Mclaren, a name that epitomizes Speed and Power, is known in the racing circuit for its high performance Supercars, often known to break speed barriers.

Such unbridled power at insane speeds pose unique and significant challenges to BioMechanical Engineers in terms of driver and occupant safety.

Sumit Sharma, our next pathbreaker and Biomechanical Engineer at McLaren, works on passive  safety based on the concepts of Biomechanics.

He talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about his early interest in Automobiles that led him to file several patents at Mercedes Benz as CAE Analyst.

Sumit, tell us about your background?

I have had the opportunity to study in one of the renowned schools of India, “Birla School, Pilani”. Having studied in a boarding school since 4th standard, I have learnt to deal with problems on my own. Interacting with fellow students from all parts of India with varied financial backgrounds has broadened my horizon towards appreciating the rich cultural diversity in my country. Moreover, the qualities of hard work and perseverance that I have imbibed from my parents have equipped me with the ability to face adversities. This I believe strengthens my adaptability and will stand me in good stead in the multicultural environment in my current organization.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I was 17 when I first saw the heart of a motorcycle at an uncle’s 2-wheeler garage. It was my first experience of looking at engines, transmission systems and the whole technical assembly of a motorcycle from close quarters. Over the next six months, working with grease-stained hands, the smell of lubricants and the sound of engines revving, it felt real and not something abstract. I realized I had started to develop a fascination for automobiles. With a strong and focused desire to explore further, I opted to pursue Mechanical Engineering at VIT University, Vellore. After working some years after my undergraduate degree in engineering, I pursued an MSc in Applied Mechanics at the Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden to polish my skills further, and to experience newer avenues of learning personally and professionally.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

During my under-graduation, I worked on a project titled “Design and fabrication of three speed transmission system for a prototype car” aimed at helping the Official super mileage vehicle team of the university. The project required an understanding of design methodology, CAD, FEM and hands on experience in fabricating the proposed design. I performed the analytical design calculations for transmission components, created CAD models and carried out stress and deformation analysis. This challenging task included transmitting torque from 50 cc lawn mower engine to the wheel with implementation of techniques to ensure that the vehicle is run for a maximum time near the minimum Brake Specific Fuel Consumption region (about 5500rpm) by deciding on the appropriate gear ratios.  My designs laid the foundation for the team to achieve a mileage of 300 kmpl, a quantum improvement over the mileage of 56kmpl recorded in the previous year. 

I have been able to showcase my research skills that allowed me to publish a paper titled “Investigation of Emissions and Combustion Characteristics of a CI Engine Fuelled with Waste Cooking Oil Methyl Ester and Diesel Blends” in Scopus Indexed Peer Reviewed: Alexandria Engineering Journal, which is one of the most cited papers in the journal with more than 100 citations to date.

Armed with the experience gained at VIT University during my undergraduate studies and equipped with 3 years of work experience in the R&D division at Mercedes-Benz India, I have cultivated a strong penchant towards research and later published 2 patents in the field of occupant safety at Mercedes.

Tell us about your career path

At Mercedes, my research experience in my role as CAE Analyst has directly contributed to the product development of several modules. The patents titled, “Pre-Safe Active Sill in Lateral Impact” and “Seat Rotation for Occupant Safety in Lateral Impact During Pre-Safe Phase” improve car’s performance in the side crash tests. The ideas help reduce the dummy injury impact values significantly, thus helping attain better safety ratings for cars. Furthermore, I was one of the only 3 Simulation and Functional experts during my tenure at Mercedes.

I did internships in all my summer breaks during my undergraduate studies. I even worked at a garage to understand more about cars. I have always believed that the Bachelor/Master thesis is very important. One should pursue it properly in some industry of his/her choice. ( one’s career is influenced by that as that’s the first experience in the industry and one needs to deliver with some mentorship support and own hard work).

Below are some of the internship/apprenticeship/work experience which I did:

  1. Internship in National industries limited (A ball bearing company in India)
  2. Internship in Delhi metro rail corporation.
  3. Projects with Formula/Baja teams at VIT university. (Very important learning curve here and one can discover his/her interest as well)
  4. Three years of work experience as a CAE Analyst with Mercedes Benz R&D India. ( First, break in the professional environment)
  5. Research assistant position in Vehicle and traffic safety and Injury biomechanics courses in my master’s studies.
  6. Volvo engineering student concept program with summer job and promised master thesis by Volvo car Corporation headquartered at Gothenburg, Sweden.
  7. Biomechanics project with Swedish handball team league (First division in Swedish league handball).

How did you get your first break?

Lets talk about my first job after my Masters degree. I came across a very nice job opening at Mclaren and I applied through LinkedIn. Cleared all rounds and got in. The role sought for the job was exactly in line with my previous work experience as well as the courses I studied during my master’s and master’s thesis.

Tell us about your work at McLaren? 

At present, I work at McLaren Automotive Limited in the capacity of Senior engineer CAE Passive safety and Biomechanics. Working with a luxury car manufacturer in the past and working for supercar manufacture now is a dream come true. Both differ significantly in terms of the structure of the car, sitting position of the driver, interiors, weight of the car and material of the monocoque. Supercar industry is moving towards lighter & stronger materials i.e. significant portion of the car is made up of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is the new thing in the automobile industry, however, it has been used quite a lot in the aircraft industry.

My job at McLaren is to work on the legal safety requirements of various countries such as USA, Europe, Japan, Australia, China, etc to make sure our Cars perform well for all test metrics. Also, I make contributions towards the development of interiors, exteriors, various modules and restraint systems, which has directly contributed to corresponding product developments. Having said that, I have developed  proactive interest in digital and functional development of the car, which has helped me develop a practical understanding of injury-biomechanics, human anatomy, and dummy technology and has thus, given me a deeper understanding of the occupant safety domain as well as vehicle development. A typical day at work involves discussing the current issues in the car with stakeholders, brainstorming to find a solution and figuring out ways to implement the solution in the product. Also, the aim is to find a frugal and robust solution. 

How does your work benefit the society? 

I have been involved in the development of safe vehicles throughout my career. Having fewer road fatalities and reducing injuries in the road accident is the direct impact that I make on society.

Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!

I have found maximum satisfaction in helping the victims of the 2015 Chennai flood in whichever way possible. During this natural calamity, I coordinated with other volunteers in Chennai to make arrangements for safety and relief operations, set up a helpline, deploy volunteers in affected regions to distribute food and reallocate people to safer places. I even organized a donation drive at Mercedes-Benz to collect medicines, clothes, food and other necessity items for the stranded people. The CSR wing at Mercedes-Benz has provided me with a channel to do contribute to the society and made me determined to use my privileges in an effective manner.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Networking is very important in student and professional life. Learn your fundamentals at your university/school, try to understand what kind of work people do at the companies. There are many professional areas of which students are not really aware while studying at universities. So, attend some guest lectures, ask your school/college to invite industry professionals to tell what they work with, what courses are important and how you can become what they are. Develop some programming skills (irrespective of your domain) and soft skills, its very important in professional life.  

Learn the fundamentals properly , ask a lot of questions to yourself and faculty. Get involved in applications of what you read by doing some projects and publish research papers of your findings. Always keep an eye where the industry is going and do similar stuff to what is in demand and matches your interest. Always keep in touch with the professors as they are the first mentor for everyone at university. Ask for Research assistant or Teaching assistant positions/Apprenticeship in some projects and cultivate your interest further. 

Linkedin Account is very important, take it seriously and keep networking with industry experts and recruiters.

Future Plans?

I strongly believe that sustainable transportation will be a key component of our future. In the long run, I see myself as a professional engineer dedicated to the development of safe, affordable, eco-friendly and fast solutions for transportation. I also aspire to promote and popularize the usage of sustainable Electric Vehicles.