kilby. The India lab, set up in 2010 in Bangalore, is the first international expansion of Kilby Labs and is an integral part of the main Kilby Labs in Dallas.
The Kilby Labs in Dallas and Bangalore are a positive reinforcement of TIís commitment to innovation. Kilby Labs projects consist of highly innovative and disruptive concepts several generations ahead of where the current products are focused today. The research conducted in Kilby Labs is intended to rapidly demonstrate new concepts in practice.
Building the ecosystem
Over the years, TI has also been active in India in the creation of the semiconductor ecosystem through partnership with OEMs, Universities, EDA companies, IP and Embedded system houses, Test companies, etc. From academia to collaborating with experts across the industry, Bobby and team have ensured that every measure is taken to keep the spirit of innovation alive within the company. He says, "At the core of TI is its innovation engine. We want to create an environment where people can both imagine a better world and help build it."
Sergei Bubka, the famous Ukranian pole-vaulter made it a habit to break his own world record by simply raising the bar every time," says Bobby. "At TI, we do the same. Every time we come up with an innovative new design for our customers, we go back to the drawing board to come up with something more creative, and of higher value for the next product in the roadmap. Thatís innovation at work in TI," he quips.