Modern industrial practices such as Additive Manufacturing are being adopted to design and build machine parts/components with precision and accuracy, while also reducing wastage and and controlling pollution.

Yuvaraj Venkatesan, our next pathbreaker, Masters Degree student at Aalen University (Germany), works on additively manufacturing metal-based components with advanced materials.

Yuvaraj talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his exposure to the world of mechanical design at Bonfiglioli, where he worked on design and development of gearboxes for mobile machinery, wind turbines, agriculture and construction/Off-road vehicles etc.

For students, this is an exciting time for mechanical engineering, thanks to technologies such as Computer Vision and Industry 4.0 which are leading the way through new innovations in manufacturing !

Yuvaraj, Your background?

I was born and brought up in Chennai, India. I completed my 10th grade with 97% and took maths along with science group. Later, I completed my high school with 96.5% with a centum in Mathematics. I was also a school topper in English. I have always spent my free time playing football because sport has always given me confidence and a refreshing energy to get back home from school and continue with my studies.

I went on to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. After that, I worked for 3 years with a gearbox company in the field of Research and Development (R&D).

Although my childhood dream was to become an astronaut, I realized that India is still far behind in human space missions. But, considering the fast-pace of development of the Gaganyaan mission at ISRO, I am proud that India will soon send astronauts to space, so that young kids in India can still dream of becoming an astronaut.

As I wanted to enter the aerospace industry and contribute something, I decided to take up a career in engineering, and I finally decided to study mechanical engineering because I understood that mechanical is also a part of aerospace.

I am from a middle-class family where my father was a car driver and my mother, a homemaker. I have a younger brother who has now started working in the IT industry.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

With a cut-off of 197/200, I went through Anna University counseling and selected Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering (shortly as SVCE) situated in the outskirts of Chennai to pursue my graduation in the field of Mechanical Engineering. SVCE was especially reputed for mechanical and automobile engineering because the college has a wide variety of facilities and good infrastructure. Also, it was evident that a lot of their graduates were joining core engineering companies after graduation. 

After graduation, I worked for 3 years in the Research and Development (R&D) department for a gearbox manufacturing company. With my early-stage experience as a professional in mechanical design, I went on to pursue my master’s degree in Advanced Materials and Manufacturing at University of Aalen in Germany.

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

Ever since I was a child, I have always had the thirst to contribute something towards the aerospace industry. Also, I did not want to narrow down my career and therefore chose mechanical engineering.  I liked using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software for my project work and participated in various competitions, seminars and symposiums.

These experiences quickly made me realize my interest in mechanical design and I decided to continue working in mechanical design after graduation. Therefore, I worked towards strengthening my fundamentals and prepared for my campus interviews.

Fortunately, I was able to clear the final round and was selected to work in the research and development department at Bonfiglioli, which is a leader in manufacturing gearboxes for a wide variety of applications such as off-road vehicles, wind turbines, electro-mobility vehicles, marine and also various industrial applications.

This experience further strengthened my profile. Throughout my journey, I have always had role-models, key influencers and mentors who helped me shape my studies and career.

One of my greatest and all-time role-model is Elon Musk, the founder of the SpaceX company, who had the ability to enter the space sector through a private firm and launched various payloads and satellites into outer earth orbit. He stunned everyone by not only sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) but also carrying out human space research. He also succeeded in safe landing of the initial stage of the rocket engine back on earth which could save huge costs as the same vehicle can be used as a reusable launch vehicle for other missions.

My best motivators are my parents. Even though my father had a low income and an unsecured job, he always insisted that I study well and also ensured that I do not feel the burden or pressure. He always had a clear and a long-term vision for me and my brother’s education.

In my previous company, I would like to sincerely thank my engineering team head, my manager and team leads who have always been my mentors. They were always helpful and made sure that I followed a steep-learning curve and complete any given task on time. I am grateful for the opportunity that they have given me to learn about machine elements and gearbox design. This experience has given me enormous confidence to take on any critical role in the future. 

All of these members whom I mentioned above have played a vital role in my career in mechanical engineering and have been responsible for shaping me as a professional in the mechanical design field.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?

I started preparing for campus placements right from the beginning of my final year. Though I faced rejections in some of the companies, I did not give up. I continuously prepared for both the technical and aptitude rounds. Finally, at the end, I was able to get placed at Bonfiglioli. Since Bonfiglioli is a leader in manufacturing gearboxes, I was fortunate enough to showcase one of my engineering projects in designing and manufacturing a sector gear for turret indexing mechanism in lathe machines.

The turret head is a large polygonal or circular shaped assembly in a capstan or turret lathe machine which is capable of holding multiple tools to perform various machining operations in a single machine. It slides in a ram which moves along the horizontal axis and provides the necessary feed to perform machining operations. Based on the feedback from the machine operators, it was understood that adjusting the turret tool requires vigorous effort while operating the machine. We decided to work on this problem and wanted to provide a solution to operate it easily. Therefore, we found an idea of using sector gear, which is a type of gear that has teeth only upto a certain angle. The previous mechanism is known as Geneva mechanism, which included a large spindle arrangement with an integrated bush type bearing. We removed this mechanism and made the arrangement simple by machining some of the existing teeth in the bevel pinion and made it as a sector gear. Further, we designed a new ball-bearing for the shaft that holds the bevel pinion. Finally, we changed the direction of rotation into horizontal axis instead of vertical axis which involves removal of worm gear arrangement. This innovative design led to reduced cost and made the arrangement look simpler than before. This led the interviewer to get impressed by my profile because none of the other students had done a project related to their business product. 

During my tenure at the company, I worked on the design and development of gearboxes using 3D CAD software Siemens NX. I learned to perform gear calculations using KISSsoft software for each gear stage, shaft strength calculations, bearings safety and lifetime calculations. I have also learned to use Team-Centre (Siemens) which is a Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) software, to manage numerous product codes across various customers. My work also included carrying out Root Cause Analysis (RCA) for the breakdown of gearboxes and thereby providing suitable measures or solutions to help overcome the failure.

I am proud to say that some of the projects that I have worked on have successfully completed, starting from prototype development to series production. Some of the applications that I have worked on include yaw drives (which are used to rotate the nacelle section of the wind turbines), pitch drives (which are used to rotate the blades of the wind turbines), slew drives (which are used to rotate the driver’s cabin in excavators) and track/wheel drives (which provides the power to move the construction or off-road vehicles such as excavators, road paving machine, soil compactors, cold milling machines, harvesters and agricultural machines). These gearboxes differ from the commonly known ones in automotive or commercial vehicle application because these are speed reduction gearboxes which are coupled with either electric or hydraulic motor. 

As I got more insights on mechanical design and development, I realized that this would be the right time to push myself further to continue with my post-graduation abroad. As Germany is the dominant leader in the automobile sector, I decided to pursue my masters in this country. The DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) website was very helpful for me to shortlist the courses that are available in the English language. As I have always had an interest in materials, I chose to study in a research-based master’s program in Advanced Materials and Manufacturing at Hochschule Aalen in Germany and was fortunate enough to get selected for admissions.

How did you get your first break?

I would say that getting my first job in a core engineering field was my first break. After a few rejections in the campus placement, I was upset. This phase of my college life was hard, and I was under pressure when other students were getting placed while I wasn’t. Without giving up or having backup plans, I started working on my weakness. I continuously practiced for written and technical interviews. Fortunately, after 4 months, I was able to clear the interview rounds conducted by Bonfiglioli.

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

One of my interesting challenges was to prepare myself for getting admission into the master’s degree program in Germany in spite of having an arduous and a very responsible job. As we know, admissions in Germany are highly competitive and most of the universities require excellent CGPA with relevant job experience. My CGPA was 7.8, which was okay to open a gate to apply, but I knew that I had to do something different to get selected. I made my letter of motivation for the course in such a way that it addressed how well I could be a benefit to the university and to Germany, thereby highlighting the topic of sustainability in mechanical engineering. In the next round, there was an interview with the professor. I prepared a short power-point presentation where I explained my experience in mechanical design and my feasible ideas for a project/thesis during my final semester. I made a timeline to all of the tasks in my project. Considering my conspicuous presentation with a defined career goal, I stood out from the crowd and secured admission. 

Another challenge is living the life in Germany. It was so hard for me initially after coming from Chennai, which is one of the most vibrant cities in India. It was both a cultural and a bureaucratic shock, as many of the government administrative procedures are totally different. In Germany, cash is the king. Not many of the retail shops accept payment through credit or debit cards. At the same time, I have learned from German culture that punctuality is a necessity in life. 

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I am a master’s student in Advanced Materials and Manufacturing at University of Aalen in Germany. This course is a special research-based program where each student works on a different engineering topic related to advanced materials and their manufacturing methods. And each of these topics are either funded by government policies or companies. 

I work on additively manufacturing metal-based components with advanced materials. My work is to reduce the heat flow while the component is being printed using Laser-Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) process, thereby reducing the residual stresses and part distortions.

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire them?

More than skills, one has to be strong in the fundamentals of materials engineering. There is also a certain level of knowledge expected in the modern innovative technique which is known as Additive Manufacturing. Also, a proficiency in Computer Aided Design (CAD) softwares are much helpful for the project that I am currently working. I learned these softwares during my second year of college. 

How does your work benefit society? 

By imparting additive manufacturing in modern industrial practices, we can reduce and control pollution while saving electricity. This paves the way to contribute towards net-zero carbon emission goals to be achieved by the year 2050 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

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

My most memorable work was working on one of the projects in additive manufacturing in my previous company. Although the project reduced the number of parts to be manufactured and assembled, unfortunately, it didn’t succeed because of the high cost. This drawback could be addressed if there are suitable materials available in the market at lower cost. This aroused my interest to explore better materials for applications in additive manufacturing, thereby pushing me towards pursuing a master’s degree program in this research topic.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

  • Even though your dreams may change at different phases of your life, accept it and work with full passion and desire. 
  • Be curious to learn in your desired field. In any of the interviews, show some interest through your face before your answers because we know that always “Face is the index of the mind.”
  • Being stressful is a part of life, but if you feel that you are under stress for most of the time, then change what you are doing differently.
  • Don’t always look for shortcuts in any of the work you do. The more you take shortcuts, the less you learn and the less you grow.
  • Learn to manage your money while being a student. This will give an idea on how to spend, save and invest for the future and will be most helpful when you start earning. 
  • Be organized. Learn to schedule the tasks (and be punctual) for the day when you wake up in the morning and summarize the activities while you go to bed.

Future Plans?

Since I come from a middle-class family, I know the importance of education. As a first graduate in my family, I am always thankful to the scholarship donors that I came across in my life from school to college.

The scholarships that I received have always motivated me and pushed me to perform even better. As a famous proverb says “You will receive what you give.” Likewise, I would like to give back to society by educating a student (from a low-economic background with a passion for engineering) from high school until the end of his degree program. I hope that I can initiate this support to students education in the near future.