Aswath Ramani - Everlasting Passion For Unbound Engineering
Mr. A. V. Ramani, graduated from the last batch of B.Sc. (Hons.) Chem. Tech., Andhra University is a member of a huge multi-disciplinary team of Engineers, basic biological scientists, clinical experts, who have developed various BioMedical devices like Disposable Blood Bag and some critical disposables like the Cardiotomy reservoir, Blood filter and Blood Oxygenator. They also invented a Hydrocephalus Shunt, Artificial Heart Valve, Coronary Drug Eluting Stents, Aneurysm Repair Grafts, orthopedic devices, dental implants and newer valves. Now aged 72, He is a full time R&D Engineering Scientist and is working relentlessly on projects related to advanced cardio-vascular devices.
We are pleased to have Mr. Ramani as a part of the CrazyEngineers Forum Community with the id bioramani, where he participates actively through various discussions, helps fellow engineers with useful solutions to technical problems and shares engineering news.
CE: Sir, You are a veteran engineer. When you took up engineering studies, there must be very few who chose this field (quite contrary to what we have now) Would you give an insight of what the engineering course was at that time? How was the situation for an engineering student?
Mr. Ramani: Mine was the last batch of an honors course in Chemical Engineering. We had to cover a lot of preliminary ground in Maths, physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and engineering drawing before getting into the actual field.
In addition we also had to specialize in one of three fields. I chose Electro-Chemical Technology. There was no semester system. There was also one chance only for honors courses. If a student failed, he/she was sent out with nothing to show for it at the end of a grueling course. However, it was very exciting. Every afternoon (six day week) was devoted to practicals. This included chemistry, physics, drawing and mechanical and electrical engineering. It was truly a multi-disciplinary (literally hands on) experience. In addition we also had plant visits. I even got the unique privilege to drive a steam locomotive engine (In reverse, blowing the whistle for all I was worth)!
Being (at that time) a University town, Waltair depended a lot on students for its movie and restaurant business. A student got a theatre pass that entitled him to half rates. On Sundays many theatres showed double features for English movies. There was also a special half rate for Sunday shows. This meant that a student saw a movie for one eighth price.
CE: TTK Healthcare & Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Science & technology have bagged the National award for successful commercialization of indigenous technology 2001 for developing artificial valves under the supervision of you. How do you feel about this?
Mr. Ramani: It is one thing to develop something in the controlled environment of a lab and quite another to mass produce the same by regular workers. The problems are much more when it is a life saving (life threatening if it fails) device like the artificial heart valve. Ever since my IIT days I strongly felt the shortcomings of the Indian labs in this aspect. I am glad that I had the unique privilege to be involved in both aspects of this for the valve project.
CE: What are your roles and responsibilities as a vice president in TTK Healthcare LTD?
Mr. Ramani: I am a group resource. I advise all the companies in the group on new products and processes. In TTK Healthcare I look after the Biomedical Devices as my own project.
CE: What are the biomedical devices that you have developed so far? Please share your experiences and challenges in the same.
Mr. Ramani: Too many to cover here. As I mentioned earlier elsewhere on the forum, I was one member of a huge multidisciplinary team of engineers, basic biological scientists, clinical experts in appropriate fields and veterinarians. It will be the height of egotism if I claimed to have developed anything on my own.
India has no source for biomaterials with international certification. Even the basic materials had to be developed. There was not a door of a single research institution that we did not knock on. As the bible says: ‘Knock and it shall be opened unto you’. Every one helped.
Disposable Blood Bag was the first major device. The company that took the technology is now the world’s third largest manufacturer of this product. Next came critical disposables like the Cardiotomy reservoir, blood filter and Blood Oxygenator (a temporary lung), which are used during open heart surgery. We made a Hydrocephalus Shunt, which is a neuro surgical device implanted in the brain. This is in the market produced by Hindustan Latex and exported as well.
The Artificial Heart Valve was a huge exercise involving sixteen years of effort in which many laboratories in India (and some abroad where Indian scientists worked) contributed with special tests or skills.
Many more like Coronary Drug Eluting Stents, Aneurysm Repair Grafts, orthopedic devices, dental implants and newer valves are at various stages of development.
CE: Could you elaborate a bit about your project regarding developing artificial heart valve prosthesis. What were the difficulties you faced while developing it?
Mr. Ramani: Far too many things were involved. A whole book has to be written to do justice to this. Even two presidents of India (they became presidents later), Sri K.R.Narayanan (commerce minister then) and Dr. A.P.J Kalam helped.
This site gives a list of references on the development:
This tells you what we went through:
India makes her own Heart Valve Prosthesis
There are two more in the same issue. The Editorial: A matter of the heart by
and A heart valve substitute -- M.S. Valiathan
They are quite general, readable and do not require any special knowledge of the subject to understand.
CE: Can you shed some light on the different patents on various biomedical devices that you have achieved?
Mr. Ramani: They are all water under the bridge. What is important is what is ahead. As I said above, hereafter my name will not figure in any more patents. At my age it is ridiculous.
CE: You have been as a professor for 7 years in the chemical engineering departmentand worked in R&D in IIT Madras. Tell us about your working experience in R&D and also about the life as a professor.
Mr. Ramani: I was not a professor in IIT. (That was much later in the biomedical field) I was just 22 and the junior most staff. I can claim to be the only staff member to be attempted to be ragged by senior students mistaken for a new entrant on my first day at IIT M!
But we handled all classes just as the senior staff did. I taught in the Chemical Engineering department of IIT M for seven years. I never taught from notes. Some lessons took me 10 to 14 hours of preparation. Because of IIT needs I would administer the syllabus lessons quickly. The rest of the time we looked at solving problems of real life. For example, there was this Indo-Pak war. In the Rann of Kutch the water was brackish and not drinkable. I divided the class into five groups to come up with solutions for desalination on the war field. All had lot of fun. The best solution was to use the exhaust heat of tanks and trucks to distill water.
CE: You worked in IITs for some years. Can you let us know the difference you found in IITs compared to other universities?
Mr. Ramani: Lot of it is hype. However, the cream gets to it. So the activity level is higher. Still, most end up as MBAs and do not do any actual engineering.
CE: You have worked on various defense and government projects on the development of ultra pure aerospace material, non traditional methods of fabrication and chemical mining of Aluminium. We would like to know more about it.
Mr. Ramani: Again, all these areteam activities. There has to be a captain of the ship to guide it. Credit is to the team. We developed ultra-pure chromium metal for turbine blades. This was a production technology. We also made nose cones for tank deployed tethered missiles by rapid electroforming. We developed a range of Electro Chemical Milling machines. Chemical milling (not mining) of helicopter rotor blades was another small project.
CE: You have received the most prestigious Vaswik Award for mechanical sciences in 1986. How did you feel when you received that award?
Mr. Ramani: This was for developing Electro Chemical Milling systems. By the time it was announced I was neck deep in the heart valve project. I did not go for the award. I got it in absentia. I avoid taking part in any award ceremonies if I can. Somehow I am uncomfortable because it seems to indicate that the awardee is somehow better that the rest who did not get it. I just do not subscribe to this.
Incidentally I do not put my name to any more patents, even if I initiate the idea. We do not own our ideas.
CE: You have presented more than 50 original research papers, technical notes on various areas of chemical engineering, material science and technology and biomedical science and technology. What exactly are your areas of interest?
Mr. Ramani: I designed a user coded door lock using switches and relays with Boolean logic in my IIT days. Worked with a mathematician (now a sanyasi in a Shankara mutt!) on an X ray microscope. Alternative energy (biogas, solar, wind) are some areas that I like. I have practiced silviculture in every campus where I worked. Amateur astronomy is a hobby. All is grist to the mill.
CE: You got 11 years of experience with electro-chemical technology in the National Aeronautical Laboratory. Please share your experience with us.
Mr. Ramani: The principle is elementary. The anode in an electrochemical cell oxidizes. It can be made to dissolve with suitable electrolytes. The challenge is to produce controlled dissolution to get the shape needed. The cathode is nearly the negative shape of the anode. We had to use conformal mapping techniques to produce the needed tool geometries. In the early seventies even electronic calculators were new. We did the whole exercise on a huge 8 bit programmable calculator made with primitive processors. We had great fun developing the design algorithms and the programs.
It was again a major multi-disciplinary effort. Hard work, often frustrating and huge fun.
CE: What is research according to you? Define it in a single sentence.
Mr. Ramani: To quote the Bible again:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.
CE: What do you want to say about CE?
Mr. Ramani: Let insanity prevail.