Shyam Krishnamurthy From The Interview Portal interviews Vignesh Manokaran about his career in Automotive Safety Engineering.

Hi Vignesh, can you tell us about your background?

I was born and brought up near Coimbatore. My father was a transport contractor. My initial education till std 12 was at GKD matriculation school near Coimbatore. I was actively involved in sports, representing my school hockey team at state level championship and also in 4 X 400 track events. My elder sister has a masters degree in Applied Electronics and my mom is a homemaker.

What did you study after school?

Frankly i wasnt very focused on what i wanted to study. However since everyone else was doing engineering i also decided to follow. But i was very sure i didnt want to do ECE as i had seen my sister struggle with Electronics. At that time there was a new engineering college which had come up in Coimbatore, Info Institute of Engineering, which was backed by Deccan Pumps. After visiting the campus and since it was backed by a mechanical engineering company i decided to join the mechanical engineering stream.Before joining college i also worked in a BPO for about 3 months to improve my english and also earn some pocket money.

This college had no sports facilities, so i got involved in lots of extra curricular activities. I was the head of the Rotaract club and was also involved in several cultural activities. Since this was a new college, though the infrastructure was good, we didnt have any guidance regarding the industry. We were pretty much on our own. So i used to do my own research on different companies using google and linkedin.

During my 2nd year i landed an internship at Bosche, Bangalore for one month. This was an enlightening experience for me because i learnt how spark plugs were manufactured and about different safety systems in cars. This internship was my first exposure to vehicle safety. I did another internship for Simpson Diesel engines in 3rd year where i learnt how diesel engines were manufactured. 

During the 3rd and 4th year we formed a team and participated in the SAE-BAJA competition to build All Terrain Vehicle (ATV). I was leading the brakes stream. This experience gave me great exposure on building a vehicle and other aspects including networking with other teams. The whole experience taught us so much because we didnt have any guidance during the competition except for books. We had to use the lab resources ourselves and learn things about design through trial and error. Though we didnt win the competition, i learnt a lot and my goals were now cemented towards a career in automobiles.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and exciting career?

When i graduated from college i didnt have a job. At that time i was also thinking of going into a different career like public service because i wanted a job. After 2-3 months i got a job at LGB Super Speeds Pvt Ltd, a company that restored race car engines. They were also reconditioning old Tata truck engines. This company was in Coimbatore. Though i had a job, the work wasnt very satisfying because we had to follow a process and manage the logistics. I was a supervisor there. So i started looking around for better options. In 2013 i attended an interview at Halla Visteon climate control, a company based in Chennai. This was an area i was interested in because it was related to thermal engineering and i had done several projects related to heat pumps in my 3rd year of college. But i didnt get selected for the job.

While working at Super Speeds i got a call from a person who wanted a reference check for a friend who had applied to another company, JP Research India Pvt Ltd. My friend had applied for a job in that company. So i told the person that i was also looking for a change and he asked me to apply. After doing further research on the company i found that they were into vehicle crash investigations. It was a very interesting area where a team would try to digitally reconstruct the accident and feed it in a database (RASSI – Road Accident Sampling System – India ), so the vehicle manufacturers could analyze the accident and try to understand the cause. 

Tell us about your work

I was selected and started as a Crash Investigation engineer at JP Research and we would travel to accident sites and take various photos, note down technical data and whatever information we needed to digitally reconstruct the accident. I also worked in Pune for a year where i was investigating expressways while in Coimbatore i was responsible for village and district roads. At Pune we were also working with Mahindra to design accident free highways by 2020.

After working there for 3 years i realised that crash investigation was a very narrow area. Moreover, JP Research had a contract clause that forbade me from joining vehicle manufacturers, which limited the scope of opportunities for me. Since i was in Coimbatore and most opportunities were in Chennai and Bangalore i wasnt in a position to really search for another job. So i quit JP Research in 2017 without another job.

Since i had made lots of connections with various vehicle manufacturers during my stint at JP Research i contacted them to see if there were any opportunities. But crash investigation jobs were out of question because of the non-compete clause. Thats when i came to know that there were several other areas within vehicle crashes and one of then was CAE – Computer Aided Engineering. In CAE, a software was used to digitally simulate different accident scenarios to assess impact of accidents and structural integrity of vehicles.

Though my contacts at Renault-Nissan Alliance had suggested this i didnt have any exposure to CAE software. So i decided to take a course to make myself more marketable. On the 2nd day of the course i got an interview call from Renault-Nissan alliance for a CAE position.I did pretty well in the interview on all questions related to crash investigations. Though i didnt know the software i was hired on account of my experience in crash investigations.

I got the best CAE performer award end of that year. I currently work for electric cars in the European market – Nissan Leaf and Nissan Zoe. My work is related to vehicle optimisations based on CAE. My work involves lots of finite element analysis and evaluating structural integrity of vehicle.

My Future plans?

I Have taken up a job at Ford. My future plan is to work in the areas of Biomechanics and occupant safety. I would also like to learn as much as possible by working with global manufacturers and leverage my past experiences to design better vehicles.

Advice to students

When you join a college, dont depend on the college to get you a job. College gives you a formal education. It is up to you to be proactive and identify opportunities. Always look around, network and try to gain practical experience.