Metallurgy forms the core of high strength materials, with applications in extreme environments characterized by high temperatures, corrosion and enormous thermal/mechanical stress !
Kaushal Kishore, our next pathbreaker, Researcher at Tata Steel (R&D), works as part of the Materials Welding & Joining Group, responsible for conducting detailed research on advanced high strength steels for applications in automotive and other sectors.
Kaushal talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being drawn to the world of industrial research especially in the field of welding metallurgy, direct energy deposition, and alloy development to address the most pertinent problems in manufacturing !
For students, with a greater thrust on light-weighting and improved crashworthiness of vehicles, more innovations with a multi-disciplinary approach are needed to facilitate the commercialization of newer materials.
Kaushal, Your background?
I hail from Darbhanga, Bihar and did my schooling from Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) of different coalfield regions of Jharkhand as my father had a transferable job. My father is a mining engineer and my mother used to be a teacher who then became a homemaker to focus on her children. In my early days (till class 8), I was a huge fan of Sachin Tendulkar (as a professional and a role model) and wanted to follow in his footsteps. However, the reality of a middle-class family with so-called “realistic dreams” hit me soon and I started to focus more on my studies. I did not have a fixed goal during my school days as I equally enjoyed Mathematics and literature. In terms of extra-curricular activities, playing outdoor games, be it cricket or football along with analyzing the tactical sides of the game kept me engaged.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I did B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering from BIT, Sindri, which is the only state government college in Jharkhand and is one of the oldest engineering colleges in the country. Straight after completing my B. Tech, I did my MTech in Materials Science Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay.
What were some of the influences that made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
I was decent in Mathematics and Science during my school days and my teachers encouraged me to go for engineering. Further, as my father worked as an engineer, choosing engineering was more of a natural choice for me. Then, in the entrance examination, my rank was not great to get the “so-called top branches” and I ended up with Metallurgical Engineering in BIT Sindri. In all fairness, it was more a chance than a choice!
I heard from some seniors of my college that “Metal is settle” implying a very good campus placement record of Metallurgy which was one of the drivers for opting Metallurgy ahead of 4-5 other available streams.
Looking back, that turned out to be the best decision ever!
During my undergrad, I had an amazing pool of friends. That is one piece of advice I will have for anyone reading this right now. Do make genuine friends in college because that’s the best time to do that. Some of my friends (in particular, Bhupendra) inspired me to participate in national and international level metallurgical competitions where we managed to win awards and accolades. Those recognitions at a tender age instilled confidence in me to encounter bigger challenges later on. I had a very good mentor in Prof. R.N. Gupta who was an excellent teacher. I recall his words: “Once in a lifetime, everyone has to work hard. It’s your choice to decide the time you want to do so.” In terms of getting interested in metallurgy, one of his lectures triggered a curiosity in me to explore the subject in greater depth. Further, NPTEL lectures on Metallurgical Thermodynamics by Prof. B.S. Murthy added fuel to my interest. To pursue higher education, I decided to prepare for GATE and hence opted out of campus placement to put myself under “self-built pressure”. My rank was good enough to secure a place in my dream college IIT Bombay with my preferred specialization in Materials Science. There, I had the opportunity to see first-hand how humble and down-to-earth some of the best minds are. I learned a lot from their attention to detail. I realized that we can question even theories written in books and apply those fundamentals in our own research. I am greatly thankful to my MTech thesis project supervisors Prof. M.J.N.V. Prasad and Prof. K. Bhanumurthy who taught me how to conduct research, especially the rigors of literature survey, the importance of collaboration within and outside one’s organization/ institute, the indispensable need to keep the basics right and then apply those to your research with caution at various stages. At the end of my one year research project, which was on the phase transformation characteristics of aluminized coatings on different substrates for nuclear reactor applications, I had no doubt in my mind that metallurgical research is the right job for me.
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
After my first industrial internship during undergrad exploring different units of a steel plant, I realized that there are a lot of challenging problems to tackle which are often ignored owing to production targets. I made up my mind that I would like to learn the technical side of my subject in greater detail and apply those in solving these problems rather than being engaged in routine work. This prompted me to prepare for the GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test for Engineers) examination. I received a conventional scholarship offered by MHRD to pursue MTech. At IIT Bombay, during my post graduation, I was exposed to state-of-the-art research facilities including electron microscopes enabled with sophisticated detectors like EDS, WDS, and EBSD to characterize the finer details of materials that govern their mechanical and functional properties. The more I learned about materials science, the more I could appreciate its role in deciding the functionality and performance of a wide array of components and devices ranging from semiconductor chips to aircraft fins and blast furnace tuyeres to a zinc-coated bolt!
During my MTech semester break, to get a real feel of industrial R&D, I went to an R&D center of Steel Authority of India Limited, Ranchi, and spent ~6 weeks exploring various aspects of physical metallurgy involved in the manufacturing of LPG cylinders. This project was related to improving the mechanical properties of LPG cylinder-grade steel through different thermo-mechanical processing. As LPG cylinders are so common these days and are safety-critical, improving their mechanical properties improve their overall reliability during their use. I was in awe of the practicality of research involving pre-straining, normalizing cycles, and performance correlation through multi-faceted techniques. Such exposure would not have been possible without the able guidance of Dr. Anjana Deva, who apart from technical guidance, advised me on future career perspectives as well.
This internship experience offered me insights on how to plan my research work to an extent that I could apply during a year-long MTech project.
My MTech project was related to examining the hot-dip aluminized coating on nuclear-grade steel, which is exposed to harsh environments of lead-lithium eutectic and neutron irradiation. This was fundamental research whose findings have implications for fusion reactors, which can revolutionize the way in which we generate energy.
I think research is addictive in nature (positive sense). Once you start serious research, perhaps, there is no going back as the curiosity to unravel the unknown is an endless pursuit!
How did you get your first break?
I got my first break through campus interview conducted by TATA Steel. At that time, I was very poor at networking.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: First and foremost, the most important challenge for anyone is to believe in oneself. In a place like IIT Bombay, where you see the best minds around, it’s important to not get lost in the crowd. Instead, we need to focus on our strengths and that’s what I did. For instance, I was not good at programming. I took the help of my friends to perform decently in that course. In contrast, I loved the subject “Advanced Physical and Mechanical Metallurgy” and “Processing of Aerospace Materials”. I explored those areas further, and those concepts still help me design my current projects better.
Challenge 2: It’s important to cancel out the noise and focus on valuable signals. In a world full of data, there can be negativity and rumors. I have always tried to stay true to my beliefs and ignore unnecessary information to keep myself focused.
Challenge 3: Life is not a rat race. In this world full of amazingly talented individuals, there will always be someone somewhere better. We should stop comparing ourselves with anyone else. Rather, we must try to improve everyday from what we were yesterday.
These are my go-to approaches for life and my profession.
Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?
Presently, I work at TATA Steel, Jamshedpur.
I started as a failure analyst. The role resembles a murder detective in a way that we detect why a component failed prematurely, from different angles in a completely unbiased way. We need to write down every clue and event in order to gather proof. Subsequently, one needs to connect the dots and validate the emerging hypothesis through a set of tests. During my 5+ years as a failure analyst, I have led the investigation of more than 400 cases of component failures of different units of integrated steel plants. These components could be as small as a bolt or a washer, to as large as the steel-making vessel and blast furnace dome.
After 5+ years, I have switched to the Materials Welding & Joining Group of R&D. Here, I am responsible for conducting detailed research on developing new cladding alloys for extreme environments, understanding different challenges in joining advanced high strength steels, and developing mitigation strategies for applications in automotive and other sectors.
What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?
Typical skills needed in this job are cognitive thinking, leaving bias aside, strong fundamentals in metallurgy, and a collaborative approach for collecting information from different stakeholders. Further, one should have good written and oral presentation skills to effectively convey the message at different forums. Metallurgy taught in college was a good foundation and I needed to read various journals that our organization subscribes to. I had the opportunity to attend workshops conducted by ASM and Tata Steel on failure analysis which further honed my skills.
What is it you love about this job?
The most satisfying part of this job is not only writing a logical report concluding the reason for failure but also holding the confidence to actually recommend changes either in the plant operating /maintenance practices or in the metallurgy of the component to prevent such recurrences. I am glad that my contributions have affected the bottom-line of the organization by extending the lifecycle of several critical components.
What’s a typical day like?
A typical day involves multiple activities: (i) checking mails to see if there is anything urgent, (ii) conducting welding or cladding experiments, (iii) materials characterization, (iv) establishing processing-microstructure-property correlation, (v) reading journals to stay updated about the latest developments, (vi) attending meetings (in-house or collaborators), (vii) writing or reviewing technical articles.
The thing that I love the most about my job is the uncertainty. I cannot predict my day in advance owing to the new challenges that come up every day during experimentation or analysis. Further, the fact that I learn something new every day and add value to those around me is quite satisfying.
My work is predominantly experimental in nature where I try to assess real/ physical material analysis in a possible industrial environment. Though my work involves simulation activities through different software packages, I usually collaborate with my colleagues who have expertise in those areas. Then, we try to figure out the accuracy and applicability of simulations for real-world applications.
When you want to reduce the number of iterations and experiments, it becomes important to rely on virtual simulations. These simulations can either be physics-informed or based on data analysis or a combination of both. However, you need to have your assumptions and data right to expect even a reasonable accuracy. For that, subject matter expertise is a must. Further, based on virtual simulation inputs, we get guidelines for real experiments.
How does your work benefit society?
It’s aptly said that “Welding holds the World Together”. No matter what you make, you need to join those to make larger components. Be it, ships, metro trains, batteries for EVs, large pipelines transporting oils, or energy sources, you will find joints everywhere. Usually, joints or welds are the most likely location where a failure can occur. So, the whole objective is to make the weakest portion, that is the joints, stronger and tougher. That’s a huge challenge in itself. You can do it through multiple approaches and most often than not, a combination of multi-disciplinary approaches is the best way forward.
To put things in perspective, a typical four-wheeler consists of up to 20,000 spot welds of multi-material combinations. For the safety of the passenger, you need to ensure that every single joint is strong enough to withstand the fatigue of the entire lifecycle of the vehicle. Further, with a greater thrust on light-weighting and improved crashworthiness of vehicles, we are bound to use third-generation advanced high-strength steels which are more tricky to weld. Hence, innovations are needed to facilitate the commercialization of such newer materials through joining solutions. We work to develop such solutions.
Further, I am actively engaged in developing materials for extreme environments (very high temperatures, corrosive environments, subjected to a combination of thermal and mechanical stresses, etc.) through different direct-energy deposition approaches. This is an emerging field and is attracting a lot of research and industrial interest globally.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Well, there are many memorable works, and picking one is very tough. However, if I had to name one, it would be our failure analysis and subsequent recommendation for crane hooks. It was particularly impactful as it was directly related to the safety aspects, and for any progressive organization, safety is always the top-most priority. Further, we deployed multiple approaches including metallurgical analyses, numerical analysis, and finite element analysis (FEA), which required lots of internal collaborations. We could generate many new insights about the failures and the role of different defects and machine marks. Importantly, the recommendations of our report were implemented in the entire value chain of the organization, which was particularly satisfying. Such implementation prevented many failures and potential safety threats. An international publication based on this work, which is an important reference material for the failure analysis and structural integrity community, acted as a cherry on top!
Link to this work can be found here:
Also, my other noteworthy works can be found here:
I love talking about research and hence welcome anyone interested in the related fields for a conversation if they need.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Few of those:
- Try to have a solid foundation for your career: get the basics right and the rest will take care of itself with time.
- Have good friends.
- Talk to people who have been there and done that. You can avoid a lot of mistakes from their learnings.
- Have patience, as good things take time; but be impatient for your dreams. I mean you need to strike a balance between staying hungry and being on your toes, to avoid complacency and not panic to stress out.
- Build a good network. It’s imperative. Attend different events, conferences, and workshops.
- There are lots of amazing free resources online. Get the most out of them. Some of those are NPTEL lectures given by some of the best Professors from different IITs, MIT OpenCourseWare and websites of many eminent professors like Prof. Harry Bhadeshia and Prof. Dierk Raabe to name a few.
- Do internships/ projects during vacations. Locate them through your network (you build from point (v)). Even if you don’t get paid, go for it. The value you will add will pay dividends later on.
I aim to keep learning and adding value in the field of welding metallurgy, direct energy deposition, and alloy development to address the most pertinent problems that the world is facing. In a decade or so, I want to see myself as a person who can inspire others to further the field of metallurgy for the benefit of human civilization.