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     Nerves of steel to test global turf

Jamshedpur, February 12th 2007, The Telegraph

It was through effective research that steel plants now churn out earthquake and erosion-resistant steel, says Jagdish Singh, executive director of Research and Development Centre for Iron and Steel.

The Research and Development Centre for Iron and Steel was set up by the Steel Authority of India Limited in 1972 to make new forays and introduce a qualitative improvement into steel production. Thirty-five years down the line, the centre, with its sub-centres in different steel plants, has earned recognition across the globe as a reputed institute in ferrus metallurgy.

The institute is, at present, running like a well-oiled machine under the able leadership of Jagdish Singh, the executive director in-charge, who took over the reins three months ago before serving in the institute for the past 11 years.

A mechanical engineer from Punjab Engineering College, Singh joined SAIL in 1969 and also served the Bhilai Steel Plant later in his career. With a perfect blend of work in both steel plants and research institutes, the director spoke to M. Ganguly about his vision and plans for the centre.

“My aim is to keep intact the reputation the institute enjoys,” he says as he dwells at length on the “inter-personal” relationships that make his professional stint at the institute very “comfortable”.

What has been the contribution of RDCIS towards the improvement of steel in SAIL plants?

RDCIS has been assisting the existing steel plants in technological upgradation, process optimisation and deciding future needs so that they can overcome technological, economic and qualitative constraints and face competition globally. It is also actively involved in the modernisation of steel plants and identifying plant-based needs. We, of course, do basic research in important areas covering quality, cost and production aspects. We also have collaborative research projects with the IITs, besides the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and the Defence Research Institute. We also take up projects related to the steel development fund for development of the technology of steel making.

Considering your vast experience in the Bhilai Steel Plant, how do you evaluate the utilisation and effectiveness of the research work done in the steel plants in the state?

Having worked at a steel plant myself, I have seen how the outcome of researches done here are implemented in coal areas. It was due to the research done here that we now have earthquake and erosion-resistant steel. Longer rails and freight corridors with improved rail, suitable for carrying heavier axle load, were also developed and produced.

What are the notable achievements of RDCIS in recent years?

More than 20 special steel grades have been marketed in the last four years. The introduction of micro alloying concepts for production of high tensile flat and long products, adoption of thermo-mechanical controlled processing for improved strength and optimised chemistry and process parameters for special grades processed through continuous casting route are a few to mention.

In view of the massive modernisation plans, how do you propose to meet the challenges?

Our people are involved in a big way — be it the upgradation of technology or the expansion of plants. Wherever there is a crisis, we will always be there for plugging the gap. We will also continue playing a decisive role in the finalisation of technological norms while selecting vendors. There are a lot of competitors in the steel market.

The National Steel Policy envisages the production of 110 million tonnes of steel per annum by 2020 — almost thrice the present production figures. It appears that available raw materials will be insufficient for the target. Is there any specific research programme for handling this crisis?

Beneficiation and quality improvement of low grade iron ores for use is a major area we are working on. Use of alternative fuel in blast furnaces is another aspect. Use of inferior coking coals in blend, palletisation of Indian iron ores/concentrates and introduction of shotcrete technology are also the areas that deserve mention.

We are far behind China in steel making. Besides, global competition and stringent demands of customers keep growing every day. It seems making steel alone is not enough. It also requires marketing skills. Does RDCIS plan to contribute in this regard?

The annual business plan is finalised with the heads of departments and experts. The products to be developed and marketed are then decided upon. We also make plant specific studies about new and proposed products, their value addition and advise on commercialisation of products, depending on the market study.

At one point of time, even R&D organisations were expected to become economically viable units. Do you also attempt to earn?

Oh yes, we also earn. We have a technology dissemination centre that shares technology or gets involved in the technological development and earn. We also offer laboratory and testing facilities to external organisations and charge them for it.


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