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Flirt with fibre

Do you enjoy experimenting with fibres, playing with chemicals and creating new fabrics? You could be cut out for textile engineering, says Rahat Bano.

education Updated: Jun 20, 2012 17:38 IST
Rahat Bano

The word ‘engineer’ usually evokes an image of someone handling a complicated machine or bent low over a blueprint. A hard hat might also come into the picture. Few associate engineering with some cool new denim fabric or furnishing material, but these, too, have the work of an engineer behind them — that of a textile engineer.

Pranay Sabat, 26, working with the Aditya Birla group facility in Kharach, Gujarat, has a BTech in textile technology from Utkal University and an MTech in textile chemistry from Mumbai. Though he was born in Orissa’s steel town of Rourkela, Sabat was “fascinated” by colourful fabrics, not metal and machines.

Now in Birla Cellulose’s Textile Research and Application Development Centre (TRADC), he plans R&D, sources chemicals, fabrics, etc, instructs technicians to manufacture fabric out of fibre, prepares documentation of all records and deals with client complaints. “Customers send us samples with problems. We analyse these and then give them a remedy,” he says.

Sometimes, they might have to visit a client site. Sabat and team try to develop new textile products based on re-generated or semi-synthetic fibres. The company produces fibre (and sample fabric) which is shown to customers, who might be offered the recipe for manufacture as well.

While Sabat is in the thick of things at a plant, a 2008 graduate from IIT Delhi provides her skills to a Finnish manufacturer of fibre-based materials in a different way. Sudisha Bhola, scientist at Ahlstrom’s Delhi office — the company is setting up a plant in Mundra, Gujarat — is a “bridge between the marketing and operations departments”. She explains, “If a client says, ‘I need surgical gowns of this colour, a stronger fabric or a special characteristic,’ our marketing team would ask me if it’s technically feasible, how much would it cost and how would we make these.”

The pay is lower than what some of her batchmates are getting after going into other fields like marketing or even banking, but Bhola says she is “satisfied” with her job. “I was never interested in marketing. I didn’t want to go into consultancy… I wanted to go for a technology-based company.”

Sabat and Bhola are among the few who stick to their field after graduation in textile technology. At IIT Delhi, the only one in the chain of premier institutes teaching this branch of engineering, Bhola says she was the only in a batch of about 40 who wanted to make a career in textile engineering. Most IIT-D graduates do not prefer the textile sector due to low pay and working conditions. They jump ship and land at all kinds of organisations if the pay is higher there.

However, Deepali Garg, senior manager, product development (kidswear), Reliance Trends, Bangalore, says that textile engineers do have a niche in the industry. “There’s a demand for technical people. You must develop your expertise based on market demands.”

Upcoming areas such as fabric manufacturing and retail are opening new vistas, she adds.

Brand management and merchandising are other areas textile engineers are getting into, say experts.

What’s it about?
Textile technology is the application of scientific and engineering principles to the design and manufacture of new fibres, yarn and fabric, new finishes as well as making and controlling of machinery. Based on the end-use, textile technologists tailor products for use in a wide range of sectors — apparel, sport, shipping (e.g. inflatables), defence, manufacturing, automotive, medical (sutures), paper-making, food, furniture, aerospace (parachute fabric), electrical engineering (metallic braids), horticulture, agriculture (flexible silos), mining (conveyor belt), architecture (awnings), construction (coated fabric), civil engineering (geo-textile for road stabilisation), water (desalination membrane), and chemical (filter fabric)

The Pay off
Fresh IIT Delhi graduates on average earn Rs 3 lakh to Rs 3.5 lakh a year. Others in general make about Rs 1.4 lakh a year (Rs 12,000 a month)

Clock Work
8.30 am: Reach office. Check e-mail. Go onto the plant floor. Instruct workers about the day’s plans — the machines to be run and fabric to be produced
10.30 am: Start documentation work of what fabric has been manufactured
12 noon: Go to the plant floor
1 pm: Have lunch
2 pm: Look at customer complaints. Analyse samples sent by clients
3 pm: Prepare the daily production report
3.45 pm: Meet boss to discuss new plans
4.30 pm: Check fabrics on the floor
5.30 pm: Set out for home

An affinity for science
. Aptitude for handling machines
. An interest in fabrics
. Willingness to work hard, as often the job involves visiting the plant floor and
checking the fabric being produced

Institutes & urls
. IIT Delhi
. Technological Institute of Textile and Sciences, Bhiwani (Haryana
. Veermata Jeejabai Technological Institute, Mumbai
. DKTE Society’s Textile and Engineering Institute, Ichalkaranji (Maharashtra
. Government College of Engineering and Textile Technology, Serampore
. University of Mumbai

How do i get there?
Take science with physics, chemistry and maths at the plus two level. After Class XII, opt for a Bachelor’s programme in textile engineering/technology

Pros & Cons
You do a niche job, so there is steady demand
. The degree can open doors in other industries
. You can become an entrepreneur
. Low pay if you stick to the core discipline

‘Smart’ textiles are now everywhere

Four experts give you the lowdown on the rapidly changing field

Dr Kushal Sen, head of the Department of Textile Technology, IIT Delhi, and his colleagues, Professors VK Kothari, Ashwini K Agrawal and PK Banerjee, field questions.

The field of textile engineering in a nutshell?
Depending on what is required of a product, you engineer the product based on the fundamental properties of the fibre. Within fibres, there are so many things. For instance, people are using geo-textiles under the soil to make more durable roads or prevent soil erosion.

Textiles for garments and upholstery are what most people know about, but there are those that we call technical textiles, such as medical textiles, technical textiles, smart textiles.

The industry has many segments, starting from handloom fabric. In India, only 5 per cent of the industry comprises technical textiles so far.

What are the other emerging areas in this field?
Instead of glass fibres, people are using textile fibres and natural fibres in the automobile industry to make floorboards, trunk liners, and other parts and accessories.

Big automobile companies like Mercedes, Fiat and BMW are doing research to increase the natural fibre content for easier recycling and to earn carbon credits. Carbon fibre, used in racquets and hockey sticks, for instance, is another area (of application).

Abroad, the sports industry is a major employer of textile engineers. The non-woven industry is also where textile graduates go and this is developing in India. Then there are smart materials such as mattresses that make you feel warm in winter and cool in summer. Also, the textile industry is very polluting and a person with a textile engineering background can develop processes that use less natural resources, especially water.

Any related job prospects?
Graduates can go for brand management, merchandising and retail management, or for project consultancy. Teaching is another opportunity. Research (in the industry) is opening up as well. Some of the big industries now have R&D divisions. Machine-building is one area that will grow.

Tell us something about your curriculum?
Our programme is highly multi-disciplinary. This year, we have introduced courses like nanotechnology, medical textiles, environment control etc.

Interviewed by Rahat Bano