Bringing in a paradigm shift: Prof. Bankim Chandra Ray
Prof. BC Ray has had a tremendous hand at contributing to the world of materials by his persevering attempt to put FRP composites on a pedestral. He is none other than a trailblazer for the Metallurgical and Materials Engineeing department, smashing all boundaries with his dedication and utter devotion towards the department.
MM: Throughout your career you have authored numerous articles,conference papers, journal publications and books. What is your motivation behind producing such a vast amount of literature in the field of material science?
BCR: Motivation is to make my students more knowledgeable and to put my institute on the forefront of research. I like giving special attention to all my B.Tech students.
When I was a B.Tech student, I was an avid dreamer but I was never given the chance to bloom. I'm not criticising any teachers but I don't want any other student to be neglected. Generally, B.Tech students don't get a chance to prove themselves in research, but in reality I've seen B.Tech students work much harder than most PhD students.
This is a very unique feature which Prof. BC Ray has. He gives a lot of priority to them, leading their success in publishing international papers in the top-most journals of the world. He considers his biggest achievement is making his students a scholar. Surendra Kumar Makineni, a B.Tech student of his, has went on to become a faculty of IISC Bangalore and had six Asian journal papers during his B.Tech.
He expressed his obligation to Sir through these following words:
I was an unofficial student of Professor B. C. Ray during my under graduation in National Institute of Technology Rourkela for the period 2003-07. I can strongly say that my present position is solely credited to him. I drove my motivation and interest in the materials research by witnessing his passion for work in the department and expertise in the polymer-based composite field. I still remember when I first met with him during the 2nd semester for providing some research problems to work. I told him that my CGPA is average and requested him to guide me. His one statement, “CGPA doesn’t matter for doing good work”, inspired and gave confidence in pursuing the research path. In fact, in due course of my career, I find this to be true.
I'm also motivated to work on a new alternative to steel, if it’s not convincingly better, which is stronger, corrosion-resistant and better, has 100% fatigue resistant, much lighter, infinite design flexibility. FRP composites can save upto 47.8 miles/ litre in engines. Dreamliner, which comprises 70% FRP composite, gives a fuel save of 20% per person. It can fly at a higher speed and higher altitude so that you can reach the destination in a shorter time. It's a very shock-absorbing material so the landing and taking off is very noiseless. TATA started producing pressure vessels, bridges, etc and we're in a business with Railways because even the sleepers will have a weight reduction of 50 Kg. It'll never fail catastrophically. It's lighter and thus, better and will change the material world, as a structural material. We’re giving a smart city solution for all cities.
MM: With the invention of steel, mankind witnessed an industrial revolution which has brought us to the present age. What according to you are the rising trends in the field which will be lucrative for researchers as well as help in bringing about the next industrial revolution as far as materials are concerned?
BCR: Steel is a legacy but FRP composite’s brilliance can not be ignored. We should be flexible enough to welcome the young kid with the genius mind, aka FRP. In a few years, every sector can be made earthquake-proof. It’s labour sensitive since it’s lighter and construction gets over easily. The material can be tailored any way, a lucrative luke can be given adding to the aesthetic value. Materials can take the responsibility of making you happy. There’s going to be a revolution but it needs a huge Research and Development support to prove its potential. Since we’re technologists, we should not believe in it’s God-gifted characteristics and superiority.
Metal is a continuous part and has high-temperature processing, it’s sensitive to fatigue failure and corrosion. FRP can be made from raw materials in one go, and are less time-consuming than metals. Steel has an elaborate processing. FRP is eco-friendly compared to any metallic material as its carbon footprint is much less. With matured technology, it’ll become more environment friendly. There is a design rigidity when it comes to steel, but with FRP we can modulate its design with ease.
MM: What are some of your most prominent research works on FRP composites? Please tell us about them.
BCR: I am a pessimistic scientist, that is pessimistic to make the material better and people more optimistic about it. I am working on the weakest part of the composites to understand why is it weak on that front so that my work would prove useful to the industry to make a preventive node for avoiding catastrophic failures. Currently, my research comprises mainly of environmental degradation of FRP composites. The FRP composites are composed of two things fiber and polymer, it is a heterogeneous material, so the interaction of fiber and polymer with the environment is completely different from each other. There are some differential changes that take place. When differential changes take place in a heterogeneous structure it leads to the development of stresses in the structure, so the structural integrity gets disturbed. I focus on developing and maintaining a reliable and integrated microstructure so that I can get robust properties from the material at all times.
MM: One of your research projects is based on the Feasibility study of advanced FRP composites for modern Indian structural applications, which was funded by Tata Steel and INAE.Please tell us about it.
BCR: The research is based on the structural applications of FRP composites, we are investigating in the areas where FRP can penetrate and have a considerable effect, advantages that can be derived by the replacement of the metallic structures. In the coastal areas, corrosion is a huge problem, the metallic structures just fall down like paper when in repeated contact with the ocean water. In FRP there is no such issue, there is no need for painting the structure to resist corrosion. You might be wondering then if FRP composites are such a good building material why don’t we use it already. The reason is that the initial cost is a bit higher but the lifecycle cost is much cheaper than steel, for about 20 years you will require no maintenance, no painting or any other anti-corrosive measure. The issue we face with FRP composites is that of recycling and reusing, but it is being taken care of, scientists around the globe are working hard to address these problems.
MM: There is a lot of research going on around carbon fibers and carbon nanotubes. Please shed some light on these two?
BCR: Primarily we are concerned with the 3 kinds of fibers that are glass fiber, carbon fiber, and the aramid(kevlar) fibers, but we are also working on different combinations(hybridizations) of these fibers like glass-carbon fibers, carbon-aramid(kevlar) fibers, etc. Recently the work on the addition of carbon nano-tube, graphene on to the polymer matrix to make it tougher has started. This is called polymer modifications by the nano-particle additions. We are also adding TiO2, Al2O3 in the nano-scale to make the polymer harder and improve fracture tolerance. We do this to make sure that the composite doesn’t fail because of polymer failure. The function of the polymer is to transfer the load on to the fiber. We are also working on adding carbon nanotubes, graphene, carbon nanofibers on the fiber surface to make it more active and hence achieve close chemistry between the fiber and polymer matrix. By this, we can make the interface more reliable and robust when the composite is under stress.
MM: There are 2 research projects ongoing in your lab which are funded by the Naval research board of DRDO. Effect of Hygrothermal conditioning and cycling on CNT embedded GFRP composite: A Study on marine environment durability and The effect of the shock wave, moisture and sea on de-bonding of multilayer in FRP composite systems-experimental and multi-scale modeling based investigation. Is it possible that one-day entire battle-ships be made of these composites given the harsh conditions in which these mega-machines operate?
BCR: I think it is very much possible to have entire battleships made out of FRP composites. The United States of America already has a goal of making battleships and many other things purely out of composites. But it is not happening because the standards for FRP composites are not available right now. If we want to manufacture something then first internationally accepted standards have to be established for the material and approved by a competent authority. Since FRP is a new material there is a crisis of standard availability, but for steel standards are available for all purposes. So keeping that in mind, now we are working on superstructures that are Steel and FRP composites merged together. Right now we are collaborating with scientists from Germany and Sweden and we are also having an MoU with the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney. In marine applications, FRP composites have made tremendous progress. It is now possible to have all the parts of a ship’s hull to be made up of FRP. In-fact FRP composites are the perfect solutions for all kinds of Marine applications.
MM: Sir, you are also a business advisor to Tata Steel on the new materials business. What are these new materials and what potential do they have to impact the Indian Economy?
BCR: The new materials consist of Structural Ceramics, FRP composites, Graphene. TATA Steel has a new business wing called the new material business and FRP composites are their main focus now. It is a new vertical of their business. FRP composites have a variety of applications in the water tanks, pressure vessel pipes, sewage pipes, electrical poles, bridges, industrial gratings, fencing. Almost any product can be manufactured using FRP composites. Talking of its advantages, the production rate can be very high, it is a light material, and the biggest advantage is the design flexibility. The metallic structures are limited by design but not FRP composites.
Initially, when I was given the post, it was a very challenging job. I’ve been an academician all my life but this job meant business from Day-1. It was a big shift for me but at the same time it’s been fun too and a great learning experience as I get to use my knowledge acquired all over the years from the laboratory to an industry. It’s a huge responsibility but people with a knowledge of FRP are rare. Their solutions should be cheaper and practical, unlike the idealistic solutions I give to my students as they’ve to make a profit. I’m thankful to God and my institute for their unconditional love and trust. My biggest achievement is encouraging my students over anything else.
MM: What according to you should be the areas on which a Btech metallurgy student should focus on if he/she wants to pursue research in this field? any advice for them?
There’s always an originality and nobility in the materials industry. The message that I want to give to my students is that you should be proud as materials exist everywhere and they make our life easier. I’ve one request that you should be innovative and think out of the box while being keen. We should think about better and more eco-friendly options. We should be more open to new innovations. Innovations don’t mean throwing away traditional methods, but making it better and more viable. There should be a healthy balance between the new and traditional technology, which will help in the propagation of more knowledge. There’ll be democracy and a healthy competition in the material world. You should be passionate and devoted to it and fall in love with it.
Team MM wishes him all the best for his future endeavours and hopes that he keeps getting more accolades and laurels to the college for eons to come.