Frugal engineering using lesser resources is important due to the following reasons. First, climate change and other planetary crises are beckoning us to lead a quality life with respect for environment so as to leave a better-functioning planet for posterity. And second, the world in general is aiming for inclusive growth involving better living standards for all on this planet. Against this backdrop, the urge to carry out engineering with traditional and also cutting-edge science respecting environmental-boundaries is stronger than ever.

Accordingly, frugal engineering designs and fabricates products in all sectors with an eye on conserving resources while delivering good functionality affordably. Such frugally engineered products are called advanced frugal innovations (AFIs). The concept of AFI had its humble beginnings mainly in India from makeshift grassroots frugal innovations, a popular example of which is a refrigerator made out of earthenware. Global examples of frugally engineered AFIs abound in sectors ranging from automotive, healthcare and aerospace to particle physics. Examples include low-cost cars; water-filters; CubeSats (miniature satellites) made of low-cost parts for affordable space-applications; portable versions of electrocardiogram (ECG) and ultrasound for affordable healthcare; and smartphones coupled with TB-probe-and-cloud-based-software for mobile and also low-cost TB diagnosis. All of these AFIs are compact (without being “bulky” like many of the traditional products wasting resources) and give excellent functionality (sometimes better than traditional ones!) at low-cost. These are features shared by such products in general.

Advanced frugal products have become popular in both emerging markets and rich countries with extended applications such as emergency services in the latter. I have been an early researcher in this area and have developed an approach for designing AFIs from scratch and also subsequent fabrication & assembly. This approach is based on a modern version of the safety-factor called the factor-of-frugality, which can be applied to systematically lower resource-consumption, with plausible reduction of attendant emissions, in all stages of product-development. Such a frugal-design-approach leads to successful engineering of various products that though cheap provide quality-functionality while significantly abetting widespread sustainable development.

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Balkrishna C. Rao

Professor (ICCR Visiting Chair Leibniz University Hannover, Germany 2022), Engineering Design, IIT Madras.