Frugal Engineering or Gandhian Engineering is the science of breaking up complex engineering processes/products into basic components and then rebuilding the product in the most economical manner possible. Frugal engineering results in simpler and easier to handle processes and cheaper products with necessary features. Indians and South Asians are known for frugal engineering. The Tata Nano, the cheapest car in the world today, is held up as an example of successful frugal engineering. In this Indian context, it is frequently referd as “Gandhian engineering” in honor of Mahatma Gandhi simple life.
Frugal innovation is important to developing countries because it is seen as a way yo provide modern products with essential features to tap the bottom of the pyramid. For example, new basic mobile phones by Nokia in India which costs 20 USD which can only be used for phone calling / SMS and basic functions, intentionally excluding more advanced features. The per product profit margin is low but the volume of the market is so huge that the total profit is very high.
In 2011, we printed a story on an Indian Innovation concept called Jugaad. Jugaad is also a colloquial Hindi word that can mean an innovative fix or a simple work-around, sometimes pejoratively used for solutions that bend rules, or a resource that can be used as such, or a person who can solve a vexatious issue. It is used as much to describe enterprising street mechanics as for political fixers. In essence, it is a tribute to Indian genius, and holistic thinking. The jugaad type of vehicles are not always known by this name in all over India. But the colloquial meaning of the same word is abundantly used, usually signifying the creativity of the Indian people to make existing things work or to create new things with meagre resources.
The jugaad concept can be contrasted with the Western (originally American) concept of a hack or kludge. Although in its general meaning “hack” is very similar to “jugaad”, a jugaad can be thought of more as a survival tactic, whereas a hack, especially nowadays, is seen an intellectual art form. Both concepts express a need to do what needs to be done, without regard to what is conventionally supposed to be possible.
Jugaad is increasingly being recognized all over the world as an acceptable form of frugal engineering pioneered in India. Companies in India are adopting Jugaad as a practise to reduce R & D costs and development costs. Jugaad is now an acceptable management technique of Indian origin. Jugaad also applies to any kind of creative and out of the box thinking which maximizes resources for a company and its stakeholders. This bottom up approach to frugal and flexible innovation, and the global companies who use it is outlined in the upcoming book, Jugaad Innovation – Think Frugal, Be Flexible and Generate Breakthrough Growth by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja.
The term ‘frugal engineering’ was first used by Carlos Ghosn, the joint chief of Renault and Nissan. He has praised Indian engineers, saying: “Frugal engineering is achieving more with fewer resources.”
Gandhian engineering is a concept introduced by Tata Motors intended to convey deep frugality and a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom applied to engineering, technological innovation, and new product development. The name originated from India, and was named following the Tata Motors’ Nano car conception, a cheap, frugal, low cost and innovative Indian car. It is associated with the sentence “Getting more [services] from less [resources] for more [people]”. The 2,000 USD Nano car, an artificial foot for 28 USD, and drugs conception for 10 million USD have been cited as examples of radical Gandhian engineering.