In conversation with Dr. Varinder Kumar Tikku, Technical Consultant – Electron Beam Processing
CableCommunity.com: Could you please brief us a little about your education and professional journey?
DR. VK Tikku: In 1975, I did PhD in Nuclear Physics from Calcutta and then I went abroad to USA and Canada for a period of 7 to 8 years and worked there as a visiting scientist in nuclear research using electron accelerators.
In 1983 I came back to India and joined Nicco Cables in Calcutta as Manager – R&D.
I worked with Nicco Cables for a good 26 years and then I retired as President – Technology & Total Quality in 2006. I started with Nicco and retired from Nicco, subsequently becoming an advisor to various cable industries.
I started consultancy and helped the industry in adopting Nuclear Physics-based techniques which help in improving the life of cables, and result in material savings.
I advised Siechem Cables, Pondicherry, Havells India Limited, Cords Cables Industries Limited, Apar Industries Limited, Quadrant Cables Private Limited, Svarn Infratel Pvt. Limited, RR Kabel, Tirupati Plastomatics Pvt. Limited, International Switchgears Pvt. Ltd. and Lapp Cables.
Presently, I am working as an advisor promoting a Nuclear Physics-based technique, that is electron beam cross-linking using an energetic electron accelerator, which is useful as a process in polymer modifications, specially in the cable industry.
CableCommunity.com: Can you please brief what exactly this technology is E-Beam cross-linking technology?
DR. VK Tikku: E-Beam cross-linking technology is a process, just like we sit under an X-Ray machine and X-rays penetrate our body and give a picture, similarly after completing the cable, we pass it under electron beam and energetic electrons penetrate into the material and produce carbon-carbon double bond, which we call cross-linking, and it increases the cross-link bond as high as 75 to 80%.
Whereas in chemical cross-linking we use some chemicals and heat the whole cable at a certain temperature and pressure which causes some chemical reaction to take place, and causes molecules to get cross-linked, which is not more than 50 – 55%.
This higher degree of cross-linking, going up to 75 to 80% gives the insulation and sheathing in the cable more strength, makes it physically much stronger, and makes it capable of withstanding much higher temperatures than conventional chemically cross-linked cables.
Since it can withstand higher temperatures, increases heat resistant properties, and increases the life of cables more than double.
The current carrying capacity of this cable compared to conventional cable is nearly 40% more. It means we do not have to increase the conductor size, and with the same conductor size, we can load 40% more current.
Thus the cable becomes much lighter in end application.
CableCommunity.com: That means there are a lot many advantages over conventional technology that we were using. So, as of now in India how many companies are applying this technology?
DR. VK Tikku: At present, there are eight cable companies in India that are in complete operation and another seven are in the pipeline. In addition, this technology is also used for producing good quality radial tyres, and six tyre industries have adopted this technology.
Actually, this electron beam cross-linking technology is a new technology in our country, whereas in China there are more than 400 machines working in this field, basically in polymer modification.
Worldwide there are about 3000 machines out of which 50 % are in use in the wire and cable industry.
CableCommunity.com: What are some of the major applications of these E-beam cables that you have come across over the years or have contributed to?
DR. VK Tikku: Indian Railways has completely adopted it whether it is locomotives, EMU local trains, Shatabdi and Rajdhani coaches, metro, conventional AC coaches, everywhere the Railways has adopted it.
Because of the advantages of this technology, the cable which is produced from this has a life of more than 35 years, which is the life of the locomotive, whereas the conventional cables used earlier had a life of 15 to 18 years.
Thus during the life of loco, the locos had to be withdrawn and used to go for overhauling. With the result locos, which were already in short supply, were out of commission for 1 year, and expenses also became double, as you had to replace complete cable. Whereas here in this technology, you install the cable once and forget till the life of the loco is over.
So, how this technology came to our country? Indian Railways was the first user who in mid-nineties adopted this technology when they took the high power electrical locomotives technology from ABB Switzerland and the locos made with this ABB Switzerland technology had these cables, which were imported from Switzerland from Huber & Suhner.
When Indian Railways started indigenizing by adopting it there was no manufacturer in India. I am talking of the late ’90s.
Then for the first time in the country, Nicco Cables, Calcutta, in 2002 commissioned an electron accelerator facility, and started producing electron beam cross-linked cables in India.
Around the same time Radiant Cables also adopted this technology.
When we started giving cables to Indian Railways, it was an import replacement and the cost significantly came down. Imported cable was 7 times more costly than Indian cables.
So, after Indian Railways adopted this technology because of its advantages, Indian Navy also adopted it for defence, whether for ship wiring, submarines, coast guard vessels, ports for the navy, ship docks, everywhere they adopted this technology because of the longer life of these cables with significant weight reduction.
Weight saving is a huge advantage for the Navy, as they can carry other equipment or more weapons. So the Navy completely adopted it.
Electron-beam cables were later also adopted for renewable energy projects – solar and wind.
Solar projects require the cables to be guaranteed for 25 years of operation. Ordinary cables could not meet this tough requirement, being under the sun in open area for 25 years. Thus electron-beam irradiated cables are used in such solar applications. The big solar plant companies like Adani, Azure, NTPC, Tata Power and others adopted electron beam cross-linked cables.
Similarly for wind energy.
Another major advantage of this technology is in PVC building wires which are used in house wiring. This is the only technology with which you can cross-link PVC and make the wires lesser prone to short-circuit fires.
We have often seen buildings catching fire due to short-circuiting, which can be nearly eliminated with the use of cross-linked PVC wires.
Another advantage of these cross-linked PVC wires is that their current carrying capacity increases by 40 % compared to conventional wires. Life of these cables is 50 years compared to 20 years in case of conventional wires.
Other than high-end cars, conventional cables were being used by most of the automobile industry. Even where used, these e-beam cables were being imported. We have seen incidents of cars catching fire due to short-circuit with conventional cables.
Gradually now the automobile industry is adopting and some of the Indian cable suppliers have also started supplying, like Siechem and Apar. Automotive wire manufacturers like Motherson Sumi and Malhotra Cables have already installed the machine, and are manufacturing these wires.
CableCommunity.com: How did you help in the adoption of this technology?
DR. VK Tikku: I was the person who first brought this technology to the country through Nicco Cables. When I joined Nicco Cables in 1983, I was selected by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre from India for a training program in China in 1984. That training was organized by UNDP on applications of radiation processing in Industries. I spent three weeks in China.
So, after I returned I started working with BARC on this technology because they had an electron accelerator for R&D.
Initially, Nicco was not ready to invest that much money at that time despite the advantages, also our Indian market was not ready for this technology in the ‘80s. Finally in 1999, Nicco Cables agreed to invest in e-beam technology and we commissioned it in 2002.
CableCommunity.com: As you mentioned in 2002 the first machine was commissioned in India, so where was the first set of cables used?
DR. VK Tikku: The first set of cables was used in the Indian Railways for electrical locomotives at Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) and at Varanasi for diesel locomotives.
CableCommunity.com: Wonderful knowing so much about the technology. Moving on, can I know a little about your family background, about you sir, from where do you belong and who all are there in your family?
DR. VK Tikku: We are Kashmiris but settled in Punjab, and our home town is Chandigarh. I am operating from Bhiwadi. I have a wife and two daughters.
My elder daughter is a PhD in Chemical Engineering from IIT Bombay in Nanotechnology and my younger daughter is a Master’s in Biotechnology and settled in the US.
My father was a Punjab Government treasury officer.
My wife is a horticulturist-cum-garden planner, plus an artist. She has done a lot of paintings, in addition, she advises various industries in Bhiwadi belt for their garden planning and horticulture needs and garden planning.
CableCommunity.com: Who inspired you to pursue PhD?
DR. VK Tikku: I had the aptitude to go for research and that’s why I went for research /PhD program, after which I went abroad. When I came back and got exposed to this technology, I realised the potential for this technology in our country.
CableCommunity.com: Is there a significant cost factor involved with the adoption of E-beam technology?
DR. VK Tikku: You see, the initial cost is high, but not that high because if it is a running plant, maybe 14 to 15 crore is the investment, but returns are very high.
This is a technology where you can get the payback within three years of investment.
CableCommunity.com: How challenging it was for you to convince companies to adopt this technology?
DR. VK Tikku: The challenge was to convince the management to go ahead with this technology, and once they did they saw the benefits. Other industries also came with some inquiry, but basically the original challenge was convincing the management to adopt this technology. Once they adopted it, the process became smooth.
More than 60% of the machines that have been installed in India have been installed with my advice.
CableCommunity.com: Despite several advantages, what is the reason that so many machines are in China while there are hardly 6 cable industries in India? Also, you said 60% of the machines were installed under your guidance. So what was the challenge therein, commissioning and after commissioning?
DR. VK Tikku: It is because people are not aware of what this technology can do and they don’t have the technical know-how to implement it. They do not know how to implement it, and there is not enough manpower that can help adopt it in the new industry. You need specially trained people for this with a knowledge background on this technology, but very few people are available.
Once they use a trained person to advise them there is no such difficulty. It takes only 12 months from the first day to finish the project and subsequently, as I said, returns start coming and within three years, it pays back the investment.
In a leading cable company with manufacturing based in Gujarat, where I provided the e-beam solution, their initial investment was about Rs. 35-40 crore. During their 10th year of installation and commissioning, their return was nearly Rs. 500 crores from specialty cables.
CableCommunity.com: That is impressive.
DR. VK Tikku: Now they have ordered 5 more machines, I have learned. After their 2 machines got saturated in 10 years, they have ordered 5 more machines. Out of them 1 has already been commissioned and the balance will be commissioned gradually.
CableCommunity.com: Coming back to your personal life, where were you born and when?
DR. VK Tikku: I was born in 1946 in Lahore, Pakistan just before the partition in November. After the partition we moved to Ludhiana, Punjab, as my father was in the Punjab Government service.
CableCommunity.com: Sir, what are your hobbies and apart from your professional life, how is your personal life?
DR. VK Tikku: My hobbies are basically reading, and that is the major hobby. In Terms of my personal life, Yes I have a lot of friends not only in the cable industry, but otherwise as well. We do interact with each other.
CableCommunity.com: Sir, it’s very wonderful to see that you are working even at this age.
DR. VK Tikku: Yes, 76 years old. I am staying in Ashiana Utsav. It is a senior citizen resort, it is beautiful and has a lot of greenery, fresh air. We do yoga and exercise regularly, and maintain a good diet to stay fit.
CableCommunity.com: What is the driving force behind so much of work, as I can see you have a lot of passion for this technology.
DR. VK Tikku: My wife and both my daughters have been supporting me, without their help and support I could not have reached this level.
CableCommunity.com: How have you been maintaining your work-life balance? You are now in Bhiwadi but earlier you had been moving around.
DR. VK Tikku: When I was working in cable companies, you had to travel to meet customers for new product development and for various reasons. For customer complaints also you had to visit them and sort it out. A lot of travelling used to be involved apart from in-house work in whatever factory jobs we had.
When you are young you can manage. Now also, I do travel. These days with the technology you can easily work from home using phones and email, so traveling is very little. However, we travel as and when required. For the last 1 year plus it has been a bit restricted.
CableCommunity.com: What has been your area of focus in the cable industry? From his experience working with you, Mr. Varun Sawhney from Cords Cable has shared that you are quite systematic in your approach.
DR. VK Tikku: While working I was also looking after the overall quality in the organization. I have done a lot of quality work in Cords as well, and so I know how to control and implement the overall quality in an organization. This implies not only to the product but also to all activities in the organization.
I have guided Cords a lot, and I did it in Nicco as well. Presently I am more occupied with the electron beam technology, so in total quality I am not that much involved.
I was an auditor on total quality with the Indian Register Quality Systems (IRQS), ISO 9000, ISO 14000. I have audited a total of more than 200 companies in total quality. This is another part of my work, but my passion remains supporting e-beam technology.
CableCommunity.com: Can you please share some of your current projects or initiatives related to E-beam technology?
DR. VK Tikku: I am still working on the installation of another 4 -5 machines.
Whatever I have installed so far has been in the wire and cable industry. Now for the first time in the country I am installing a bigger machine. These machines have a certain specific energy, so these machines are of up to 3 MeV of energy, and these are suitable for wire and cables. There are machines which are of much higher energy, that is 10 MeV, which are used for medical sterilization, food preservation and colouration of diamonds and semi-precious stones.
So, first such machine is coming to Mohali, Chandigarh. It has already been installed and is just awaiting commissioning. This is another proud moment for me.
CableCommunity.com: What is the future scope of application for this technology?
DR. VK Tikku: For medical devices like stunts, implants and various such things, we can use this technology. We can also use it for the coloration of stones and diamonds. All the semi-precious stones were being coloured like topaz and some other stones were being done abroad because no such facility was in India so far.
After the commissioning of this facility we can eliminate the import. Presently we are sending stones for radiation and then they come back. This all shall stop and everything will be done in India. I had done some R&D work in China before I adopted this technology, I am very confident that we will achieve excellent results. So all stone colouration businesses will get confined to India and will go abroad only after colouration.
CableCommunity.com: Is there a message you would like to give to the young generation?
DR. VK Tikku: Be committed, go for the new technology and adopt the new technology, so that our countrymen, our country and oneself can get benefit from it. The focus should not be only on profit, it should be for the country and countrymen.