Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Life of a Salesman: National Disasters and Selling Chucks

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Arriving in Bhopal
In 1984 I travelled from Delhi to Bhopal to visit certain customers.(BHEL, Omega, HEG and general visits to other customers in the area.) I boarded the Grand Trunk Express which left New Delhi railway station at 7.15 in the evening and was scheduled to arrive in Bhopal next morning at 5.15.

 The train was halted at a station called Vidusha about 50 km from Bhopal. About 7'oclock I asked the conductor why the train is halted and  he told me there is some gas leak near Bhopal railway station, therefore the train had to be stopped. After about an hour or so we reached Bhopal station. When I got down at the station I was shocked to see a number of bodies lying on the platform with foam from their mouths. I did not realize what exactly was going on...Imagine the horror of picking my way over the bodies across the platform to go out! I picked up an auto to go to the hotel room. 
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy was one of the worst  man-made Disasters of the 20th Century. See


I asked the auto driver what the problem is, why so many people are dead on the platform. He said the previous night there was a leakage of gas from Union Carbide factory which is located not very far from the station. However, he advised me that this is a very serious issue; a lot of people have been affected and their eye sight have been affected, so why do you want to stay here, get into the train and leave immediately. By the time I reached the railway station again, the train had already left, so I took another auto and went to the hotel where I normally stayed in Bhopal.
The lobby was completely deserted. Then someone came in and asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to stay now. He said he didn’t want anybody to stay in the hotel because the previous night many had died and no one knew what was really happening. He relented when I said I have no other choice, as I have nowhere to stay. He accommodated me in a room and narrated why people lost their lives staying in the midnight there was a lot of noise and the inmates of the hotel came out to see what is going on...they inhaled the gas and died including the people working in the reception area. 
The Next Couple of Days
I decided to go ahead with my programme of visiting Bharath Heavy Electricals which was located quite far away from the city and was not affected by the gas tragedy...normal work was going on so I finished all my work and went to another customer called Omega. When I reached that place again there was a rumour that the gas had again started leaking; Pandemonium broke out people started running helter-skelter, but the Managing Director of Omega calmed everyone down -  he organised a vehicle and took all of us to a farm house which was located quite far from the factory. He invited me to stay with them, provided lunch, evening snacks and dropped me back late in the night at the hotel. Interestingly Omega have grown into a very large company and still buy our Hand Operated and HI chucks!
The situation in the city was not really conducive for work and I felt I had better return home. My family and boss where extremely concerned and worried for my safety. They could read the news, but Bhopal was a hot bed of rumours and disinformation, so I did not get a grasp on what was really going on.
Remember those were the days of trunk calls where one had to book a call through the telephone exchange and wait for hours, and sometimes days for the calls to be out through! And not everyone even had a phone!! SO they could not contact me easily.
So I stayed for 2 more days because there was no other choice, tickets were not immediately available and booking counters were closed, and returned to Chennai as soon as I got a ticket.  
The Way We Were:
Looking back on it, I realize that I did not panic at all, and just went about my work. I did not even realize that I was in danger. While my boss and family were desperately trying to contact me, I went about my work and did not worry about the fact that in disaster struck Bhopal, I was unable to contact headquarters to report the day’s work. We were trained to be that way in GMT: No panic, do what has to be done next : THE SHOW MUST GO ON! I realize now that I too could have become dangerously ill, but then that’s the way we were in those days!


Friday, February 9, 2018

Surface Plates

cnc lathe

So What’s a Surface Plate?

To my many friends here, (In fact someone asked me) who do not know what the technical terms mean… Lathes…Surface plates??

A lathe is a machine which “turns” cyclindrical components very accurately. This means that the cylindrical part is rotated and a cutting tool removes material along its length.

This process has been in use for, literally, thousands of years. It was used to produce wooden parts and the process has been refined from holding large logs between to two trees.  A modern lathe, though, is a sleek, computer controlled machine, which can produce many thousands of parts in a day.  More on lathes in another article..

What is a Surface Plate:

These are simply reference datums for measuring objects. The surface is flat to within a few thousandths of a millimeter along its entire surface. Any object that is made in engineering, is made to a very precise size specification. Before sending a product out, a manufacturer needs to know that the size is within specification. More than anything else, he needs a perfect plane on which to place the component, from which to commence measurement of the product and this plane is provided by the surface plate. Of course the measurements themselves are carried out using other instruments and tools, but no matter how sophisticated the measuring instrument, we need a near perfect datum surface.
Cast Iron Surface Plate

To begin with, GMT made cast iron surface plates.

Its made by actually scraping the metal of the surface with a tool

scraping the metal

There are are many stages in this process and of course a perfect datum is required. The number of points at which the metal is scraped, the amount shaved off per unit area etc, all contribute to the perfection of the surface. And there is a wide range of tools to achieve this.The idea is to create a surface which is flat, but still has little pockets of air in it, else the object being measured will stick to the surface and resist movement for measurement.

Scraping is a human skill, which, till today cannot be completely mechanized. Over the years, GMT’s team has acquired mastery and trained some of our customers too, for other applications. It’s a hard, physical skill, which involves swinging the body repeatedly, using special tools, to achieve the desired result.
WHY CAN’T IT BE DONE BY MACHINES? Its one of the few processes which have never been entirely achieved by machines. So we can make a surface flat to within 5 thousandths of a millimeter in machine , but not lower than that. It feels quite odd that a human can actually achieve better accuracies than a machine, but the craftsmanship involved in hand scraping involves using human senses (see, touch and feel) to accommodate for inherent differences in the surface of the metal casting.
STANDARDS At the time, there were no Standards for measuring whether the plate itself was within specification. So PV decided to work with the Indian Standards Institute and evolved the standards for it, but that happened later. The Standard defines the flatness which means the variation in micrometers of the surface and the required the number of pockets per unit area required to finish plates for different applications. Check out our webpage for more details on flatness of our cast iron surface plates.

In those days, we had a lot a lot of time, we were just developing a product, and nobody produced anything in the huge quantities which is common today. Once we completed the surface plate to specification, which means it was functionally perfect, we actually made it look beautiful with a special tool:
Here’s a picture of the surface after it was “dressed”

Much, much later we started making surface plates with black granite, but that again is another story!