Industrialization has raised our standard of living. But have we ever thought about that wonder material that keeps industries and machines running??

Vinay Saini, our next pathbreaker, Tribologist, works on development of the next-generation of nano-lubricants that minimize friction in mechanical components, thus enhancing their wear preventive characteristics and ensuring longer life of machines.

Vinay talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about gaining hands-on industrial experience with various mechanical operations after Engineering and realizing the importance of predictive maintenance in plant operations that led him to Tribological research in Lubricants.

For students, enhancing the life of machines that support us every day is probably one of the biggest challenges of our times. Read on to know more about Tribology …

Vinay, tell us about your background?

I belong to the village Bohran situated in the Mukerian city of Punjab. My schooling is from the Sainik School Kapurthala (SSKP), where I studied from standard 5th to 12  and lived 7 years of my budding life (2000-2008) in the hostel. It was a unique experience since we had to follow strict rules and regulations. The Sainik School is a prep institute for defense aspirant students. So, we have to follow a rigorous, disciplined lifestyle. We had followed a strict timetable for all activities such as morning PT, study hours, and then sports in the evening. In studies, I was an average student. However, I enjoyed outdoor activities and played different sports (Table tennis, squash, basketball). From the beginning, I had an inquisitive mind; I was curious to learn and understand various mechanical devices and possible mechanisms behind its working. Reminiscing those days, I regularly used to visit my school library and read about scientific objects. 

Interestingly, I wanted to join the armed forces like a lot of my friends. In pursuit of that, I cleared the exams (NDA, CDS, AFCAT) numerous times, but unfortunately could not crack the SSB interview. In the meantime, my vigor to learn pushed me to opt for mechanical engineering immediately after 12th. And I kept trying for the armed forces simultaneously.

Talking about my family, my father is a retired army officer, and my mother is a housewife. I have one younger brother who is also a mechanical engineer.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

Well, after completing my schooling, I took the engineering entrance AIEEE (IIT JEE). However, I was not able to get a good rank. Fortunately, I was able to get a fairly good rank in the State Engineering Entrance Exam. Based on rank I took admission to the RIMT Engineering institute affiliated to Punjab Technical University (PTU) in 2008 and earned my B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering degree in 2012.

Immediately after completing my bachelor’s, I managed to get a job as a production/development engineer in Turbo Pvt Industries Pvt Ltd (Ludhiana, Punjab). While working, I gained hands-on experience with various mechanical operations and realized the importance of predictive maintenance in plant operations.  It was an insightful work experience as I was involved in the fabrication and development of new products using different machine operations. I worked for about 13 months and then decided to pursue my Master’s studies.

I prepared for the Gate exam by studying at home and taking weekend Classes from Gate Form(Jalandhar) for  2 months, and was able to crack the exams. Thus, I managed to secure a seat for my Master’s in industrial tribology maintenance management at NIT Srinagar (J&K). I took my master’s course in this particular branch as I wanted to learn new strategies that are closely relevant to industrial operations. Luckily this was the best decision of my career,  M.Tech enlightened me with the field of Tribology. Now let me make you familiar with the field of Tribology. In brief, Tribology is the science of friction, wear, and lubrication of interacting surfaces in relative motion. Friction is the resistance to relative motion, wear is the loss of material due to that motion, and lubrication is the use of a fluid/ solids) to minimize friction and wear. Overall it’s a complex interdisciplinary branch of science as researchers of various fields (mechanical, materials science, chemistry, and chemical engineering and many more branches) of science work collaboratively on diverse industrial problems and their solutions. According to a study, the overall friction related losses in various equipment/industries contribute to nearly 1.5-3 percent of GDP loss to developed nations. Realizing that this field was inclined to industrial application solutions, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of nano-Lubricants. Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. from CART (Centre of Automotive Research Tribology) in IIT Delhi.

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

During my first job in Turbo industries, I realized the importance of preventive maintenance strategies to minimize unnecessary breakdowns. However, M. tech gave me a detailed glimpse of Tribology and its related research areas. And during my master’s journey, I was exposed to Condition based monitoring of bearings and associated lubrication aspects, especially when I undertook a 2-week industrial internship at Gates India Pvt. Ltd. There I experienced the importance of correct usage of lubricants/ grease in various rolling mills and other equipment to keep it operating smoothly. 

Well, for the research project during my masters, I went on to do my research at CSIR, IIP Dehradun, under the mentorship of Dr. G D Thakre. I worked on simulating wear of standard bearings materials under various rolling/sliding conditions. Experimental studies were correlated with the simulation studies to find the remaining useful life of bearings. This project and the overall experience made me realize that research is something I enjoy.  I decided to pursue doctoral studies to achieve my goal and contribute something significant to the field of tribology. Hence, I applied and got selected into the IITD Ph.D. Program.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path-

When I began my engineering education, I never thought I would go for higher studies. Therefore, I preferred to go for a job instead of higher studies immediately after my bachelor’s. During my first job, I got the opportunity to enhance my skills while learning about the operation of various machines such as sheet metal forming, mechanical press, and many more. While at the same time, to fulfill my internal desire to join the armed forces, I cleared the CDS & AFCAT exam twice each; however, I failed to clear the SSB interview. These failures made me realize that it was not my cup of tea. Meanwhile, as a development engineer, I was involved with various mechanical operations on different equipment. I developed an interest in predictive maintenance strategies for various industrial equipment. I started reading different books in respective fields. The whole industrial experience made me realize that M. Tech can further help me in gaining educational experience in new industrial technologies. Thus, I prepared and cleared the gate exam, through which I was able to acquire M. Tech seat in Industrial Tribology and Maintenance Management (IT&MM) offered by the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar (J&K) with MHRD Scholarship. During my Master’s, I learned about Tribology and maintenance techniques and advanced manufacturing technologies. Also, during M.Tech I attended a few conferences and did an industrial internship. I carried out my master thesis work at CSIR IIP Dehradun under the guidance of Dr.  GD Thakre and Dr. GA Harmain. With sheer dedication, I was able to secure the First position in M.Tech for which i received the Gold medal during M.Tech convocation. 

After finishing M. Tech, I immediately joined Chandigarh University (CU) as an Assistant Professor in the Automobile Department. I worked in CU for 1 year and taught and M.Tech students. Meanwhile, I was very sure that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in the tribology field., so I applied to selected institutes in India and abroad. I got selected at the IITD Ph.D. program under my supervisor, Prof. J Bijwe. Fortunately, under IITD-IOCL R&D MOU, I became a joint student of IOCL R&D (Dr. SSV Ramkumar, Dr. Sarita Seth) and IIT-D (Parent institute). This allowed me to use the facilities of both IITD and IOCL R&D which was one of the best choices I ever made. 

How did you get your first break? 

Well, I wanted to work and get hands-on training in an industrial environment, and luckily with the help of someone, I came to know about hiring in the company and after the interview, got my first job as a production/development engineer.

What were the challenges you faced ? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: The greatest challenge which I faced during my early career was the dilemma of my desire to join the armed forces. Therefore, I was not able to focus my efforts and dedication in one area. The sooner I realized that the armed forces wasn’t my cup of tea; I moved to my other passion for pursuing scientific research. And thus, I was able to focus with utter dedication on research and studies 

Challenge 2: During my Ph. D, there were times when I felt that I was approaching a dead end, or sometimes the resources required for my research (a machine or materials) were not available for a long time. However, I was calm and composed. In the meantime, I worked on the literature, and tried a different approach with equipment available. Even now, in the time of the global pandemic, when the institute was closed, and we are unable to carry pending research activities; I made use of previously collected experimental data and wrote a manuscript and published an article and still completed pending work. We must be able to utilize our time with the utmost priorities. I am attending webinars related to Tribology to keep myself updated.

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?

Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. from CART (Centre of Automotive Research Tribology) in IIT Delhi under the guidance of Prof. Jayashree Bijwe. I have two other co-supervisors (Dr. SSV Ramakumar and Dr. Sarita Seth) from IOCL R&D Faridabad, being a joint student of IOCL as per IOCL- IITD MOU. 

What problems do you solve? 

Being a Tribologist, we try to minimize the friction in mechanical components and thus enhance its wear preventive characteristics of relative components. Overall, we are trying to reduce energy waste due to unnecessary frictional heat dissipation in various mechanical components through different approaches and technologies. As part of my Ph.D. research, currently, I am focusing on the development of next-generation lubricants with the help of robust noble nano-additives. Well, I explore the tribo-potential of different nanometer-sized particles (< 0.1 μm) and explore their tribological properties. Hence, I am using the nanoparticles to enhance the performance capability of formulated lubes at standard industrial and laboratory conditions, further exploring the interaction of these nano-additives with base oil on the interacting surfaces and the impact on the load-carrying as well as the wear preventive properties of lubes.

What skills are needed for the job? How did you acquire the skills?

Since Tribology is a multi-disciplinary branch, a plethora of knowledge and skill set is needed.

However, attaining knowledge about Lubricants (understanding of Mechanical components, base-oil chemistries, additive interactions, and lubrication regimes) is one of the critical skill sets needed. I learned the above by reading  books, published articles and through the internet. While my bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and industrial work experience helps me understand the mechanical system; my M.Tech in Tribology enables me to understand the tribological aspects. During my Ph.D., I attended numerous webinars and conferences in this field which further helped me in understanding the tribological aspects of lubricants and their additives chemistries. It has been a gradual approach in understanding the operational features of various equipments over a while. Initially, I took the help of my seniors (Dr. Manoj Gupta, Dr. Jitendra, Dr. Ajay, and other peers) for decoding the data to understand the research perspective from different viewpoints. Even now, whenever struck, I take the help of my supervisors (Dr. J Bijwe) and my current lab peers.

What’s a typical day like? 

Well, before the pandemic, it used to be somewhat scheduled. I used to get up around 6.30-7 am and then play badminton in the morning to freshen up my mind and body to start my day. Then my lab research work begins around 9.30 am. Before that, I reflect on the most critical tasks of the day or other prior engagements and accordingly plan for daily tasks. Thus, based on my priorities, I start my work on different equipment to formulate the nano-oils following well-defined procedures. Or sometimes I might work on the evaluation of the physical and tribological properties of oils. Sometimes we become so engrossed in testing/experiments that we forget to take breaks since we cannot leave our equipment running alone. Sometimes we improvise and seek the help of our peers and thus take necessary breaks in a scheduled manner. Generally, lunchtime is from 1-2 pm. Then again, I prefer to work till 6.30 pm or 7 pm. Since health is essential, I prefer to go for a run and do some exercises in the evening.

What is it you love about this job? 

As a continuation of my research, I get to study and develop energy-efficient lubricants using my knowledge and comprehend the mechanisms of how lubricants provide surface protection at the atomic/molecular level using different techniques. As we all know, optimizing lubrication effectiveness is of paramount importance for rotating machinery equipments in many industries 

How does your work benefit society? 

Although my work is still in the early stage, I am hopeful that I will be able to successfully develop energy-efficient and eco-friendly lubricants capable of reducing greenhouse gases significantly, in particular, to few industrial applications and enhance the service life of tribo-components. 

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

I am still a research fellow; every experiment, every project, and every journey is a new learning opportunity for me and thus is memorable. I enjoy the journey rather than the outcome of the project. However, my First Ph.D. research work experience is quite dear to me. It reminds me of how much effort I had put in and the passion. When I presented my work in the international conference TRIBOINDIA 2018 held by TSI (Tribology Society of India), I was conferred with the first prize for the best paper in applied science. This further motivated me to continue as a researcher and make an impact.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

A Ph.D. is not easy, but rather a process of solving problems through unique approaches. It requires a lot of patience and dedicated as well as incremental scientific efforts. I prefer to read a lot of magazines to keep myself aware and updated about new technologies in the current market, industrial scenario and future needs. So I would advise students to take up research only if you are interested and willing to work hard.

Future Plans?

I want to carry on with research activities and develop better solutions to existing real industrial problems using sustainable and green solutions. I picture myself joining an R&D Centre to carry out my research activities. My immediate plan is to continue my research journey as a postdoctoral fellow on a collaborative project. My inner desire is to carry research in the field of tribology and travel to various places and explore different cultures.