Humans of Insti: Prof. Balaganesan


They are the inconspicuous cogs that keep the IIT-M machine well-oiled (quite literally) and running. Without them, insti would be a much poorer place. Yet, too often, we don’t notice them or acknowledge their role in insti life. Given their unique vantage point, they have stories to tell – stories that give us a different perspective. We believe those are stories worth hearing and worth telling. Because, after all, stories are what make us human.The better you know people, the better you appreciate the work they do. It is for this purpose the people of insti– the people who make insti the amazing and advantaged space it is – are highlighted. The answers and stories we get from them never fail to surprise us with their profundity.

(All the articles in this series can be found here.)

We’ve all attended (freshies still are), often grumbling, the rather annoying Workshop Training Session “offered” by our institute. But how much do we really know about the man responsible for the winter hullabaloo? Or anything else really, about what the Senior Technical Officer in IIT Madras (yes, that position exists) has to deal with managing a workshop as impressive and humungous as ours? Read on, and find out what it is Mr. G Balaganesan does for IIT Madras.

Prof. Balaganesan
Prof. Balaganesan

How did you come to be working here, at IIT Madras?

I initially applied for this position after seeing a newspaper ad. The advertisement was for the position of “Senior Technical Officer” at IIT Madras, and they were asking for basic qualifications and extensive experience in various activities like welding and the other things you see in the Workshop. This was in 2005. Back then when I started working  here, this was the third highest post in the hierarchy. But a couple of years ago, the management and the technical sections were divided and currently this is the highest post on the technical side.

What led up to this job?

I had around 12 years of experience before coming to work in IIT Madras. I had worked in KCP Limited, one of the largest cement and sugar plants in India, for almost 10 years as a technical advisor. I did my undergraduate during that time, from 1996 to 2000, at Institute of Engineers, India. Following my undergraduate degree, I attempted GATE in 2001 and was admitted to the Mechanical Engineering department at PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore. I also worked as a lecturer at AMET (Academy of Maritime Education and Training) for 2 years. I have also patented a BEE Certified Energy Auditor.

After listening to this rather diverse list, we were naturally curious as to how the work culture at IIT Madras is compared to all the other experiences he has had. Do we live up to our name?

I have had many wonderful experiences at IIT Madras since the past 12 years of working here. I completed my PhD here, in the Aerospace Department in 2013. I did this along with my regular work in a matter of 5 years. Speaking of the Workshop, it is one of the biggest workshops I have seen. I have seen NTU’s and Chung-Ang University’s Workshops, and our workshop is much larger, and our safety standards are also higher. At IIT Madras, we give a lot more importance to this at an early stage. In other institutes, such training is given only at a later stage, and skills like welding are only taught to Mechanical and Electrical students. Even our Computer Science students have some basic knowledge of all of these.

In 2014, the institute introduced the Trailblazer award. I was the first person to get the award in the Technical side. It was a proud moment.

At this point, he casually slipped it to us that he owns a start-up. On being incredulously asked about it, he laughed it off.

It is no big deal! It was a company me and some of my friends started many years ago. It’s called PGF Energy Technologies. It’s for energy audits for various companies.

Now, this is the second time he’s mentioned energy audits, and since we don’t have the slightest clue what they are, we proceed to ask him.

What are energy audits? Could you tell us a bit more about them?

Energy audits are ways to analyze or measure the power consumption in any system. The efficiency of various processes is calculated. We can suggest modifications or changes to conserve power. It is, simply put, an approach towards energy optimization  You can conduct this at your home too if you please.

*We asked him if he had any complaints about the funding or general running of the Workshop. He replies in the affirmative, and proceeds to list a few surprising ones*

Funding is generally not a problem, we received 5 crores from the management in 2011. This was the year we introduced the CNC machines and started training our staff members to use them. But the problem I have is that a lot of campus students and people whose research requires materials from the workshop are still going outside the campus for their requirements. We are only producing 50% of the demand. Currently, all staff members work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. That is 40 hours. I propose a change to 80 hours a week for all of us.

Let’s take a moment to pick our jaws up off the floor. He says this enthusiastically. What a man! So crisply explained, we thought he would make an excellent professor.

There is another reason this will be useful. The CNC machines which we bought require constant use for the first few years, which, right now, is not happening.

What is your daily schedule in the Workshop?

My work timings are from 8 to 4 on all weekdays, and I am very punctual, I arrive at 7:45 am without fail. We get a huge list of requests for manufacturing parts of machinery from many people inside and a few people outside the campus. I do the designing work for the complex ones, and oversee the manufacturing for the rest.

In the last few years, we have started manufacturing complete products along with parts. For example, the last few months I have worked on a vegetable chopping/shredding machine for Owzone, a waste management service in IIT Madras. For buying such a machine outside, it would have cost them 1.5 lakhs. We considerably reduced the production costs of the product.

Is there any teaching work that goes on in the Workshop?

Yes, of course! A lot of it. In 2006, I initiated an Apprenticeship training program here to teach Diploma and ITI students. We have been conducting a year-long coursework, but I am proposing to increase it to 2 years, and the senior students can help us in the workshop and train the newer students too. They can also keep the CNC machines running when staff members are unavailable.

We have a Workshop training course called “Engineering is Fun”, where we give demonstrations to school children on the campus. In 2014, along with the Dean of Students, I extended this program to the students outside campus as well. In the last year alone, we have trained as many as 400 rural and suburban area students completely bearing all the charges.

How are you planning to improve the functioning of the Workshop in the future?

I am currently petitioning for funds to buy a number of CAM machines to help with coding for the CNC machines. They will make the entire process much more efficient. When these CAM machines are finally introduced, I will include them in the Workshop training sessions which we offer campus students.

To keep up with modern methods, and to train our staff members in the use of CAM and CNC machines, we send them to ATI Guindy. They attend a few courses there and return. Our production has increased a lot in the last few years.

Do you have any advice for the students?

He chuckles awkwardly before replying.

I don’t think I can give our students any advice which they don’t already know. Although I do feel that they need more hands-on experience than they are offered now. Students should enthusiastically participate in CFI projects. Many colleges do not offer such an opportunity. You people should make good use of it.

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