VISION FOR R&D IN ENGINEERING SCIENCES
Government of India
Ministry of Science & Technology
Department of Science & Technology
New Mehruali Road
New Delhi 110 016
Department of Science & Technology is promoting research in frontier and emerging areas under the aegies of Science & Engineering Research Council (SERC), SERC is composed of eminent scientists, professionals and technologists drawn from various universities, national laboratories and industries, and is assisted by Programme Advisory Committees (PACs) in different disciplines. SERC has evolved, over the years, a unique peer review system which has been well-recognised by the scientific community. It has helped in promotion and strengthening of several new areas of research as well as establishing a large number of national research facilities, core groups/centres. It has also endeavoured to promote the new concepts research capabilities in relatively small and less endowed universities/departments to increase critical mass.
The Council has recently reviewed its activities and the earlier identified areas of research, and decided to update the areas of research for future support. Under the overall supervision and guidance of SERC, PACs in various disciplines were requested to prepare to state-of-the-art document called "Vision for R&D" which would reflect new challenges to the scientific community, national facilities to be set up and new ways and mechanisms of their promotion. The present document is an outcome of this effort.
It is with this background that the Department of Science & Technology has decided to give wider publicity for promotion research in these areas. This document titled, "Vision for R&D – Engineering Sciences" is for those who are interested in vigorously pursuing research in Engineering Sciences. It is hoped that this document would be useful to the scientific community in planning its future research activities.
Electrical, Electronics & Computer Engineering
Materials, Mining & Minerals Engineering
Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering
Robotics and Manufacturing
The discipline of chemical engineering is undergoing a major transformation. A new paradigm of "borderless chemical engineering science" is emerging. The demands from the Society on `cleaner’ technologies rather `clean-up’ technologies, the emergence of `performance chemicals and materials’ etc., is driving the profession towards achieving symbiotic relationship with other disciplines. The present vision document is a reflection of the widening role of chemical engineering. It recognises the increasing role of those new areas where chemical engineering shares a diffused boundary with various science disciplines. It also proposes to undertake mission projects with the participation of the industry, in which contemporary advances in chemical engineering science will be applied to accomplish specific technological tasks.
AREAS OF FOCUS
In consonance with the requirement mentioned in the preamble, the following areas have been identified for special attention:
New Separation Science and Engineering
Increasing demands for `super pure’ chemicals and materials, where the impurity levels are in the parts per billion range, is providing the drive towards not only generation of new separation technologies, but also of clever combinations of existing ones. New challenges in downstream processing in biotechnology with emphasis on separation of specific species from a solution containing many species are beginning to emerge.
Development, design and analysis of systems containing smart membranes, hot membranes, ion selective membranes, membranes using electrical and other fields, generation of controlled pore size and pore size distribution and pore geometry and orientation, etc. provide exciting opportunities in research. Separations using monoclonal anti-bodies will be replaced by antibody mimics based on molecularly imprinted polymers. Continuous adsorption processes, design of special solvents for extraction, combination of extraction/membrane separation processes, etc. will also need intensive research. The emphasis will have to be on use of ambient conditions, avoidance of phase changes, high selectivities and complete recovery.
A drive towards `process intensification’ is leading to the search of novel reactor configurations, which will enhance selectivity as well as productivity. New spatial configurations of reactors (e.g. gauze reactors) for performing specific tasks are emerging. Combination of reaction and separation in a `combo’ system is likely to bring large dividends. Use of diverse fields (sound, microwaves, photo energy, etc.) to provide unusual environments in which chemical reaction could be conducted would lead to the evolution of new fields such as sonochemical and microwave reaction engineering.
Manufacturing Science: Structure and Behaviour of Polymers and Ceramics
Polymers and ceramics will dominate the materials scenario in the coming decades. Innovations in manufacturing science will lead to control of composition at a molecular level. Better understanding of the relationship between the structure and function will lead to a scientific basis for `engineering’ of polymer and ceramic products delivering special functionalities.
Polymer reaction engineering, including gas phase polymerisation, reaction injection moulding, reactive processing for incorporation functional groups, etc. involves interesting challenges in diffusion/reaction phenomena. Block copolymers especially self-assembling systems pose interesting challenges. Tethered polymers (grafted or absorbed on surfaces) and polymers at fluid interfaces, which mimic biological systems, open up new avenues.
Innovative technology for processing of polymers and ceramics will offer exciting opportunities. Production of advanced structural ceramics would require intelligent manipulation and control of macroscopic properties by controlling the surface and interfacial properties in early stages of formation of the ceramic (5-100 nm) through chemical and physical manipulations, or in other words, resorting to `ultrastructural’ processing.
Interfacial Science and Engineering
Interfaces abound in chemical engineering operations and interfacial phenomena control not only several chemical processes but also characteristics of products. Deeper insights into diffusion, adsorption and reaction phenomena through the use of sophisticated tools such as Monte Carlo or molecular dynamic simulations, etc. will enhance the understanding of the processes at interfaces.
Research on liquid-solid interfaces, including adhesion science, reactions at interfaces, precipitation phenomena, modification of crystal morphology, immobilisation of cells, use of surfactants as bilayered vehicles for microencapsulation, molecular recognition at specific sites on surfaces, etc. present the diverse and bewildering range of topics that provide exciting research opportunities in this area.
Engineering of Small Systems
The basis for synthesising new materials is shifting to `small systems’. Diverse systems including microemulsions, reverse micelles, vesicles, nanoparticles, etc. are being studied. When dealing with `small systems,’ the particles are so small that their properties differ dramatically from bulk. Synthesis of materials at such small dimensions using self-assembling systems is already gaining importance. Thermodynamics, transport and reactions in these systems pose new challenges, conceptual as well as practical. Chemical engineers are already trying to design "liquid composites" through such investigations.
New Tools in Mathematical Modeling
Chemical engineers have always been involved in the quantitative understanding of various phenomena of interest to them. They use mathematical modling as an important tool for quantitative analysis. New mathematical tools, which suit the complexities and uncertainties in the chemical engineering systems such as black box modeling, artificial neural networks, fuzzy logic, phase-space reconstruction, cellular automata etc. need to be more extensively used and brought into the profession. These tools not only offer superior methods of prediction under specific circumstances, but will have to be developed so that they become relevant to industrial operations.
Microscopic Analysis of Solids Handling
Where as chemical engineers have made a major headway in the understanding of gas and liquid dynamics, the area of solids handling has been sadly neglected, in spite of its great importance. The constitutive equations for solids flow remain empirical in nature. The progress on microscopic modeling to predict the macroscopic behaviour has been very slow because of the very complex behaviour observed with even the simple granular solids. The behaviour becomes even more complex when mechanical bridging, local sintering, electrostatic interactions, etc, are also involved. Solids handling is of considerable importance to chemical industry and there is great scope to do research in a variety of areas such as flow of cohesive powder, gas particle flows in risers, spouted and fluidised beds, flow regime maps, segregation phenomena, etc. The area offers great challenges and its understanding at microscopic level is still in its infancy.
Mere scientific explorations without exploitation are sterile. The benefit of the new knowledge derived on the basis of advances in chemical engineering science must be derived by industry. It is, therefore, proposed to use the engineering science base for technology development in a mission mode. However, these programmes will have to be driven by the market needs and demands and, therefore, will have to be drawn in consultation with industry. Such mission projects will aim towards development of new processes and products in key areas (such as fine chemicals) based on contemporary knowledge and skills in chemical engineering science. Specific mission projects will be identified based on discussions with the industry and the business opportunities they offer. This will be a continuing exercise. Such projects will be focussed and, if necessary, networked. Special monitoring arrangements, involving people from academia as well as industry, will be employed to ensure that these projects are completed within time and are used by industry.
ELECTRICAL, ELECTRONICS & COMPUTER ENGINEERING
1 – Broad Objective: To encourage and promote R&D activity in the field of Electrical, Electronics, Communication and Computers, to meet development needs and be abreast with global state-of-the art.
A detailed list of thrust areas within each of the above broad heads were first prepared, which are given at section 6. These have been further narrowed down to fewer high priority research areas, through deliberations by PAC. These topics are given in section 5.
It is not necessary that an industry should be brought in as a partner, right from the initial stage of the project. It may hamper the creativity of the Investigator, if he were to follow up an Industry, for a letter of support. In many cases R & D project may have to reach a critical stage before inviting an industry.
6. LIST OF THRUST AREAS ON ELECTRICAL, ELECTRONICS & COMPUTER ENGINEERING
MATERIALS, MINING AND MINERALS ENGINEERING
Materials play an important role in the advancement of science and technology and the human society. The demands for materials and processes which are cost-effective, environment friendly and energy efficient are on the increase and will continue to increase. In recent years we have witnessed the emergence of novel processes and materials totally revolutionizing the metallurgy and materials science field. Some of them are nanophase materials, superconducting materials, composite materials, structural ceramics, smart sensors, intelligent materials, functionally graded materials etc. and the processes include intelligent processing on line monitoring, continuous melting and refining net shape process, plasma processing, laser techniques etc. What developments should take place in the coming decades in the area of high technology materials and processes in our country, standing on part with international achievement and also specific to the needs of the changing economic and scientific scenario, is the task before the Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) on Materials, Mining and Minerals engineering of the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The deliberations among the members of the PAC on Materials, Mining and Minerals Engineering are consolidated here to identify the major goals or thrust areas in which the industries and DST should focus specially in the coming year.
The studies on new materials and processes include the development of cost-effective fabrication routes employing, wherever possible, indigenous resources in terms of raw materials and process equipment. It is possible to identify some key areas in which a major thrust should be given for developing the expertise and technology, necessarily having effective participation from the industries.
Efforts should be made for the development of high technology ceramics for specific applications such as high permeability ferrites, high energy ceramic magnets, rare-earth cobalt-iron-boron alloy powders, amorphous magnetic materials, A1 O and ZrO - base ceramics and carbide and nitride magnetic ceramics. The role of crystalline defects, microchemistry changes, impurity concentrations etc. and the characteristics of the powders and newer processing techniques should be thoroughly investigated. Materials related to low-loss transformers and high quality sensors should be developed. The studies should also include development of the subsystem module, a transformer, a motor or a sensor. In the area of structural ceramics, development of dense ceramics (alumina/zirconia/yattria ceramics) using high temperature/high pressure technique should be taken up. The need for all-ceramic or ceramic coated wear resistant orthopaedic implant devices to replace the conventional metallic devices should be realized. Development of various biocompatible ceramic and their coatings including hydroxyapatite coatings should be explored.
Necessary steps also should be taken for the study of fundamental aspects of processing of ceramics, particularly at the interfaces during the initial stages of ceramics formation. Fine powder technology, and the fabrication routes for the ceramic components are really challenging. Attention should be paid for the development of layered and multi-layered ceramic coatings for electronics and medical applications. Development of Ceramic (inorganic) membranes for technological applications is another area needing research thrust due to its applications in chemical and other process industries.
Production of advanced ceramics and other novel materials requires a stringent quality control over the process for excellent product quality. This necessitated the development and application of smart sensors, basically Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) sensors, for on-line defect monitoring during manufacturing steps, and the application of a corrective action if a fault is detected, for changing the process parameters. A variety of sensors based on a physical or a chemical change could be developed and incorporated into the process systems for `intelligently’ controlling or automating the processes. Such an intelligent processing involves assembling the smart sensors at appropriate process steps for effectively controlling the quality of the products. With the advancement of microelectronics technology, one could envisage the evolution of integrated NDT, corrosion, and structural integrating-monitoring sensors that record all the process parameters in an operating plant. This system can activate an intelligent defense mechanism if needed either directly or through remote operation. This could form the basis for a materials diagnostics-cum-therapy system.
In the last decade we have seen emergence of novel materials such as quasi crystals, oxide supercondutors, nanostructured materials, intermetallics etc. Necessary drive should be given for these projects not only for achieving the targets but also for transferring the technologies to the industries for suitable applications.
The new materials like functionally graded materials will revolutionalise the performance of components in many aggressive environments. Smooth spatial variations in composition, and in physical and chemical properties will make this class of materials a `darling’ of the materials community in the coming decades. Considering our strength in related areas, more attention should be paid to this class of newly emerging materials which would have a great impact on the industrial development.
Damage-tolerant materials that could perform self diagnosis and self repair would be the key to the deployment of maintenance free components in the industries. Maximum efforts should be made in the development and application of these materials in the coming decades.
Magnetic materials form the back-bone of the modern electrical, electronics and communication industries. Based on the magnetic characteristics, magnetic materials are grouped into two classes i.e. soft magnetic materials and hard magnetic materials. The soft magnetic materials are further classified into two basic categories namely, soft magnetic metal alloys and soft magnetic ferrites. There is yet another group of soft magnetic materials that has been in the vanguard of new developments. This group consists of rapidly quenched amorphous magnetic alloys containing 75-80% transition metal together with 20-25% metalloid elements like boron, phosphorus and carbon. Amongst hard magnetic materials are hard ferrites, Alnicos and rare earth transition metal intermetallics.
In India, there are several areas in soft magnetic materials where concerted research and development efforts are desirable i.e. domain refined high permeability grain oriented silicon steels, amorphous magnetic alloys with ultimate objective of use in distribution transformers, iron-nickel-neodymium composition of soft magnetic alloys with skewed loops for unipolar operations, new compositions of Mn-Zn ferrites and Mn-Zn ferrites with higher performance. Similarly, in the case of hard magnetic materials, the zone of interest is high energy rare-earth magnets based on Sm-Co and Nd-Fe-B; another area of interest is amorphous rare-earth transition metal element film which can find use in data storage by magneto-optical recording. Magnetic bubble memory materials are also of interest.
The realization of novel materials and advanced ceramics would be possible only if processes that are capable of producing them under non-conventional ways are available. Plasma, ion and laser techniques are emerging as advanced techniques that can produce materials overcoming phase diagram constraints. Synthesis of graded materials smart materials, wear corrosion resistant coatings and materials, superconducting thin films etc. is achieved by applying these techniques. Further developments in this area with respect to the design and development of process techniques, indigenisation of the technology of producing the raw materials process control equipment and instruments etc. should be made for systematically producing these novel materials in our country.
Rigorous quantitative modeling based on our understanding of the underlying physics of materials processing operations such as solidification and metal forming coupled with well designed experiments to validate the basic models has not been given due importance. For example, 3-D modeling of material flow during metal forming processing using laser and plasma and the prediction of resultant microstructure as well as stress concentration is an important research area. The prediction of segregation, porosity and microstructure during solidification processes such as casting, welding and laser processing despite considerable research efforts remains an unsolved problem. The results of such modeling efforts will have major impact on the materials processing industry in reducing costs of designing and development, towards achieving high quality and productivity during production and perhaps reaching the ultimate goal of designing for near net shape casting of components
Computational materials science is an emerging new area and will add new dimensions to our knowledge of structure property relations and to the design of new materials. The combination of process modeling and computational materials science will offer new avenues for research. A conceivable situation is : using the models for solidification an alloy could be cast, and using the model for weld simulation and formability limits, a component could be fabricated following the standard codes available for the designing of the components. The virtually fabricated component can be tested simulating the process and plant conditions, and its life can be assessed under simulated test conditions. Ultimately such knowledge – based engineering methodologies will innovate virtual modeling of components, leading to reduction in cost and time of actual materials development.
Wear resistance is one of the major factors influencing the choice of materials for friction pairs. The reduction losses from wear and friction requires a new class of materials and processes, and also a new generation of thoroughly trained, knowledgeable tribologists in the coming decades. Considering the current scenario in the area of tribological and wear resistant materials the future research programmes should be taken up in the area of chemical vapour deposition (CVD) and physical vapour deposition (PVD), hard-coat anodizing, composite coatings, coatings, carbon based coating cryogenic tempering and wear resistant coatings by lasers. The development of multi layer deposition of hard coatings, such as TiC, Ti(C.N.) HfN and A1 O would yield the combination of the positive effects of the individual layers. The nucleation and growth kinetics at the coating/substrate interface are still not well known and efforts should be made for necessary microstructural and microchemical investigations. The developmental aspects of hard coat anodization have to be thoroughly investigated to optimize the process conditions for yielding an improved product with reduced manufacturing costs.
The application of ceramic coating on cylinders and pistons of two-stroke and four-stroke engines would result in reduced oil consumption and emissions, and improvement in torque and power. To achieve optimum wear and abrasion resistance, many more alloy combinations should be investigated since the properties are greatly affected by the characteristics of mating materials.
The synthesis of diamond-like coating through CVD has already been achieved. The next step should be the extensive commercial application of these coating produced with CVD and ion beam processes. Amorphous hydrogenated carbon thin film has attractive properties like good infrared transparency, high electrical resistity, hardness rivalling the hardest ceramics, low dry sliding friction similar to Teflon and extreme wear resistance. Boron carbide has important applications in nuclear, aerospace and defense industries owing to its high hardness, chemical interness, tribological and neutron absorption properties. The developmental aspects of these coatings and avenues for applications should be further explored in the coming years.
Laser surface treatment can create a wear resistant surface because it produces high hardness, suitable alloy chemistry, favourable residual stresses, fine microstructure and a smaller heat affected zone. Investigations of laser melted, plasma sprayed coatings of TiB and B C, TiC, WC etc. on various substrates should be investigated for sliding wear abrasive wear, erosive wear and cutting tool wear. Continued efforts should be made to optimize, evaluate and understand the laser processing capabilities to achieve extremely hard and wear resistant surfaces in the future.
Other than the above methods cryogenic tempering is also an interesting method by which increased wear life an decreased residual stress in tool steel as drills, broaches, and end mills could be obtained.
Evolution in nature has led to the development of remarkable materials such as the spider’s web, the abalone shell and the tortoise shell. They show outstanding combinations of strength and toughness often superior to the design of materials by man. Inspired by biology, efforts are under way to unravel the strategy adopted by nature in terms of nano-composites, self assembly and hierarchical structures. Indian research efforts in this direction are just beginning and need to be strengthened.
Oyster shels, coral, ivory, pearls are some of the examples of biomineralized materials engineered by living creatures in order to achieve remarkable precision and reproducibility at a molecular level. Even though the mechanisms of synthesis as well as molecular recognitions during such natural processes are not still completely understood, the study of biomineralization provides a unique opportunity to material scientists to find ways of controlling as well as designing complex composites through interfacial chemistry routes. Recent research in this area, for example, has shown that molecular recognition at inorganic surfaces with the help of appropriate surfactants can provide excellent means of controlling crystal growth processes leading to desired morphologies at the macroscopic scale.
"Energy is the ultimate raw materials". Any material produced and processed is an energy bank. As energy will more and more become a constraint to our endeavours in the 21st Century, new technologies for conservation of materials, substitutions of scarce by ample materials, redesigning for longer life and easy recycling, (Reuse, Remelting, Remanufacturing) and recovering of resources from waste have to be developed. The emphasis on increasing the efficiency of energy utilization and decreasing the environment pollution from processes will continue. In the case of plastic scrap, it has to be considered as precycled crude oil and the energy in it has to be extracted from burning it. As the natural resources deplete, processing for values from low-grade ores and raw materials now considered uneconomic will become necessary. Waste utilization and resource recycling to convert waste products into value-added items either of mass consumption or industrial importance need to be encouraged. Development of materials for energy storage and new precursor routes in materials processing should receive attention. In general, the 21st century will see a shift in the R & D efforts in materials from the now glamorous areas of structure-property correlations and materials characterization to the preparative side of materials, mining, mineral processing and extraction.
MECHANICAL ENGINEERING AND CIVIL ENGINEEIRNG
The Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) on Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering has the objective of fostering R&D projects in the area of mechanical engineering and civil engineering. Even while representing two different branches of engineering sciences, the PAC does share common areas of research such as structural dynamics, structural design & analysis, fluid dynamics, construction techniques, and computational methods. The members of PAC are drawn from various sub-disciplines such as machine design, tribology, thermodynamics, applied mechanics, structural engineering, water resources and hydraulics, geotechnical engineering, transportation engineering etc.
After deliberating on various topics which require concerted R&D effort, PAC discussed the `Vision Document’ based on an approach paper prepared by the Chairman and the comments received from Members. It was decided that a document bringing out the focus of PAC for the next three to five years may be prepared based on the discussions in PAC meeting. There was a consensus among Members that the present thrust area document is still relevant; this could be republished, with modifications where necessary. Members also felt that there is no need to restrict encouragement for submission of proposals only in identified areas.
In the recent past, many project have been taken up with participation of Industry of User Agencies. This arrangement ensures end-utility while enabling smooth transfer of technology. There are many instances where PAC has conceived project ideas which have later become major activities. An example was cited regarding the fly ash mission being pursued by TIFAC, which was a follow-up of deliberations by the previous PAC. It was decided that since all aspects regarding fly-ash disposals and utilisation are covered under the Mission, this may be left out of the scope of the vision paper.
In addition to considering individual research proposals, PAC has generated many projects in a pro-active manner. Project on design and development of crossflow turbine is a shining example, which resulted in the setting up of nearly a dozen demonstration projects in various states on a joint funding basis amongst DST MNES and state agencies. Some of the other projects with a high rate of success are:
PAC identified the following major areas for coordinated research for implementation, in a pro-active mode :
It has been estimated that the availability of fossil fuels will be diminished within a few decades and will be depleted within the next 50 to 60 years. The effect of this will be felt much early in the less oil rich countries like India. This calls for an all out search for alternate sources of fuel. Hydrogen as a substitute for hydrocarbon and extensive use of methanol for transport application are possible areas of research and development.
Increased urbanisation and higher living standards result in increased quantum of solid waste. There is a need to have an efficient system to handle and dispose the waste material without causing hazards to human population and its environment. Innovative and cost effective disposal systems for small towns also needs particular attention. Use of impervious layering including geosynthetic material will have to be explored.
Farming is one sector which is capable of adapting renewable energy sources through solar energy, wind mills etc. Development of solar chimneys has a potential to provide cheap and alternative energy for the farming sector, which may be site specific.
Housing is one of the priority sectors for the country, R&D efforts on various building materials and related technologies have been successfully attempted by several agencies in different parts of the country. Innovative technologies on one hand offer cheaper construction methods, and on other hand preserve the ecology and environment. There is a need to consolidate these efforts and direct them towards national development. PAC can p0lay a catalytic role in bringing about the transformation a reality through collaborative efforts with concerned agencies such as HUDCO, BMPTC, NHB, CBRI, Nirmiti Kendras etc.
V Cost-effective road construction
Ours is a vast country where large number of people still live in semi urban and rural areas. In order to achieve sustainable development and to prevent large scale migration to urban centres it is necessary to provide quick and better road communication systems. Cost effective road construction techniques need to be employed in order to carry out this objective with life-cycle costing approach. R&D efforts in this direction needs an impetus.
vi Ground water recharging, watershed management
Increased urbanisation and consequent reduction in recharge surfaces together with excess withdrawal of ground water, has resulted in shortages in aquifer reservoirs. This calls for elaborate efforts for ground water recharging through measures such as check dams, percolation ponds, infiltration galleries etc. Combined with proper watershed management practices, this can go a long way in sustaining the ecological balance. Suitable numerical and analog models including demonstrative effort need to be worked out to meet the objectives in this sector.
Safe drinking water still remains elusive for most people in the semi urban and rural areas. Compromises in quality and quantity of potable water pose serious threat to human health in addition to causing contamination of surface and ground water storages. Suitable cost effective technologies need to be developed and demonstrated, taking into account the diversity of sources and compositional variations.
India being a vast country with different landscapes and a vast coastline is often visited by natural disasters in the form of earthquake, floods, and cyclones. There is a need to employ technological means to contain these hazards by advanced warning systems, structural and non structural measures and better infrastucture for handling post disaster situations.
It was decided that the above research efforts will be attempted in a phased manner. As a first step, it was decided to take up co-ordinated research projects in three major areas as following:
ROBOTICS AND MANUFACTURING
In this era of globalisation and competitiveness, productivity plays a vital role in the country’s economy. It was in this context and the felt need in the country that the areas of Robotics and Manufacturing were given due importance and recognition by DST. Lack of properly trained-manpower and indigenous developments in these areas were some of the considerations. A Programme Advisory Committee on Manufacturing Technology, was constituted in 1991, which has been renamed as Robotics and Manufacturing in 1994, to give necessary impetus in these and related areas. The demand from industry, particularly to develop small Artificial Intelligence and software for manufacturing systems strengthened this move. One of the characteristic features of this Programme over this period has been that many of the projects supported had a substantial contribution from industry and/or other scientific agencies, both in the form of cash and kind.
With the advent of inexpensive, large size memory chips and integrated circuits, the industry is looking towards the academic institutions and research laboratories for the development of software for various software applications, keeping in view the hazardous environments of some typical processes. DST’s initiative, with DRDO, in setting up of Robotics Research Facility at Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR), Bangalore has proved to be significant and few such facilities for use of technical institutions along with development of kits for education would perhaps help in focussing the R&D efforts in this crucial area to some tangible outputs not only from the industry point of view but also from the social angle.
Now it is time to take stock of past and present priorities, and to set future goals and priorities. For this purpose, several discussions were held during the various meetings of the PAC, and a separate meeting was held with representatives of industry with no other agenda than to formulate a vision paper for the future. This document puts forward an analysis of past achievements, the present status, the bottlenecks to further progress, and an action plan to overcome these bottlenecks.
As far back as the 1960’s, several IIT’s, Regional Engineering Colleges, and other universities such as Jadavpur University, PSG College of Technology, and BITS Pilani started courses in topics such as metal cutting, machine tools, and manufacturing research. Thus it was natural for these and other groups to extend their efforts to encompass research and development activities in robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing. More or less in parallel, the Division of Remote Handling and Robotics (DRHR) in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) aimed to achieve self-sufficiency and self-reliance in these areas. Subsequently other research organisations in the government sector such as SCIO, CMERI, CMTI and CAIR has developed expertise in various aspects of robotics, sensors and actuators, and related areas. Finally, a few industries such as HMT and BHEL have also set up R & D efforts in robotics, flexible manufacturing, and related topics. Owing to the efforts of these groups, the Indian community is reasonably self-sufficient in several aspects of robotics and manufacturing, and related topics. Owing to the efforts of these groups, the Indian community is reasonably self-sufficient in several aspects of robotics and manufacturing, though some glaring deficiencies still exist. At the same time, it must be conceded that the impact of robotics and automation on Indian industry has been minimal. Further, in the areas of VLSI fabrication, the nation has actually gone backwards with the burning down of the Semi Conductors Limited (SCL) in Chandigarh, and no apparent commitment on the part of the government to replace its capabilities. Moreover, new technologies such as flexible automation and virtual reality (VR) pose new challenges for the Indian research community.
The strengths and weaknesses of the Indian R & D community in the broad areas of robotics, manufacturing automation, and VLSI can be summarized as follows:
In the past, the PAC on Robotics and Manufacturing has supported individual and group projects that aspire to produce state of the art research and/or development in any aspect of robotics. This support must continue, and the list of thrust areas below must be seen as being in addition to, and not instead of, such traditional projects. However, these traditional projects must be supplemented by a few "mega" projects. Some such projects are listed below. These projects are expected to take up to three years, but no more, and the budgetary projections are over a three year period. It will be necessary to adopt appropriate monitoring mechanisms for such projects.
Aside from promoting research proposals in these and allied areas, it is suggested that a demonstrator system be set up to carry out micro-manipulation and micro-assembly. Such a demonstrator would require the Indian research community to master most if not all of the above technologies. The demonstrator micro-assembly system could assemble watch parts, or carry out diamond finishing to sub-micron accuracies. The cost of setting up such a demonstration unit, including development costs, is expected to be around Rs.2.0 to 2.5 crores.
6. Self-Sufficiency in Actuators, Sensors and Components: Total self-sufficiency is probably not practical in view of the costs involved, but nevertheless, one should at least aim for it. This is not a mega-project like the others in this list, but should nevertheless be taken up as a thrust activity. In pursuing this activity, the usual criteria of "novelty" has to be bypassed, since the objective is not necessarily to make something at the cutting edge, but rather to make it in India. Thus projects in this area have to be judged using a different set of criteria.