Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Future of Engineering

Opportunities and Challenges

To think of something new to be created is engineering. To think of new ways to create something is engineering.

To bring into creation what was thought of is engineering. To put into operation what has been created is engineering.

The theme has obviously been prompted by recession, or by the thought of recession. If we open up our minds then we could discover areas where there is no recession. Let us think in this direction.

There is no recession in communication. We are talking only more and more. We know this from the fact that millions of cellphone subscribers are getting added each year. Politicians are talking more; the young generation is talking more! To talk more you need more cellphones. For more cellphones to work, you need more systems. To provide for the same what you need is engineering.

Plastic was once described as the material of the future. Now it is no more a thought but is a reality. Even if I may not personally like plastic, my pen is made out of plastic, my cellphone is made of plastic, many of the parts of my car are made from plastic. Many things in my household are made out of plastic. The use of plastic is not going down. It is only going up. If you see how many exhibitors participated in Plastindia Fair, the number has only gone up. If you ask me how many visitors came to our stand in that fair, the number has only gone up. Wherever there is plastic, there is metal. Whatever is produced in plastic comes out of a mould and the mould is produced in metal. Both require engineering. To design the moulds requires engineering; to produce machines that make the moulds requires engineering; to produce moulding-machines that use the moulds requires engineering; and to pack the moulded products requires engineering. Engineering is everywhere.

Overall, the population of the world is increasing. Only in Europe it is decreasing. The number of young couples eating out is increasing, as the total earning levels in the family are rising. This means greater need for agriculture and for agricultural implements; Tractors; Harvesting Machines; Food-Processing Machines; and Packaging equipment for the food processed. All this requires engineering. Again, this leads to more work for the refrigeration industry for storing the food and for the sheet-metal industry for display-counters and serving systems. It generates more work for the electrical and the electronic-controls industry. This is engineering.

With each passing year more are the people whose health has to be cared for. Just as companies which produce pharmaceuticals never face recession, similarly comfortable are those producing diagnostic equipment, X-ray machines; scanners; etc. Again, for producing more medicines, more processing plants and packaging machines are needed. Packaging is a full-scale industry, developing the packing for each new product and then the machines to produce the same, whether it is bottling, cartoning, or bulk-packing. There is a very large amount of automation here. This requires continuous development. That again means engineering.

The time has come not only to look for but to harness alternate sources of energy. This means devices for the collection and the storage of various forms of energy available in nature: solar energy; wind energy; bio-energy; and others.
There are factories in Italy now generating their own energy from sunlight for running the machines. The excess energy produced, if any, is being sold back by them to the Electricity board. Thousands of megawatts of solar energy available is being abandoned by us daily. Solar energy has become a major subject of engineering.
Sulzon India, famous for wind-energy turbines, has tied up with TERI University to offer an M. Tech program in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. It should be possible for those who have done graduation from any one branch of engineering to enter new technologies for specializing and for doing Masters.

The human memory is short-lived, and very soon will pass into oblivion the memory of a great achievement by India, the landing of our mooncraft – Chndrayaan – an example of total coordination and perfection. To imagine that you fire a bullet at a target 4 lakh kilometres away, and that it hits a bull’s eye, is beyond imagination. The precision in the thrust, the timing, the speed, and the direction all combined together! I participated in the function held at Delhi for felicitating the Chandrayaan team, and for me it was a thrilling moment to shake hands with them and to take the autographs of Mr. Madhavan – ISRO Chairman, and others.
In about 6 years from now India plans to launch its manned spacecraft. The budget for this project is to the tune of rupees 12000 crores. This should lead to the development of the space-science in India on a greater scale. Even at a lower level, within our own country, the number of aircraft companies operating has gone up, and so has the number of aircrafts flying! It is said that about 800 flights take-off or land at Delhi every day. To operate the system at such levels, you need not only more pilots but also more of the qualified people for the maintenance. This is engineering.

NANOTECHNOLOGY: This is a new direction taken by technology where you handle atoms and molecules, using them sometimes as robots to carry out functions that would have been impossible to do with human hands or traditional robots, like entering the artery and reaching the heart to repair a defective heart-valve. Another aspect of nanotechnology is the development of new materials by rearranging the atoms and the molecules; including materials with memory. For example, dents on a car body could go away simply by heating the surface to a certain temperature. The body-material would revert to its original shape as existing in its memory. New products could emerge, being lighter than plastic though stronger than steel. Carbon nano-tubes are being produced in laboratories for a wide range of applications.

BIOTECHNOLOGY: If nanotechnology could be considered as manipulation of inorganic molecules, biotechnology would mean dealing with the organic ones. This new branch of technology would bring new strains of disease-resistant seeds through genetic manipulation; create the means for conversion of bio-garbage into energy; and develop oil-spill eating bacteria for cleaning the oceans.

Greater would be the need in future for transportation, not only for goods but also for people. More and more people would be travelling than ever before. This requires a continuous endeavour for better and more efficient means. Now we can talk of the automotive sector.
Let us not go back to the already much reviewed topics of cars, jeeps, scooters, and motor-cycles. These subjects are generally known to everybody and could be boring. Let us talk about the future.
The stocks of petroleum-products worldwide are depleting. Using petroleum is like drawing the genie out of Alladin’s Lamp. The only problem is that while it drives the car and obeys us to that extent, it refuses to go back into the ground after it has driven the car. All the more, as pollution, it goes over our head and stays there.
The future will bring to you cars and two-wheelers driven by hydrogen gas. Work is going on around the world on the development of hybrid vehicles. In Italy, in the automobile town of Torino, which is also called Turin, scooters have already been developed using hydrogen gas as a fuel. What gets exhausted is water. Similarly, four-wheelers too have been produced and are presently under trial. It is only a matter of time for all the above to be produced economically and in larger volumes.

Let me inform you that our own India-made battery-operated car, which we Indians are reluctant to use, has won the hearts of the British. It is being promoted by the municipality of London they have exempted it from tax, and from restrictions on zones where other private cars cannot enter. They have also provided all over the city charging stations where the battery of this car can be recharged for free. Development of new batteries is going on to make them more environment-friendly. The Mayor of London himself drives this Indian green car proudly.
The latest is that genetically tweaked viruses will become a part of future batteries, generating positive and negative charge. This means to say that there will be much developmental work carried out in this direction in the future, both for the battery-operated cars and for the batteries; and that means engineering.
The next that we hear is of plastic films replacing the painting of the cars. These films are applied at the stage of moulding of the plastic parts. So, body outer parts would all be plastic, meaning a light-weight, more fuel-efficient car.

With the climate changes that are causing the melting of glaciers, the next decades will see many cities around the world flooded with water. While Venice itself might get submerged, we fear, many other cities around the world would become Venice. This means that there will be shops on the boats, post offices on the boats, police on the boats, and nevertheless thieves also on the boats. In any case it means greater need of powered boats for transportation. This would be another area which will require to be looked into, as one of the important means of transportation. You could call it a water-borne automotive sector.
Those in white-collar jobs pressing the keys of their laptops or of desktops are like the Pandits of olden times. They are full of ideas and they create work or products out of them for the blue-collar colleagues. This means engineering.
Those with the blue-collars are those making use of this information, working in factories or at the production sites. They create projects for their white-collar colleagues either to develop new products, or to solve the problems faced with the existing equipment. What is this if not engineering?

Let us convert difficulties into opportunities and discover new paths and directions.

(Cavalier) Surendra Kumar
B.E. (Mech.) – IIT-Roorkee

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Bitterness of Sugar....

With due apologies to some of my closest friends who may disagree with me!
But, each one is free to express his views; me too, and they too. This poem
I had written for a CII_Delhi event held on the subject of saving India
from the Chinese economic invation.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

....and now a Blog!

All my life, I learnt to slog
Now they tell me - make a blog!
How to eat when the tum is full
Making a blog will mind not clog?


A DIGNIFIED STRUGGLE TO LIVE: The Short Story of a Long March….

She is weak, frail, old, poor.. but returning to her place of work every single morning! I know very little of her, and she hardly knows me. But, because of her will to survive, and that too with dignity, I hold her in great esteem.

She occupies a place on the ground adjacent to the BP petrol-pump near the Green Park bus stand. She carries her wares in a sack and spreads these around on the ground. These are mainly pouches of chewing-tobacco, and similar things which the bus-passengers stop-by to purchase from her. Last year she used to bring these in a small wooden box which she was able to carry on her head. Now, with her health failing and the eyesight poorer, apparently she is no longer able to carry the box.

I came across her the first time about 5 years ago, while returning from the market together with my wife. We stopped to buy some ‘chana’ (roasted gram) that I am fond of. On reaching home I discovered that the paper bag carried more than the matter for eating; there was inside also a 100 gm. weight. I had bought 200 gm. of material, and she did not notice her loss. I immediately rushed back to restore her the weight, knowing well that most of her customers bought in measures of 100 gms. only and that she would have great problems unable to do the weighing. She had a hand-cart (‘rehri’) at that time. With the passage of time, probably she could not push it any longer and started coming without it.

I started noticing her change of workstyle, gradually sliding down on the weaker side, and started giving her a banknote whenever I passed her by, touched by her great determination. The amount ranged between rupees 10 to 100, with no specific amount in my mind. She never asked me for anything, nor showed any expectation when I stopped by. I have not bought anything from her after she stopped bringing the hand cart, since from the goods that she now sells there is nothing I could use. I do not chew tobacco.

Her name is Harpyari, as she enthusiastically told me. Today, as I was photographing her, she smiled for a moment and then the smile vanished.

One of her customers, a guard at the petrol pump, arrived to buy something from her. To him I praised her for her fight against all odds – something which should be a lesson to all those who give up. He revealed to me that she was working not only for herself but also to groom two small grandchildren for whom no one cared. Their mother had died, and the father had become a drunkard. They have given her a purpose to live and she needs to earn more. Despite all this, I never saw her begging………

Some Thoughts on Our Society



Recently, I had the opportunity of attending various events and seminars. Here, I am trying to make a connection between them, on some of the ideas.

Delhi State
Annual Conference

Mr. Harpal Singh, Chairman Designate, mentioned about the skewed demographic pattern existing in Delhi. He said that there are only 750 girls being born in South Delhi as against 1000 boys. This showed the low level to which the most well-to-do section of our society had fallen.

In response to this, during the free session, I complained that one of the main reasons for this was financial, the same being the dowry system. If this system could go away, less families would object to having daughters.

I also blamed the younger generation, the one in the age group 25-30 years. Couples in this age group are the ones who are not allowing the birth of the child conceived if it would turn out to be a girl. Females themselves cannot absolve themselves and say that foeticide happened without their consent. The birth rate statistics relate to the current generation; not to the past one.

CII Northern Regional Annual Conference

Mr. Salil Singhal, the outgoing Chairman, too touched on the same subject of female foeticide in this region. Again, I took an opportunity to say that incentives should be granted for that female child which is the first child born into a family. This would encourage the people to permit females to be born. This idea was dropped with the reply that the Government is already doing much for the female child. If so, why are people continuing to kill the female child pre-birth? Many accept the birth of a girl only after a male child has been born; not before. The point they missed was that I was talking of the girl as the first child; not of any girl child. Someone even went to the extent of saying that if such a thing happened the people would start killing the first male foetus as there was no incentive for it! What a thought!

ICRIER Seminar on ‘Food Security in the SAARC Region’

There were many learned speakers and participants in the seminar. The Chairman, Dr. Panjab Singh, a reputed agronomist, said that the farmer today is suffering at the hands of the trader. He said that if a farmer carried his produce of vegetables to the market, the trader made him wait till the evening before striking a deal. This meant that the only choice the farmer had was either of throwing away his goods or to accept the price as dictated by the trader. He had no choice of taking the goods back as they would only rot at his own place. For example, he said that if the farmer had one ton of material to sell, he got the price for one ton; if two tons, he still got the price for one ton. If the quantity was four tons he get nothing and would have to throw away everything on the road side. He pointed to Dr S.K. Roy, sitting in the audience, inventor of a low-cost storage-bin costing only Rs.2,500 at that time. This bin required no energy and yet conserved the vegetables for upto a week. The irony of the situation was that while Dr. Roy received a national award for his invention, nobody came ahead to produce it. Had such bins been available to the farmers, they would not have been at the mercy of the traders, rejecting the low price offered at the end of the day, and bringing their produce back to the village – to carry it again the next day.


Mercedes was happy having been able to sell 10 numbers of its latest model, introduced in India at a cost of Rs.54,00,000 each, on the very first day of the launch. 6 of these were sold in an industrial town! Just imagine these being sold in a town which has neither a proper airport nor roads wide and free enough for driving a Mercedes. The only reason why hundreds of Mercedes cars are bought there every year is just for showing-off the wealth. The buyers are the same people who would not pay better wages to a labourer of their region, but would prefer paying lower wages to the migrant labour from Bihar. Against the cost of one Mercedes of the latest version, they could have financed the supply of over 1000 storage-bins to the poor farmer. Who has the heart for doing such a thing? Has someone the magnanimity?

I am reminded of what Chanakya wrote: ‘The trader is the trustee of the society; what he gains he should plough back for the society’s benefit’!

At the end, I would appeal to all those, who have a girl as their eldest child, to try to educate others who are newly-married and might be on the way to their first conception, not to deny the first child, if a girl, the right to be born.

Further, I would be happy if we could do something for the poor farmer. The nation cannot live without the farmer, just with the industry alone. I had made a suggestion for low-cost pilot food-processing plants to be introduced at the village level.

This could save much of the fruits and vegetables that get damaged in transit.

Surendra Kumar New Delhi 31-03-2009