Prof. Surjya K. Pal, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Professor-in-Charge, DHI Centre of Excellence in Adv Manuf Tech (http://www.coeamt.com ), Associate Dean, Alumni Affairs, Chairman, Steel Technology Centre, Executive Adviser, Science and Technology Entrepreneurs’ Park (STEP), added another feather to his cap recently. He has been appointed Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya Chair Professor of Manufacturing in the Department of Mechanical Engineering of IIT Kharagpur for 2019-22.
The Chair was set up in April 2019 by Prof. Tapan Bagchi (DSc/2012/IM), alumnus of the Institute, former Director, NITIE, Mumbai, and former Dean of SP Jain Mumbai and Dubai. The Chair was instituted in the memory of Distinguished Alumnus Lord Sushanta Kumar Bhattacharyya – Founder Chairman of the Warwick Manufacturing Group and a renowned academic, successful entrepreneur, manufacturing expert and leading consultant to industry and governments – who passed away on March 1, 2019. The Chair will promote excellence in manufacturing and partnership with industry while making maximum use of the technological capabilities of IIT Kharagpur.
Prof. Pal spoke to KGP Chronicle about the honour, his personal memories of Lord Bhattacharyya, working with WMG and his own dreams about the DHI Centre of Excellence in Advanced Manufacturing Technology, which he heads.
What are your feelings on being appointed the Lord Bhattacharyya Chair Professor of Manufacturing?
I’m really honoured because this award means a lot to me. Lord Bhattacharyya was a pioneer in bringing academic research to the industries in order to create an impact in the industrial world. We have set up the DHI Centre of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing with the same motto and we are trying to follow the model of WMG. Receiving the award in the name of Lord Bhattacharyya is thus a real honour to me.
What do you think is Lord Bhattacharyya’s legacy?
Conventionally, the academic world and the industry run parallel to each other, and the worlds do not converge. The WMG is where the academia and industry work together to bring success. It was Lord Bhattacharyya who pioneered this concept and steered it to phenomenal success through WMG, his brainchild. At the DHI CoE, we are following his footsteps.
You were talking about how momentous your visit to the WMG had been. Could you please eludicate?
I had heard a lot about WMG during my time in Sheffield as a post-doctoral scholar. Here at IIT Kharagpur, I had been constantly encouraged by our former Director, Prof. Partha Pratim Chakrabarti, to visit WMG to see for myself its unique operations. At WMG, they do their research for the industry. The industry identifies the problem and the faculty members work together with the industry professionals to find a solution.
Visiting WMG enriched me and completely changed my perspective. In November 2018, I got an opportunity to meet Lord Bhattacharyya himself, and it turned out to be an overwhelming experience. I told him about my plans about the Centre of Excellence in Advanced Manufacturing that will be a gamechanger in the manufacturing sector following the footsteps of WMG. I still remember him saying that WMG would give its wholehearted support to IIT KGP, which is his alma mater and which recognizes him as a Distinguished Alumnus. He told me, “Whatever support you want, WMG will be there for IIT KGP.”
WMG is one of the international partners of the DHI Centre. What kind of support are they providing to the Centre?
WMG is officially the international research advisor of the Centre. We had discussions with Prof. Dave Mullins of WMG. He came to visit my lab along with Prof. Sujit Banerji and Prof. Barbara Shollock, both then with WMG, and took a lot of interest in my work. They proposed if we could jointly organize training program for industries. The DHI Centre is about to run programs customised for different industries, particularly for MSMEs. We are trying to see how WMG can help us evolve our curriculum for these training programs. Besides, WMG faculty are the co-supervisors of several doctoral scholars at IIT Kharagpur.
Could you please talk about industry participation in the activities of the DHI Centre?
The Centre is an interdisciplinary industrial research centre which works through a consortium of companies. Four of them are private companies–like Tata Sons, Tata Motors, Tata Consultancy and Tata Steel – and two are public sector companies, such as BHEL and HEC Ranchi. Industry and faculty members are working together to solve problems of the respective industries. Side by side, we are floating several short term courses and organizing workshops. Take the recent Composite 4.0 workshop, where faculty members of world universities gave lectures through Skype. There were also lectures by industry leaders from Airbus and Tata AutoComp.
Consortium members are giving us greater connectivity with the industry. As part of our MoU with the companies, industries can also participate in lectures and attend courses for free. Take the forthcoming workshop on September 20. Falling into the research paradigm of our DHI, I have also lectured in Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Engineering Export Promotion Council of India (EEPC) and other fora. Together, we are also devising affordable training courses for MSMEs.
Which is the most sought after research area pursued by the DHI Centre?
We work in four verticals – materials, automation, additive manufacturing and Industry 4.0. The last, also known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is most well-recognized and sought after. It is said that IIoT and data analytics will serve a critical role in enabling the vision of smart machines and intelligent cooperation between multiple machines promoting sustainable operations. One of the components of this is additive manufacturing because it is a new route of manufacturing. These two areas are becoming most prominent. We have two projects in Industry 4.0 and two in additive manufacturing, where we have strong faculty strength. We are also exploring the field of specialty materials. Several companies, such as Airbus has shown a lot of interest in this sector. The crux of the matter is to give higher productivity at lower cost while ensuring quality. That is what advanced manufacturing is all about.
What is the role of such alumni funded chair professorships in encouraging the culture of research?
An alumni-endowed Chair tries to create an impact in any particular research area. For eg, when Vinod Gupta recently endowed the A.S. Davis Chair in Thermodynamics, he vividly recalled Prof. Davis’s way of working and his vision. The purpose of creating the A.S. Davis Chair was to further this vision. Similarly, when Prof. Tapan Bagchi instituted the Lord Bhattacharyya Chair of Manufacturing, he wanted to promote a specific vision which he thought would benefit the Institute from where Lord Bhattacharyya had graduated. So This Chair brings me a lot of honour as also the responsibility of working more intently with industry. My being the Associate Dean, Alumni Affairs, helps me forge a connection with the alumni as well. If they come forward and work with DHI Centre, it will flourish, which is the vision and wish of Prof. Bagchi. The DHI Centre is very close to my heart. I passionately look forward to its success.
The DHI Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Advanced Manufacturing Technology at IIT Kharagpur was set up by the Department of Heavy Industries under the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Govt. of India, in November 2017 to strengthen the country’s capital goods sector through a constant upgradation of manufacturing technology and technology transfer to industry, particularly to MSMEs. This Centre aims at proliferating innovative research focused on industries on Specialty materials, Design and automation, Additive manufacturing, and Digital manufacturing & Industrial IoT. The centre encourages the young minds and doctoral scholars for a full-fledged involvement in its endeavours with fellowship opportunities.