Friday, September 18, 2009

Rubbery Life

Rubbery Life
A journey through rubber science & technology and industry
Dr.S.N. Chakravarty
Polym Consultants, New Delhi

Entering Research Life

“ What do you know about Rubber ? “ was the question asked at the interview for CSIR Fellowship at Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Jadavpur, Calcutta by my would be research guide. After my Master’s in Chemistry from Banaras Hindu University in 1960 and a short stint of lecturer-ship at Kharagpur, I applied for this research scholarship and was called for the interview.

I replied “nothing“ and thought that the case is closed. Surprisingly my would be research guide Dr. Anil K. Sircar told “don’t worry, I also had no knowledge of rubber when I started to work with it. If you are serious and laborious then you should be able to also do it”. At that time a research scholarship was not easy to get, that even CSIR fellowship. Obviously I was delighted when I was selected for this fellowship.

The fellowship was for Rs 250 per month, which today looks to be ridiculous but was substantial and sufficient about 50 years back. We could live comfortably ( no luxury ) and carry out research activity with out tension with this amount though I lost Rs 20 per month from my earlier stint of lectureship at a Degree college for a short period of few months where my salary was Rs 270 per month.
Attraction of scientific research and a Ph.D. degree was far more than the small loss. Only factor was that the research and industrial activity at that time in India was insignificant and properly paid employment opportunities in the country was remote. Ultimately, on completion of degree I had to look for interesting opening abroad and left for West Germany.

I have spent over 40 years in rubber industry, both in India and abroad, and thought to chronicle this journey which might interest younger generation. Rubber industry in India was never an enlightened one and in the initial stage it was mistry driven industry. In the initial stage there were very few qualified persons in the industry. Perhaps, Dr. D. Banerjee was the first person who started organized and systematic R & D activity and established well equipped laboratory in rubber industry in India. 1970’s saw the entry of a bunch of qualified persons in rubber industry scenario pursuing development work actively and presenting these in different workshop / seminar / conferences. The situation improved over the years but remained confined to bigger organized units. Medium and small scale industries remained mistry driven till today.

At that time India was emerging in the field of rubber / elastomer science & technology and certain laboratories like Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in Calcutta, (Anil K Sircar, P.K.Chatterjee ), National Chemical Laboratory in Poona ( Sivaramakrishnan ), Indian Institute of Technology , Kharagpur ( S.K.Banerjee ) had nucleus team conducting research in this field with limited facilities at their disposal. Of course, there was Rubber Research Institute, Kottayam under Rubber Board which was fully devoted to work on rubber development and its application. However, RRI activity was primarily focused to the plantation & botanical research. US, UK, France, Germany, Russia & Japan were very active in rubber / elastomer research field those years. In fact largest number of research publication in this field is credited to one Russian scientist named Dogadkin.

Major rubber industry in the country during that period were multinational , like Dunlop , Firestone , Bata , little later Good Year , whose technology & every detail was guided from their Principal and R & D was neither persuaded locally nor encouraged. Situation started changing over the years with the introduction of Indian companies, many of them with foreign technical collaboration but financially independent.

Association with Dr. D. Banerjee

This CSIR Fellowship was under Dr. D.Banerjee through his scheme on “Mechanism on Vulcanization of Rubber “. Dr. D. Banerjee was the father of Indian Rubber Industry and at that time was the Managing Director of National Rubber Manufacturers Ltd. & Inchek Tyre Ltd. During 1960’s Calcutta was the centre of rubber technology & rubber industry, having two tyre companies namely Dunlop and Inchek , Bata, NRM ,Exide and many medium and big size rubber units manufacturing wide range of products. It was centre of cycle tyre, railway products, automotive components, hose, conveyor & Vee belt, hawai chappal etc.

I started the work with Dr. D. Banerjee and Dr. Anil K. Sircar , who was the R & D Chief of NRM which had a well equipped laboratory and processing equipments / pilot plants for rubber products. Often, I had to use these facilities during my research work. This personal association with Dr. Banerjee continued for more than four decades till his death in 2007.

Besides Calcutta , Bombay had also well organized rubber industry including a tyre company i.e Firestone. Bombay ( Cosmos / Lalitmohan Jamnadas, Oriental Rubber / Vijay Makar , Modak Rubber / V.N.Modak , Basant Rubber / Sangtani ) – Thane ( Rubber Reclaim / W.G.Deasi ), Pune ( Swastik Rubber / B.G.Vaidya / Pendse ) and Gujarat areas close to Maharastra border like Dhanu , Vapi etc and upto Surat had a number of small / medium size units. At that time ICI was active in rubber technology & development field and had a well equipped laboratory headed by Dr Roy Chowdhury at Tiljala in Calcutta . ICI rendered technical service to the industry very effectively ( to mention some names who were known to the industry – Mr. Dilip Chatterjee , Dr.Sanjoy Roy , Mr. Samajpati , specially for latex technology ) for quite long which was rivaled by Bayer India in 1970s. Even in rivalry, unlike today, there was a congenial atmosphere and friendly relationship among technologists from different companies. ICI conducted regularly technical training course for the benefit of the industry and was quite popular. This declined in subsequent years and the technical training course initiated by Bayer India in 1970s became very popular in rubber industry.

Synthetics & Chemicals, only synthetic rubber producer in the country manufacturing Styrene Butadiene Rubber in 1960s , had it’s factory in Bareily , UP. Head office and Technical Service Laboratory were in Bombay ( at Worli ) . S & C was also active in rubber industry rendering technical guidance to the industry and also conducted training courses. Mr. M.M.Patel , Mr.R.R.Pandit ( later joined Bayer India and was my colleague for about a decade ) , Mr. N.M.Rege etc. made notable contribution to the rubber field in early years. This laboratory was the centre for training course, especially for IRI / PRI. Later years I have been closely associated to many courses and delivered lectures over the years for IRI / PRI students.

Research Institute

Thus, my research life in the field of rubber started at Department of Macromolecules, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Calcutta in mid 1961. This was the most prestigious research Institute of the country at that time which had people like Dr. C.V. Raman, Dr. Meghnad Saha , Prof. Satyen Bose, Prof. Shanti Ranjan Palit etc. The Institute was established in 19th Century by the then well known medical practitioner & philanthropist, Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar.

The institute had five departments, Physics & Theoretical Physics , Physical Chemistry & Organic Chemistry and Macromolecules covering rubber & polysaccharides. It had a very good library, open till late in the evening.

Early 1960’s infrastructural facilities for Research in the country were lacking. There were no Calculator, Computer , Photocopier, Fax etc. Graphs were prepared manually and multiplied by Ammonia print. Research papers and Thesis were typed with manual typewriter. Those days there were few automatic testing equipments and no software ( all statistical analysis were done manually ) and hence many things had to be done manually which was laborious and time consuming. For example, Column for Liquid Elution Chromatography had to be prepared patiently over hours with Silica gel and solvent which had to be carefully stored all the period so that it does not dry. Similarly, the plate for Thin Layer Chromatography had to be prepared manually by coating the glass plate with silica gel. Due to absence of fraction collector, the fractions of liquid elution chromatography had to be collected manually after every five milliliter followed by manual titration of each fraction so that ultimately at day’s end one graph was produced.

Due to lack of fund, we could not buy all the major equipment and often improvised the same as well as the method. We developed simpler equipments with the help of our workshop technicians who were willing partner to such development. The most important example was the Amperometric Titration apparatus. There was a strong camaraderie among the staff and assistant in the Institute with the research personnel which was a very healthy atmosphere towards the research work. All were actively participating in different games played after the office hours regularly which was participated by even senior professors.

We had one Ozonizer in Organic Chemistry department of the Institute which I had to use extensively at the initial stage of my research work to establish the structure of natural rubber and this resulted in the first experimental ( chemical ) proof of 1 , 2 addition in natural rubber. Earlier this was established by IR Spectrophotometry. In other departments like Physical Chemistry , there were IR & UV Spectrophotometer which were in much use.

Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science had a very good Library and a Librarian who was very cooperative. He had very good knowledge of the subject, especially the availability of cross reference in other libraries in the city or in the country. He was very helpful in our research work.

Initially there was no hostel of the institute which was a problem for the students from outside Calcutta or West Bengal. It was difficult to get a rented place for young bachelor and arrange for food etc. with the scholarship amount. Inspite of repeated appeal to the management of the institute about our problem no action was taken. Hence. ten of us , who were from outside Calcutta / outside West Bengal , one Sunday simply moved into five empty laboratory rooms with our bag & bedding and lived there for four years. We started a kitchen in a room on the terrace hiring a cook which solved our food problem. Subsequently, management relented and provided basic amenities like cot, table & chair etc. Ultimately, after about five years a proper hostel was constructed. Shortly after this I left the institute for Germany.

Calcutta at that time

Calcutta was different at that time and cannot be compared with today’s Calcutta. It was friendly and vibrant and active, specially left ideology. It was a routine that all highly educated youth were inclined towards socialism or radical left ideology. Cultural scenario – avante guard literature, drama, cinema all were very well spread over and actively persuaded during those days. Calcutta was always a financially affordable city.

Once we moved in the institute, we saved lot of time and energy and cost for traveling. This allowed much more time for research work and other pastime activity. We used to initiate our work with our morning tea and close the work just before dinner. Evening we used to spend lot time in the library. High level of scientific research work was carried out by a team of young researcher & post doctoral fellows under the guidance of well known Professors who have left mark in scientific field. Many of my co-researcher made high impact in science & technology & academic field all over the country and in highly developed countries including USA & Europe. From Department of Macromolecules many researcher went to USA and settled there – like Dr. P.K.Chatterjee , Dr. Anil K Sircar etc, whereas many preferred to return back - Dr N.V.C.Rao , Dr. Kunal Roy etc. I was the only person from the institute who went to West Germany at that time.

My first Paper in a conference was presented in CSIR Conference held at Aligarh Muslim University in 1962 or 1963. The Paper was on Ozonization of Natural Rubber & it’s structure which was subsequently published in the Journal of Institution of Rubber Industry, UK. I was absolutely alone at the conference, neither my guide nor anybody else from the Institute were present. Even in winter month it was a sweaty experience. Subsequently, presentation in conferences was a regular affair and made series of research publications in international journals.

No comments:

Post a Comment