Precision Engineering plays a key role in the development of semiconductors that have enabled disruptive advancements in communications, computing, healthcare, military systems, transportation, clean energy, and a wide range of other applications.
Sudhanshu Nahata, our next pathbreaker, R&D Engineer at Kulicke and Soffa Industries (United States), a leading provider of semiconductor packaging and electronic assembly solutions, develops products such as ultrasonic transducers and self-powered electronics using energy harvesting methods.
Sudhanshu talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his PhD at Carnegie Mellon University during which he developed metrology techniques to quantify micro/nano-scale motion errors that affect the accuracy and repeatability of the micro-manufacturing process.
For students, if you want to precisely know what you like, reading research papers will help broaden your knowledge, and having a variety of internships/experiences will help you in evaluating your preferences.
Sudhanshu, can you tell us about your initial years?
I grew up in the East Delhi neighborhood. My parents moved to Delhi from Rajasthan in search of better opportunities for themselves and for us. I attended public schools and took science in 9th grade because I was interested in engineering.
I was not too big on extracurricular activities, but I do appreciate the fact that I learned football, basketball, and swimming at a young age. This came in handy later on, as I participated in team sports during my bachelor’s degree. I would strongly advise students to participate in at least one sport during their school day; it will pay off later.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I received my BTech in Production and Industrial Engineering from IIT Delhi, as well as my MS and PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Micro-Manufacturing from Carnegie Mellon University.
What were some of the influences that made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
If I had to guess, it started with a Lego kit that one of my relatives gave me. The kit included metal parts painted in various colors, screws, rubber tires, and a screwdriver, among other things. This planted a seed in my mind about hands-on work, which eventually led to engineering.
My best friend from high school (classes 9-12) was instrumental in guiding me toward a career in engineering. All I had to do was follow him because he was brilliant in studies. I am grateful for his and his parents’ guidance. Of course, I will be eternally grateful to my parents for pushing me and bringing out the best in me, allowing me to move forward with my endeavors.
Finally, my advisor at IIT Delhi assisted me and taught me how to conduct research. He also stressed on the importance of reading research papers, stating that the cumulative effect on one’s career would be enormous. I continue to read about new developments in engineering/industry, which helps to broaden my knowledge, which I then apply to my research work.
My peer group and mentors have been invaluable in guiding and shaping my career. I don’t remember a sharp turning point in my career, but rather the gradual shaping of my career. I am constantly on the lookout for new technology and how I can be a part of it.
During my bachelor’s degree, I did two internships: one in mechanical design (capital equipment manufacturer) and one in industrial engineering (automobile parts manufacturer). The first internship came through my contacts, and the second came through campus placement. Both provided a unique perspective on the industry, and I was drawn to machinery design, which is likely why I chose manufacturing as my thesis topic.
My bachelor’s thesis was focused on micro-scale material removal. This experience sparked my interest in furthering my knowledge of micro-machining. My other internship experiences, which were different from my bachelor’s thesis, assisted me in determining what to pursue next. I believe that having a variety of experiences can assist you in evaluating your preferences.
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
My career path, I believe, is fairly straightforward. I wanted to be an engineer, which I planned during high school, and later in my bachelor’s degree.
My first job at ZS Associates was through campus placement and provided me with valuable corporate experience early on in my career. It also served as a breather for me to apply for graduate school.
I wanted to continue my studies and be at the cutting edge of technology, which led me to enroll in a PhD program. My doctoral studies, which included lab work, discussions, and presenting my work at conferences, was extremely enjoyable and beneficial to me. It enabled me to broaden my knowledge and make friends who are always willing to assist you in various discussions and advice.
I developed metrology techniques during my doctorate to quantify micro/nano-scale motion errors that affect the accuracy and repeatability of the micro-manufacturing process. My work was summarized in Commercial Micro-Manufacturing magazine, which can be found here:http://www.cmmmagazine.com/cmm-articles/improving-accuracy-and-repeatability-in-high-speed-micromach/
After graduation, though I had several options for different careers, I chose the semiconductor industry because it offers enormous technical challenges while also having a significant impact on society, as semiconductor chips power almost all of the electronics today.
Following my doctorate, I designed ultra-high precision motion stages for ASML (a firm that makes highly-complex machines that are needed to manufacture the most advanced chips), which will eventually be used to make semiconductor chips used in laptops, mobile phones, and other electronic devices. I am currently working on semiconductor packaging technologies that employ ultrasonic transducers for micro-scale welding, as well as developing self-powered electronics that employ energy harvesting techniques.
How did you get your first break?
I got my first break from an on-campus career fair after both my bachelor’s and PhD degrees. Of course, seniors’ (alumini’s) career paths aided me in deciding which companies to apply to.
I firmly believe that my prior research experience was crucial in helping me land my first job at ASML, for which I am incredibly grateful. Apart from my thesis work, I was always looking for additional research opportunities in graduate school that would help me develop transferable skills that would be useful in industry.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
The most difficult challenge is making decisions about what to do next that will eventually prove to be correct. Decisions can range from what subjects to study in college to which companies to work for. I make an effort to discuss with as many people as possible so that I can make an informed decision to the best of my knowledge.
Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?
Currently I work at Kulicke and Soffa Industries, a leading provider of semiconductor packaging and electronic assembly solutions supporting the global automotive, consumer, communications, computing and industrial segments.
I develop products including ultrasonic transducers and self-powered electronics using energy harvesting methods. These transducers are used in the assembly of semiconductor chips by methods such as wire bonding or wedge bonding.
What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?
My doctoral training in manufacturing processes, materials and metrology helps me immensely in my current job. For areas that I lack knowledge in, I learn them from books, web and experts around me.
What’s a typical day like?
In my day-to-day work, I bring my problem-solving skills to the table and ensure that I analyze the problem from various angles in order to find the root cause or understand it from the first principles. This enables me to provide the best solution for a specific problem. I enjoy engineering and my job in particular because there are no dull days; every day, I learn something new or find a new way to solve an existing problem.
How does your work benefit society?
As I work on the technology and machinery used to manufacture semiconductor chips, I am incredibly satisfied knowing that the end product (chips) will be used by millions of people. Semiconductors are critical components of electronic devices, enabling advancements in communications, computing, healthcare, military systems, transportation, clean energy, and a wide range of other applications.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
My bachelor’s thesis is particularly close to me because it was the first piece of mechatronic hardware that I built. This machine was created to texture the surface of the indigenously designed Ti-alloy dental implants. The challenge was to ensure that the entire surface of the implant was evenly textured and that the yield was high enough to be economical as a production process. In the mechanical engineering workshop, I developed the mechanism and built the entire machine, integrated motors, and successfully demonstrated the proof of concept. My machine was later scaled up to an industrial scale machine that is now used in the dental implant manufacturing process.
Here is my advisor’s interview on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Odcw8vV2Kg&ab_channel=DDNews
Your advice to students based on your experience?
I would advise youngsters to approach their seniors and ask questions about careers, higher education, and other topics. There is no reason to search on your own when help is only a phone call or text message away. Sometimes the information/advice is life-changing.
To continue developing items that benefit society as a whole.
As an example, I presented an idea that has the potential to address the US’s 2.4 million skilled manufacturing workforce shortage. The concept is to capitalize on the gaming craze by creating games that provide an immersive experience to efficiently impart knowledge and skill sets. Students learn skills applicable to a manufacturing job while the game collects data and uses that data to target high performers for direct recruiting. I was also awarded the ‘Dave Dornfeld Manufacturing Vision Award’ by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers for my idea. A synopsis can be found here: https://www.sme.org/technologies/articles/2020/november/the-role-of-computer-games-in-the-future-of-manufacturing-education-and-training/