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DMRL’s quest in developing material self sufficiency

The ex-INS Vikrant as a museum ship in Mumbai.

The ex-INS Vikrant as a museum ship in Mumbai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When nation celebrated the launch of indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant II in August, not many knew that the metal used in making this ship was developed by the Hyderabad-based Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL). From supplying mundane aircraft brakes to developing technologies for making flagship carriers, this former ‘inspection agency’ has indeed covered a long distance. Take any indigenous project, helicopters, aircrafts, ships, tanks or missiles, this Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) lab has left its indelible stamp, albeit an invisible one.

The mandate given for DMRL is to develop and meet the ‘material’ requirement for indigenisation of defence systems, and the lab has achieved significant breakthroughs, Outstanding Scientist and DMRL director Amol A. Gokhale said. DMRL also focuses on developing material production technologies to gain self sufficiency in creating speciality alloys and products for critical defence use.

DMRL has successfully mastered a process to extract Titanium, a metal used in aircraft production extensively, from locally available raw material, ‘Ilmenite’ and has also transferred the technology to Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited for full scale industrial production, Dr. Gokhale said. MI 17 – 1V helicopter and indigenous Arjun battle tank have also been equipped with DMRL produced light weight armour made of composite material.

The lab is currently working on Aluminium alloys that have wide spread applications as they are light, have high strength and stiffness and are corrosion resistant, a senior scientist at DMRL, Ashok Kumar Gogia said. DMRL has perfected the art of making high precision turbine blades and supplied critical equipment for the Kaveri engine and this technology is being used in making gas turbines and other heavy equipment in civilian fields, he pointed out.

When asked about the difficulties faced by the lab in developing specialised materials, Dr. Gokhale said that the lab was on the restricted lists maintained by the technology denial regimes. “We do face some problems in importing certain critical equipment, but eventually, we do improvise and surmount the problems,” he observed.

People in general have wrong notions about the research and development activities. But cutting edge technologies cannot be produced in labs in isolation, another DMRL scientist Sameer Venkat Kamat said. “There is a need to work on materials over a period of time in association with the end users. Top quality material is usually developed based on the feed back received after extensive usage on field and close interaction with users,” he said.

Most metals developed by the lab are in their third generation and fourth generation metals are in the pipeline. The naval grade steel, DMR 249A produced by SAIL and used in INS Vikrant was developed in close cooperation with Indian Navy and other labs. Other version of naval steel, DMR 249B used for underwater assets like submarines, is also ready and is awaiting final certification after which Indian navy does not have to depend on importing special steel from Russia for building it vessels, Dr. Gokhale said.

DMRL is celebrating its golden jubilee on October 26. A two-day seminar on ‘Materials Technologies for Defence: Success Stories and Road Ahead’ will be held on October 25 and 26 in which representatives from DRDO labs, Defence Public Sector Units, industry and academia will participate.

(Full version of the article published in The Hindu on October 26. The article was edited in paper due to the space constrains)


Get the Lighting absolutely right for your home

Ever wondered what the basic necessities of our life are? Is it food? Water? Shelter? Clothing? Power? The list can vary according to the person drawing it up. But whoever draws up this list, there is only a remote possibility that they will include ‘Light’ as one of the basic necessities of the life.

The reasoning could be quite straightforward. Light is not a big consideration during day time and at nights, all we need is electricity. Flick that switch and you have light. So what’s big deal about it?

But ask Kunal Shah, Principal Lighting Designer at SPK Valo Design Consultants, Hyderabad, and he would say that world as we know is because of light and its effects.

Scientific studies have proved over and again that light, in all its variants, has a huge impact on both physical and mental health.

“It is the light that governs the body and helps us to maintain a healthy rhythm,” Mr.Shah explains. Jet lags and health problems resulting due to extreme climates, like extended days and nights, are an example of such effects, he points out.

Light can also be used as a potent power, Shah warns. In the pre-industrial society human productivity was limited only to day time. It was only after the induction of artificial lighting that the full potential of industrial production was unleashed and productivity zoomed with inclusion of more hours, he says.

But that is not all. Light also creates the perception of space and helps us to feel the depth and expanse of an area or landscape.

Lighting design is dependent on the ambient luminescence and this governs our perception of space, Mr. Shah explains. The focal glow (in simpler terms – brightness of light) gives context to a place and helps attract our attention to certain aspects thus creating a hierarchy, he says.

“Consider a hall adorned with paintings, if we place even lighting throughout the hall the effect would be different. In this context all aspects of the hall like paintings, furniture, electrical appliances and people receive same attention. But if you want to create a better impression, one should go for a different model,” he explains.In such a situation, one should opt for a lighting pattern that highlights the most important artefacts in the hall. In this way one can create a sense of hierarchy and increase the ambient atmosphere, he points out.

The artificial lighting was exhibited for first time in 1900 World Expo at Paris and since then the lighting technologies have come a long way and one has many options now.

Currently there is a debate about using LED lights instead of traditional incandescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes, but to achieve a perfect blend of lighting, usage of all types of lighting is necessary, he says.

LED lights alone cannot create the sufficient ambient lighting and just putting up tube lights is certainly not a very good way of lighting one’s house, he explains. Like sound and air pollution there is ‘Light Pollution‘ that is caused by the usage of wrong type of lighting and one should not forget this, he points out.Without enough lighting one can slip into depression and excess light can disturb our body rhythm (governed by Circadian Clock) so one has to understand the importance of using right type of lighting for an occasion, Mr.Shah advises.“We need to keep in mind that lighting plays an important role in our lives and should use different types of lamps, shades and even sun light and shadows to ‘Light up’ one’s house and get best out of our time,” he adds.

Kunal Shah was delivering a lecture ‘Thinking with Light’ organised by Indian Institute of Interior Designers (Hyderabad Chapter) in the city.

This article was published in The Hindu’s supplement ‘Habitat’ on February 02, 2013

Green buildings need not be a costly affair

HYDERABAD: A discussion on green buildings usually ends up hovering on cost factors involved in adopting these practices and differing opinions come to fore on the issue.

Some believe that green buildings are a costly affair and not everyone can afford them while others think that green buildings rely on not yet proven technologies. But what are green buildings and are they really that costly? “Any building that demands less energy, causes less damage to environment, can conserve water or was made using recycles or energy efficient material should be considered as a green building,” says construction material expert, L.H. Rao.

A green building doesn’t have to be a fancy concept. Any construction can be converted into a green building just by creating simple structures like rain water harvesting pits, using landscape effectively along with employing recycled materials, Dr. Rao observes. Green buildings are energy efficient, resource saving, eco-friendly, healthy and offer comfort to residents.

Because of the tropical conditions most of our cities receive abundant sunshine and ideally the air conditioning systems should be the biggest power guzzlers in our homes.

“But, because of the faulty positioning of windows and indiscriminate use of curtains, we are forced to keep our lights turned on all the time.

This puts additional pressure on our electricity bill,” he says. If a building is properly planned, even the air conditioning bill doesn’t have to be back breaking, Dr. Rao opines. With enough provision for free movement of air in a house, one can reduce the power bill, he said.

But apart from ensuring enough air and lighting, a building can also be converted into a green building by using materials that have longer gestation periods and are environmentally friendly.

“The cost of a building in terms of its effect on environment can be reduced by using alternatives like blended cements, geo-polymers, recycled material, fly-ash bricks and substitutes for wood,” he explains.

Traditional cement, known as Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC), consumes a lot of energy. On one hand we use a lot of precious lime stone in the production process, on the other hand due to its chemical composition, it starts disintegrating sooner due to effects like lime leaching.

“These issues are not there in the blended cements like Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC) and Portland Slag Cement (PSC). Since a portion of raw materials that are used to make PPC and PSC are industrial by-products, the effect on environment is lesser, and due to their chemical composition, these cements become stronger with the passage of time,” he says.

Apart from cements, using material like interlocking blocks, wood substitutes, volcanic tuff, agricultural wastes-bamboos and jute fiber, among others, can reduce the burden on the environment.

Quoting the example of fly-ash, a by-product produced at thermal plants, Dr. Rao explains that using fly-ash bricks and hollow blocks can reduce the bad effects of fly-ash on the environment. “When fly-ash is dumped into lakes and ponds, the carcinogenic material in the ash seeps into ground water and endangers lives. But if the same fly-ash is used in cements or in bricks, the bad effects of the ash are locked into the material and this helps in containing the harmful effects,” he explains.

Another step that can be taken is reuse of the material. “Many a times we see that the discarded building material particularly demolished concrete is dumped in to the land fills or discarded mindlessly. Rather than destroying natural rock for making gravel, the discarded building material can be reused in many places like paving roads and other low grade civic constructions,” he adds.

(This article was published in The Hindu on July 29, 2012)

Background verification companies on the prowl

HYDERABAD: Are you on a job hunt? If you thought that you can quote a fake project or can create a false resume, chances are that you would be caught red-handed sooner than you thought.

With the number of candidates giving wrong information in their applications rising, recruiters are now employing the services of specialised companies for background verification of the applicants. More than two dozen such companies are operating in Hyderabad.

“We have found that almost four out of 10 applicants give some or other form of inaccuracies in their resumes,” V. Sridhar, associate vice-president, operations, at a background verification company, Crederity, said.

When a professional changes his job, he usually tries to negotiate better terms and salary from his new employer. For this reason most people try to exaggerate their salary, duration of their work, responsibility they held and sometimes even their education. “To check these practices most major companies, including MNCs, are now banking up on our services to verify the authenticity of these claims,” he explained.

Background verification takes 15 to 20 days to finish and can cover a range of issues from employment verification, reference checks to even claims of overseas work experience, he said.

Challenging task

But how can a firm verify the claims of a person with a diverse experience? Mr. Sridhar says that it’s a challenge even for the firm. “While it is easy to check employment details of a person, dealing with government agencies like universities and police is a time consuming process,” he said.

Recruiters too claim that employing specialised firms to get a through verification of a candidate has become a necessity these days.

“To get better positions candidates are now using sophisticated methods to hoodwink the companies. Gone are the days when a candidate would just create a false certificate or a project report. There were few instances where some candidates even created fake bank statements and employment certificates, which can amount to criminal conspiracy,” a senior human resource (HR) manager working in an MNC observed.

With candidates using better tactics employing professional verification companies is a better option, he added.

This article was published in The Hindu on June 20, 2012

What is concrete? Part-I

Think of a modern construction and you are sure to end up equating it with concrete. As construction technologies evolved, concrete usurped the numero-uno position among all the building materials. But construction material expert L.H. Rao says that there are many myths surrounding concrete.

For one, he says that there is an excessive emphasis about the strength of concrete and there is very little deliberation about the durability of the structure. “Concrete as a product was devised to mimic natural rock.

The primary objective of creating concrete was to make a substance that can be moulded as per our requirements, but once set in that mould, it can become a very strong compound,” he says.

While of late there was much technological advancement in the field of enhancing the durability of the concrete, Indian builders are still stuck with the strength aspect only, Dr. Rao, a Technical Adviser at JSW Cement, observes.

“As is commonly known, concrete is obtained by mixing cement, water, sand and rock pieces. But what is not very widely known is that the properties of concrete can vary widely when the amount and quality of its ingredients are tinkered with,” he points out.

Ideally, a good mix can be obtained by using cement, sand and rock pieces in a proportion of 1:1.5:3 respectively.

For better results, sand grains should be of even size and care should be taken so that it does not contain silt or clay in it. Apart from the sand and cement, size of rock pieces also plays an important role in determining the strength of the concrete. “Smaller the rock pieces, greater is the strength of the concrete,” Dr. Rao says.

Next important ingredient in concrete is water and people often make mistakes by using excessive amount of water resulting in weaker concrete structures. “A good concrete mix can be set by using very little amount of water, just 20 percent of the total volume of the cement.

Since it is difficult to mould concrete by using that much water, masons usually add water up to about 50 percent of the total volume of cement used. But some add water indiscriminately to the detriment of concrete’s health,” he explains.

It is a common practice for people to add more water when they find concrete mix too hard to spread and add sand if they find it too slurry. A judicious mix of all ingredients is a must for making healthy concrete, he suggests.

But, does the argument put forward by masons and builders that water eventually evaporates and hence there is not much of a problem if they use more water, stand to the scientific evaluation? Dr. Rao says that water, if used in excess, can cause irreparable damage to the building.

“Excess water usually occupies smaller spaces between the ingredients during construction.

These globules evaporate in due course of time leaving behind pores in concrete reducing its strength. Porosity also encourages atmospheric gases and elements to speed up the effects of corrosion,” he explains.

For a quick check on field, Dr. Rao gives a simple thumb rule: a concrete mix can be deemed as a perfect mix if one can roll a perfect ball out of it.

If the ball is too rough resulting in lack of proper cohesion we need to add more water. On the other hand if the mixture slips off ones hand and is difficult to role into a ball there is excessive amount of water in it.

A plain mix of cement, sand and rock pieces is called Plain Cement Concrete (PCC) and is used as a strong filler material for making floors, ramps and even roads.

But by introducing steel rods into it the structure its tensile strength increases and the resultant is known as Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC).

“RCC was designed after observing the flexibility of a tree. By adding steel rods the strength of the building is increased.

But in effect, the role of concrete in RCC changes from being just a strong compound to that of a protective layer around the steel rods to shield them from corrosion,” Dr. Rao explains.

Drunken driving offenders left high and dry

HYDERABAD: People caught for drunken driving can vouchsafe that the process itself is the punishment. After being caught while driving in drunken condition, their vehicles have been seized and though two weeks have passed, over ten dozen offenders are still waiting to get their vehicles released from the court.

The traffic police had conducted a drive against drunken driving on May 19 and 20 at several junctions in the city and had registered 250 cases and seized the vehicles. Law stipulates that the vehicles be seized and the errant drivers appear before the morning court in Somajiguda. But the pendency before the court is such that the drunken driving cases are getting postponed much to the chagrin of the motorists whose vehicles are seized.

Take the case of Srikant (name changed at request). He was caught by the police as he was driving his vehicle in a drunken condition. Police found that alcohol count in his blood exceeded 30 mg and seized his vehicle. He did attend the mandatory counselling session two weeks ago, but his case has not come up for hearing till today. While 250 cases were booked on those two days, more than 120 are still waiting to attend the court.

“Yes it was a mistake to drive after drinking. But isn’t it unfair to make one run from pillar to post to get the vehicle released? We do know the court procedures are not in the hands of police, but once they have seized the vehicles, isn’t it their moral responsibility to get the cases cleared at the earliest?” questions another motorist, who too requested anonymity.

The police which acquired latest breath analysers which can give printouts of Blood Alcohol Count (BAC), started booking drunk driving cases under Section 185-A of the Motor Vehicle Act. Under this Section, drunk driving is a non-compoundable offence and the offender has to face trial, explained DCP Traffic (North) P.V.S. Ramakrishna.

Hitherto, the police were booking drunken driving cases under Section 184-B of MV Act (rash driving) where fines up to Rs. 500 were imposed but the drivers were not produced before the court.

This article was published in The Hindu on Jun02, 2012.

Girls in old city face sexual harassment


S. Sameena, 15, a topper in ninth standard is reluctant to continue her studies after summer vacations. It is not money or lack of interest in studies which is making her have second thoughts about her career. It is eve teasing.

On her way to the school in Falaknuma, she is accosted by four boys who would force her to take their mobile numbers and keep in touch with them.

But for Sameena this is just one side of the problem. She is afraid that her family would blame her of misconduct if she approached them for help.

“Four boys used to follow me everyday on my way to school. They would often block my way and demand that I befriend them. Though I am not at fault, I am afraid of asking my father’s help as I am sure that he will beat me up and force me to discontinue my studies,” she says. It’s better to stop going to school on the pretext that I am not interested in studies than face the blame, she pointed out.

Sameena is not alone in her plight. Many young girls in old city are caught between devil and deep sea as they cannot muster enough courage to approach their parents nor deal with the situation themselves.

“Girls in old city are not an exception in facing harassment at the hands of men, but they are more vulnerable as they feel that they do not have proper avenues to redress this problem. They are always concerned that they will be blamed of improper behaviour when they approach their families,” a NGO worker, Rashmi Kumari said.

These girls are also afraid that they will be married off at an early age if their parents know that some boys are after them, she said. Rashmi was part of a survey done by a city based NGO, Ignis Careers, under the Naandi Foundation ‘Nanhi Kali’ project.

Close to 160 girls, from 11 schools in old city, were interviewed on various parameters under the project. About 37 percent of the respondents complained that they were facing sexual harassment and almost all of them expressed their helplessness in dealing with it, Rashmi said.

Teachers in old city too are at loss in dealing with these incidents.

“Some of our students complain that they are facing harassment on their way to school but we cannot face the wayward boys on our own. Girls are also reluctant to complain to the police as they are afraid of the consequences,” a high school teacher complained.

NGO survey reveals that 37 per cent of them were facing sexual harassment

Hyderabadi youth prefer desktop PCs to tablets

Hyderabad: The younger generation in the city is more active on social media platforms such as Facebook, but unlike other metros, the city’s youth are still heavily dependent on desktop computers to access internet, a survey by software major Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) reveals.

The ‘TCS GenY Survey 2011-12′ revealed that the youth in other metros prefer to access social media websites through their mobile phones and other devices such as tablet computers. About 12,300 high school students from 12 Indian cities participated in the survey.

Use of Facebook

According to the survey, about 80 per cent of the respondents from the city use Facebook as compared to 19 per cent in year 2009.

But, most of them access internet from desktop PCs and laptops, that too from their homes or in schools. Though 70 per cent students said that they have personal mobile phones, only 31 per cent of them use these gadgets to browse internet.

Compared to other metro cities, children from Hyderabad also have least exposure towards tablet devices, though they are fast replacing laptops as gadgets of choice, the survey found. So why do city youngsters go online? The survey points out that majority children use internet to do research for their school work.

Chatting with friends and listening to music are other popular online activities that the city youngsters indulge in. The city also deviates from other trends observed in major metros.

While the use of instant messaging, along with twitter and Facebook, is on the rise among youth in other cities, Hyderabadis still prefer voice calls and SMS to communicate.

They also lag behind their peers from other metros in watching online movies and communicating through e-mails, the survey found.

While the city’s youth is at deviance with their peers in other metros in regard with their internet and mobile usage, they are on the same wavelength when it comes to career options.

A majority of them indicated IT and engineering as their preferred career choice.


Nathalia Kaur aims at long innings in Bollywood

She set the ramp ablaze while she was just 14 and captured the coveted crown by becoming Kingfisher Calendar Girl – 2012. Now with a peppy item number ‘Dan Dan Cheeni’ in Ram Gopal Varma‘s latest thriller ‘Department’, Nathalia Kaur is aiming for a long innings in Bollywood.

A law graduate from Rio de Janeiro and trained opera singer, Nathalia aspires to make a fruitful career in Indian cine field.

Apart from the fabulous performance in the item number, she has already acted in a Kannada movie and bagged another movie with Varma.

“I find India very hospitable and people here are very warm. I want to make this country my home,” daughter of an half-Indian father says. But will this Brazil-born stunner get stumped because of the language? She claims that language is not a problem for her.

“In a country with more than 250 official languages, I don’t think that I will have any problem. I am already comfortable with Hindi and can speak without accent, instead I have an accent when I speak English and I am working on it,” she says.

To gain proficiency in Indian languages, she carries a book to jot down all the words that she comes across.

No accent problem

“Because of my lineage I do not have accent problems while speaking Indian languages. I think I will be able to manage the languages on my own very soon,” she claims.

But while she proved her mettle in the item song, can she handle the high-wire competitive arena in Bollywood?

Down south

Nathalia thinks she is game for the challenge. “I am a through professional and my approach towards the movies is very different. I believe that a good director can bring life to a character and I have no qualms in donning any role that I am asked to,” she says. She is also training her sight on film industry down south.

Film industry in the south is very vibrant. The industry here is very professional and it also some fantastic technicians and directors. I am looking forward to do more movies in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada,” she adds.

Dividers turn into death traps for motorists

Hyderabad: While road medians installed on many roads and by-lanes are reducing the possibility of head-on collisions among motorists, the battered dividers with deep scratches have a different tale to narrate.

Due to the lack of proper reflective paints, cat eyes and obstruction road paintings, the dividers themselves are causing problems to motorists in the city, particularly on the outskirts and secondary roads.

If the spate of accidents reported in the State capital are any indication, such incidents are on a steady rise. In a recent incident two students died on the spot when their motorcycle rammed a divider near Katta Maisamma temple in Suraram at Dundigal.

No proper signage

Lack of proper street lighting, road markings and reflective paints on the dividers, along with road congestion, are becoming major reasons for accidents involving dividers. Also, road width in the city is not uniform due to which dividers too are of different sizes resulting in mishaps.

“To avoid traffic chaos, a road should ideally have a minimum carriage way of five metres on both sides, after putting up a divider,” P.R. Bhanumurthy, JNTU professor (transportation) said. But even with that width, it is the responsibility of the authorities to provide proper lighting and reflective signage to warn motorists of the impending obstruction, he explained.

Motorists commuting on Outer Ring Road (ORR) are particularly vulnerable as the wider roads entice the motorists to step on the gas, but due to the lack of proper signage are at risk of colliding with the dividers. The sight of a battered four wheeler perched precariously on a divider has now become part of suburban folklore.

Driving with care

“Motorists will automatically avoid the obstructions if proper obstructive road signage is made at the junctions and dividers. But without these markings and proper street lighting there is always a possibility of motorists ramming the medians,” Prof. Bhanumurthy opined.

Another problem that the motorists face is when a divider comes up on a road overnight, catching regular commuters off-guard. To prevent accidents motorists too should drive defensively, especially during nights, he added.

Reflective signage

However, traffic authorities point out that it is the responsibility of municipal officials to install reflective signage. “GHMC has to install reflective signage and other related items on the roads and we are coordinating with them regularly to check the progress,” DCP Traffic (North) P.V.S. Ramakrishna said.

“Many dividers in the city are broken as motorists collide with them. GHMC authorities have assured us that they will rectify these dividers along with providing reflective signage,” he explained.

This article was published in The Hindu on May 22, 2012