Computer Aided Design is enabling quicker ways to prototype products, lowering costs due to reduced wastage, and paving the way for a feedback driven design mechanism that closely matches the proposed finished product.
Hari Prasath, our next pathbreaker, Mechanical Design and Rapid Prototyping Engineer, designs “concise” mechanical bodies for electrical/electronic components and also manufactures them using 3D Printing Technologies.
Hari talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his initial freelancing experiences in designing a Prosthetics Leg, which gave him a taste of the diversity of challenges in mechanical design.
For students, there was a time when mechanical engineering was considered a saturated field. But today mechanical engineering is at the forefront of industrial and retail automation based on disruptive technologies such as IoT and Additive Manufacturing !
Hari, what can you tell us about your background?
I am from a middle-class family as most people in India are. My father runs a hardware shop and my mother is a housewife. I have a younger sister who is pursuing ACS. Cricket was my only interest during school days. Even though I played for my school team, I did manage to do well in studies. In fact, playing cricket helped me do well in studies. That made me feel that I should start working on my studies more. Apart from that, I had a lot of interest in the design of engines of cars and other machines. Along with that, when I started studying mechanical engineering, I really got interested in a few subjects namely Thermodynamics & Internal Combustion Engines and Design of Machine Elements. These were the two things that made me feel that I would be suitable for a career related to mechanical engineering.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I did B.E in Mechanical Engineering from Anand Institute of Higher Technology from 2013-2017.
During my bachelor’s, I studied a lot of subjects such as Strength of Materials, Design of Machine Elements and Transmission Systems, Manufacturing technologies, Material Science and Mechatronics. But I developed a thorough understanding of fundamentals of subjects such as Designing of Machine Elements & Transmission Systems and Thermodynamics as I was more interested in these subjects. When it came to other subjects, I learned them and cleared those subjects. But the above-mentioned subjects were my priority, so I gave a lot of time to those subjects.
After that, I wanted to study further and did a Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering at The University of Nottingham from 2017-2018.
I decided to go abroad for three major reasons: 1. Quality of Education 2. Life skills that I would gain from international experience and 3. Job in UK. Of the three, I gained the first two. But when it came to getting a job, though I was able to find a job, I could not get a VISA. I even cleared the test conducted by Rolls Royce for Graduate Mechanical Engineers, but could not join them because of the Visa restrictions for Graduate roles. The major reason for choosing England was the language, even though the living costs are pretty high. I applied to a few universities like Cardiff University, Nottingham Trent University, University of Nottingham, etc. Also, I got unconditional offer letters from all these three universities. I preferred University of Nottingham because of the syllabus they had and their position in QS World Rankings. They were present in the top 100 for the past few years. Also, they belong to Russell Group of Institutions which consists of a very few prestigious list of universities. Because of that, they are able to receive funds from a lot of companies like Rolls Royce for research. I took loans to study there as the deadline for getting a scholarship was over even before I got the final results. Otherwise, I could have received at least 80% scholarship since my UG percentage was above 75%. But as I mentioned above, I was prepared to face financial issues.
My master’s degree has enabled me to develop an excellent and in-depth understanding of concepts and skills in internal combustion engines and adjoining technologies such as welding, as well as updating my knowledge about current trends in the field of Mechanical Engineering such as Additive Manufacturing and Photonics.
My Postgraduate Dissertation was on Investigation of Inverted Brayton Cycle of Water for Methane Oxidation Catalytic Conversion. I studied the possibility of removing water using an inverted Brayton cycle from exhaust gases of dual-fuel engines for the methane catalytic conversion process and also studied the possibility of recovering and utilizing cold energy from LNG. This probably is the most difficult project I have worked on till now.
What were the drivers that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
Just like a lot of people in our country, I also got interested in engineering and was drawn to the creativity involved in Mechanical Engineering.
Also, engineers are the ones who develop the country. Unlike other fields, economists predict the development and GDP growth of a country, but we engineers develop the country and are directly involved in the GDP growth of a country. This was one of the key influencers since it inspired me even though people make fun of engineers and engineering.
My friend’s father has around 30 years of experience as a Mechanical Engineer. He is working at Schwing Stetter as a General Manager. He started his career as a welder and grew steadily into a General Manager. I was influenced by him.
As I explained in the first question, the subjects namely Thermodynamics and Design of Machine Elements made me feel that I would be suitable for a career in mechanical engineering.
During my higher secondary education, along with mechanical engineering, I had three more options, namely Cardiology, IAS and IPS, since I was a bit unclear about what I wanted to do with my career. During my 12th standard, I realized that I won’t be a good doctor when I started learning more about the field.
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
I had a few relatives and friends who had the ability and influence to get me a job, but I did not want to go through that approach as I wanted to test my abilities.
I also tried to gain more subject knowledge through videos available in youtube, google and journal papers for which access was provided by my university.
The one approach I used was: Just do the small and normal things in an effective way. I am still trying to follow that approach. When I felt I wanted to do something related to designing, I joined CADD Centre to learn software that is necessary to become a Design Engineer. A lot of people do online courses these days and use youtube to learn software. When I started my college days, broadband connections were not available and I did not have a broadband connection at my home. So, I joined CADD Centre to learn software required to become a Design Engineer.
I received a scholarship of Rs 35,000 for the Masters Diploma course which I did in CADD Centre Training Services Limited. I wrote an exam conducted by them during my semester holidays for which the above-mentioned scholarship was awarded. As I was awarded a scholarship, I joined a Masters Diploma in Product Design and Analysis through which I learned software such as AutoCAD, PTC Creo Parametric, Catia and ANSYS. I got well versed in AutoCAD and PTC Creo which is helping me perform my job today.
My first internship was at Schwing Stetter Private Limited, Chennai, where I got to learn about the manufacturing methods used for fabricating concrete pumps, truck mixers, and sludge pump systems. The basic working principles of these machines were explained to me by the people working there.
My second internship was at PRT Engineering Works, Salem. During this internship, I studied the basic principles of engine rebuilding and overhauling services such as cylindrical boring conducted on Heavy Commercial Vehicles and worked on disassembling and replacing worn-out engine components with better parts.
I and 3 of my friends planned to work on our final project at Carborundum Universal Limited, Chennai, India . But that was not the case, as the company said they will not be allowing us to do research or do our project there since they received a huge order. So, we were offered an internship there. Here, I learned about the different manufacturing techniques utilized for the fabrication of abrasives and industrial ceramics, and assessed problems associated with the manufacturing of those products – labour error, and misinterpretation of drawings to assess wastage of materials and resources.
Our Undergraduate Dissertation was on Evaluation of Mechanical Properties of Natural (Areca Nut and Palm) and Synthetic Fibre Reinforced Composite Materials. We Studied about the different fabrication methods used for producing glass and areca-nut composite materials and evaluated the mechanical properties such as hardness, tensile strength, etc. of those composites and the structure using Scanning Electron Microscope.
Our final project was based on Automated Vehicular Safety Device for Drunken Drive Prevention. We fabricated a device to keep a check on people who Drink and Drive and also to prevent people from driving without wearing helmets using sensors.
I initially started working as a Freelancer as a Mechanical Design Engineer.
My first project was a reverse engineering project of a Scissor Lift Crane using the brochure provided as reference by the client. Along with that, preparation of 2d detailed drawings and Bill of Materials for the production of the crane was also required.
In the next project, I designed a Prosthetic Leg using the draft documents and also developed a new spur gear and ratchet for which calculations were done to determine the required dimensions and power to be transferred for the product.
This could be utilized by people of all genders and different heights.
How did you get your first break?
It was a freelance project. My friend’s father asked whether I will be able to reverse engineer a complete “Scissor Lift Crane”. I said yes and he asked me to reverse engineer an existing part in the crane, along with 2d drafting. After completing the work, I sent the files to him, he liked it. Then he offered me the entire reverse engineering project of the crane. I completed the 3d modeling and drafting of the crane. This was my first major break. It also helped me find a full-time job as a Mechanical Design and Rapid Prototyping Engineer.
I was referred to my first full time job by one of my friends who got hired by the company for the dual roles of Augmented Reality Developer and Design Engineer. He told them that he had lost touch in Design Engineering, and that he did not want to do design. This created an opening for a Design Engineer. When he told me about that job opening, I forwarded my resume to them and was interviewed for the job. They were impressed with the work I did as a freelancer and the way I responded to their questions. After two days, they called me and said that I was selected as a Design and Rapid Prototyping Engineer.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: The major challenge was understanding the reverse engineering procedures since I have not worked in a structured company before. Though I am good when it comes to design, reverse engineering is not just about designing the components and creating drafting documents. Along with that, technical details of the products have to be included in the drafting document which includes each nut and bolt. So, that was the biggest challenge in completing the project. I did a search on the internet to address this issue and along with that, I spoke to a few people from the industry who helped me out.
Challenge 2: The second challenge was completing the project in a short span of time. Because of the first challenge I mentioned, it was really difficult for me to complete it on time. So, I had to plan my day accordingly, to complete the project and prioritize the tasks to be completed. I split the work into parts, which really helped me on the mental part as it did not drain me mentally.
Where do you work now? Tell us about our role
I work as a Mechanical Design and Rapid Prototyping Engineer at Lumirack Solutions Private Limited.
I work on designing Aluminum, Stainless Steel structures for extrusion and Plastic products required for the circuit board & camera casings, designing for injection molding using software such as PTC Creo Parametric, and Solidworks.
I also manufacture those plastic product designs using Fused Filament Fabrication 3D Printing Technology.
I also develop Bill of Materials and 2D drawings of the final 3d models using AutoCAD Mechanical for production, which is also a part of the job.
Along with that, I am involved in developing the final quotations (along with my director) for customers which is helping me improve my communication skills.
What problems do you solve?
I design “concise” mechanical bodies for electronic components to be fitted at required places. After designing those products, I do 3d printing of those parts. This is where problems arise because I design everything on engineering software which will sometimes create issues in the mesh when converted to a 3d printable file. This is the major issue that I face when it comes to 3d printing. I use Autodesk Netfabb online version to solve the problem. Since electronic components are involved, there will be heat transfer issues for which I need to understand the basics of Heat and Mass Transfer to solve heat-related issues in design. Along with that, for metals, some of the other problems I solve are finding the required strength along with minimal weight when designing metal structures. For this, one needs to learn the principles of Engineering Mechanics and the basics of Strength of Materials.
What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?
The basic thing needed to become a Design Engineer is the ability to research and learn about different design concepts that are available in the market currently. This will help develop the product in an innovative way. Along with that, there are subjects mentioned in the previous sections that you need to be good at. Those subjects are Engineering Graphics, Engineering Mechanics, Strength of Materials, Design of Machine Elements, Thermodynamics and Heat & Mass Transfer. The third thing you need is working knowledge of engineering software such as PTC Creo Parametric, Solidworks, Catia, NXCAD and AutoCAD. I learned the software through the Masters Diploma course offered by CADD Centre Training Services Limited, and to learn more I joined the online course offered by internshala.com. I developed the ability to do research during my Postgraduate degree. I studied in the UK where for each subject one has to complete a coursework for which the usually searched websites cannot be used. That made me dig a lot more into the topic offered for my coursework and the final project by using the university library and studying journal papers. That way I got used to doing research about the topic and hence it is a lot easier for me now. I am also a Rapid Prototyping Engineer, and the process I work on is Fused Filament Fabrication. I learned about Additive Manufacturing during my Master’s degree where I did coursework on 3d printing. Since I am also a design engineer, it made my life easier since 3d printing involves the development of 3d models using design software only.
What’s a typical day like?
My typical day has changed quite a lot since COVID-19 last year. I no longer have to travel on a daily basis since May 2021 and travel only when it is required. I mostly work from home which was not possible before April! Usually, I catch up with my emails on Zoho mail or messages I’ve received on Zoho Cliq first. Team meetings, 1-1s, communication with other employees and with my director are pretty much done virtually now. I’ll connect to my CAD machine at work so that I can either use Solidworks or PTC Creo Parametric, continue 3D modelling and make drawings or changes to them in AutoCAD. Also, when required I use Autodesk Netfabb online, to optimize the models that are to be 3d printed. This will usually be my typical day, but I also go to the vendor’s manufacturing place if required, to review the products that are being manufactured. I am also involved in developing quotations to customers with my director.
What is it you love about this job?
The best thing about my job is I don’t do the same work day in and day out. Every day or once in 2 days I will be working on a different thing or designing something different, which advances my knowledge.
How does your work benefit society?
As I mentioned earlier, the Prosthetics design project I worked on during my freelancing period has helped differently-abled people with one leg to walk. This will create a more inclusive environment for them without feeling alienated.
The current product I am working on will help retail shops, especially in hill stations, to be open during these difficult times (Covid-19), as we are developing “no-contact” retail shops with all the safety features included. This will be helpful considering that the entire world has gone into lockdown. People will be able to run shops and customers can buy things for emergency purposes. One question arises, what will happen to employees if everything is automated? This technology can be used in countries where the population is ageing and also in places like hill stations and remote villages where transportation is difficult.
A “no contact” retail shop is nothing but complete automation of the entire retail shop except the addition of stock. So, customers can enter, pick up a product and leave – it’s as simple as that. The products placed will be connected to circuit boards to improve the customer experience and also, for the refilling of stock when a product is bought by the customers. With the help of Artificial Intelligence, the required safety features such as sending information to the owner when someone is trying to steal a product, weapon detection systems etc will be developed. It also helps in reduction of human errors, periodic inventory checks etc. This is the short explanation of “no-contact” retail shops. My role is to develop customized metal, wood and plastic bodies to help the product be stable. I do research and develop the products required for the completion of the entire system. After the design of metal bodies is done, I do the drafting and determine the process required for manufacturing the metal bodies. The next process is sending the design files to the vendor to enable them manufacture the product. I work with electrical and electronics engineers to design customized plastic bodies to accommodate circuit boards & other electrical stuff. When the design is confirmed, those products will be 3d printed using either Fused Filament Fabrication or Stereolithography.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Two projects I have worked on are very close to my heart. The reverse engineering project of a Scissor Lift Crane is something that is very close to my heart since it was the break that I had been yearning for a long time. The development of a prosthetic leg is also a project that I will remember for a really long time because I wanted to do something for the differently-abled people. I have seen a lot of people who are not in a position to help, but still doing something they can, which inspired me to do something for people who are in need of help. For this reason, the prosthetic leg project is very close to my heart.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Choose the field that you are most interested in. Work not just really hard but smartly as well. Most importantly, be patient. It’s not going to be an easy ride every day. Things will change for the better. I got freelance jobs during Covid-19 which led me to a full-time job. It also happened during Covid-19. If someone like me can do something like this, I am pretty sure that you people will be able to do a lot more than what you think you can do. Stay calm and be positive. You will succeed. Also, help others who are in need of it.
I want to start a manufacturing company of my own after 10 years for which I am planning and working.