Quick-fingered casino employees in the US will soon have reason to hate India’s Harshwardhan Gupta. The engineer from Pune is designing a machine that will stop them from slipping a few notes from the collection box on their tables as it is being transferred to the in-house treasury.
It’s hard to visualise anyone hating Gupta, a balding, bordering-on-portly 52-year-old who looks as if the word avuncular was made for him. Over the past 25 years, the graduate of mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, has built a reputation for himself building machines (machine design, the discipline is called).
From his small office, which is part of his Pune flat, Gupta designs machines that can be used for a range of applications across several industries—from textiles to consumer products and from pharmaceuticals to soap-making.
The machine he is building for casinos has been commissioned by an American firm. It was happy enough with the result for its patent application to list Gupta as a co-inventor.
In a world rapidly becoming obsessed with computers and computing, Gupta is the rare mechanically-minded inventor. He admits to being obsessed with machines even as a child.
Among the various machines he has designed are: the world’s first machine that can manufacture sophisticated three-layered tropical blister packs (used for drugs such as aspirin), alu-alu blister packs that have aluminium on the top and bottom, and conventional PVC blister packs and a balloon folding machine (for CNC Custom, a US firm, and he designed this over phone and email and took just six weeks).
In 1999, Gupta designed a high-speed blister packaging machine for Precision Gears that would allow pharma firms to pack as many as 3,000 tablets/min. Companies such as Cipla, Cadilla, Johnson & Johnson and Burroughs Wellcome bought the machine that helped speed up operations. Besides, it cost a mere Rs9 lakh, in comparison to German firm IWKA’s machine that cost double.
Gupta is now working with one of North India’s largest soap makers to develop a soap-making machine that can produce 400 cakes of soap a minute and produce such novelties as translucent soap.
Works of art
Gupta was an enthusiastic painter when he was young. Today, he says, his machines are his art. The new generation of engineers and designers have mastered various computer-aided design (CAD) platforms, he adds, but have not learnt to use their heads.
“Isn’t it a shame that after using pressure cookers over half a century in this country, we haven’t been able to design a handle that does not come loose every few weeks?” he asks.
“The core of good design is in completely understanding the client’s technology, asking him for a wish list and delivering a solution that will pre-empt future needs too,” says Gupta.
In 1996, Core Parenterals, then one of Asia’s largest makers of intravenous fluids realized that manually stacking and destacking heavy trays filled with IV fluid bottles into large sterilizers slowed down operations considerably. Gupta was called in by Pharmalab India, the machine manufacturer which was contracted by Core for the job. He designed an automated ‘Tray Robo’ that vertically stacked the trays onto trolleys that rolled into the sterilizers.
For Core Parenterals it meant lesser time lost on the production line and for Pharmalab it resulted in an order not just for the machine but also for the trolleys that Gupta had designed. While working on this project, Gupta also designed modular steel conveyors for transporting the IV bottles which are even now being sold by Pharmalab to pharma and food companies.
“He (Gupta) is a genius with an amazing ability to translate what is merely a concept and requirement in the client’s mind into the perfect design. He is a man ahead of his times because many of the concepts and manufacturing processes he spoke to us almost a decade ago are what is extensively being used today,” says Umesh Shah, managing director, Pharmalab India.
The praise doesn’t affect Gupta who is worried that India isn’t doing enough to create designers. At the heart of this process lies the ability to design machines and the country isn’t doing enough of that. Gupta says machine design isn’t taught well at any of the engineering colleges in the country, not even in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
Sure, he adds, students are taught how to design elements that go into machines but they have no idea how to design the whole.
To address this deficiency, Gupta, with the assistance of wife Nandini who runs an engineering and design placement agency, has started offering short-term courses on machine design called ‘Design of Design’.
That’s apt for someone who could well be considered a designer of designers.
Sixty in Sixty is a special series that we plan to run through 2007, the 60th anniversary of India’s independence. We will introduce you to sixty Indians—both here and abroad—who are not rich or famous. These are people who are making quiet, but important, contributions without seeking headlines, to help make India and, in some cases, the world a better place. We also welcome your suggestions on people whom you think should be profiled in this series. Please send your suggestions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org