October Sky is a movie that portrays achievement of four boys, who passionately worked to build rockets. The four went on to complete their college education and do well in life. This movie reminded me of my Engineering days and how how passionately a few people came together to build and install Hydro-pneumatic shock absorber. The project got me sponsorship to represent my college at the university in Salem. Having watched the movie, I felt I should share my experience and more importantly appreciate the people who came together and helped me in this pursuit. It is because of them that I had such a fantastic time building it.
The ambition to build the hydropneumatic shock absorber sprouted after I got dissatisfied with performance of shock absorbers in scooters. I had heard many elderly people complain about back pain on frequently using their scooters and I wanted to do something about it. I felt that building an awesome shock-absorbing machine would not only solve this problem but also make riding a joyful experience. With this dream, I started reading about shock absorbers and started building my own. The first step in the process was to design. The second was to find right fabricators to fabricate prototypes and the third was to test the prototypes.
My role model APK Abdul Kalam once said “Dreams are not what you see when you’re sleeping, dreams are those that don’t let you sleep“. My dream gave so much energy that I could do many night-outs studying various options and upskilling myself on different subjects of engineering and maths that helped me understand how various fields of engineering needs to come together to really solve a single problem. Page after page, design after design , finally I arrived at a design that I was happy to fabricate and test. But when I started finding cost of fabrication of a few prototypes, I realised it was simply unaffordable! At such stage in life I generally turn to my friends, help arrived from a very dear friend, Ali.
Ali and I go back many years. So many that I have now lost count but guess that gives you an idea. He worked for his uncle in a factory and he was happy to help. He got me an appointment with his uncle, Saleem, a noble man who has lifted many hundreds from poverty and gave them good life. Saleem Uncle gave me permission to work at his factory and I stuck around. I used to observe how operators use lathe machine to turn and I realised how highly skilled the job is. It takes years of practice but nevertheless I tried my hands only manage breaking the bits (tools). So when you cannot do something, what do you do? you beg! So I prepared myself for this next stage started asking for favours. I am very grateful to the operators at HydroFab who extended their helping hand. They toiled day and night at the factory to finish their job and helping me in between their work. Now that I think about it, I can understand what a prick I was. Nevertheless they did and my parts were all done.
Searching for small parts for completing the product was another memorable event. Kailash and I would search Shop to shop is Bangalore market for the precise materials we wanted. It was here that we stumbled upon so many things that were much more interesting than things we were actually looking for.
In any such engineering projects the most difficult part is testing. In my case, it was expensive too! So for testing, I wanted a scooter on which I can fix my shockabsorter. Help came from my Sister Beenu 🙂 She was generally happy (or she just tolerated) to offer her scooter to me with tank full of petrol. In one particular instance, I had to get two parts welded together and return home quickly to hand the scooter back. I was in such a hurry that I just took the hot welded parts and slid it into the front storage compartment. It was only when I reached home that I realised that the compartment was made of plastic and the hot welding had melted away parts of the storage compartment… I know Beenu was mad at me but I don’t remember she showing her anger on me… lucky me. Anyways, coming back to testing I finally took the scooter to a mechanic and asked him to replace the original shock absorber with my prototype. The prototype was designed to suit her scooter and so with some adjustments we were able to fit it ok.
Really estatic, I sat on the scooter and asked the mechanic to push me… I was so glad the shock absorber didn’t give up.. the mechanic, who was very skeptical at first was very impressed! He asked me to start the scooter and go for a ride and so I did… And the ride … The ride was the best I have ever had! Later the mechanic also sat but after a few metres, I realised the ride was getting rough… I realised the seals were giving up and the oil in the shock absorber was starting to leak. The mechanic helped me switch back the shock absorbers.
I was so happy those days building the shock absorber that I can remember every bit of it even today… 15 years later! It’s like every critical information that went into building it is so fresh in my mind. For example did you know that all gasses don’t compress equally with changing weights. Some compress more such as CO2 and some less like Nitrogen. My shock absorber had co2 filled in it.
I would like to thank the following people who supported me and helped me with such beautiful experience:
- Prof. Kubsad of Production engineering, Adhiyamaan College of Engineering, for his constant encouragement
- My dad to help me with reading all those heavy books and checking my maths 🙂 also for endlessly listening to me and guiding me
- Ali for always being there and helping me
- Saleem uncle for being so kind to use his facility
- Beenu for caring for my dreams more than even her expensive scooter that she loved so much
- My team who came together: Anup, Partha, Kailash
- Balu for helping me with 2D and 3D CAD (computer designs)
- My college and in particular my department HOD and Principal for giving me opportunity to represent them in Salem
- All the people who helped me with fabrication and installation: talented people at Hydrofabs, outside specialist agencies, mechanics