RANDOM THOUGHTS : Metallurgy and National Progress - BY: Dr. A.Q. Khan

Metallurgy and National Progress
Dr. A.Q. Khan


Sir George Thompson, the Nobel Laureate, said: “We have, for some time, labeled civilizations by the main materials they have used; The Stone Age, The Bronze Age and the Iron Age. A civilization is both developed and limited by the materials at its disposal. Today, mankind lives on the boundary line of the Iron Age and a New Materials Age”. In my opinion, we have now well and truly entered into the Advanced Materials Age. Rapid and multi-dimensional growth of high tech industries has continued to expand the role of materials. High strength and high temperature alloys, ceramics, composites and polymers were, and are, being developed to meet specific technical requirements. Recent technological advances, such as the space shuttle, optical fibres and personal computers, would not have been possible without the availability of sophisticated materials. Materials developed for high tech use, with the passage of time, filter down to touch the everyday lives of the people.

I am writing this column on useful materials for general public information. In this era of expanded industrialization, we need to be more aware about materials being developed, modern analytical techniques involved in characterizing them, their important physical and mechanical properties, oxidation and corrosion behaviour, application of corrosion protective coatings and the processing of these materials by electron beam. The development of materials with superior properties cannot be perceived without advanced analytical technique for their characterization. The abilities of modern analytical techniques can help us to study even the minutest details of their micro structural features. Using an average scanning transmission microscope system, for example, we can see individual atomic planes, identify the crystal structure of submicron size secondary particles and determine their chemistry. A multitude of analytical techniques involving X-ray, neutron and electron diffraction spectroscopy are available to obtain qualitative and quantitative information about the crystal structure and crystal imperfections, dislocation, atomic sites in inter-metallic compounds, magnitude of strain, surface texture, magnetic ordering, micro-structural refinement and grain interaction of composites. These micro-structural features of materials are being related to important mechanical and corrosion properties, which can further be used to predict the life of components in a given environment. Non-destructive techniques (NDT) are being used for materials characterization. In addition to the classical methods of NDT like X-ray diffraction, ultrasonic attenuation and radiography, some innovative NDT techniques are laser beam optical topography and electron acoustic imaging. The techniques of non-destructive materials evaluation have grown to such a variety, and their scope is increasing with such rapidity, that it becomes increasingly difficult for an average investigator to make the best choice of a technique for a particular requirement. Efforts should be devoted in Pakistan industries to develop and improve techniques to monitor and control the quality of the materials being produced, stored and used.

It is important here to mention fatigue, fracture and creep. On a global scale, metal fatigue, fracture and creep have been studied extensively. Relatively recent efforts have been directed at understanding the damage occurring in composites and other non-metallic materials. In Pakistan, hardly any effort has been made to recognize the importance of a thorough understanding of fracture at macroscopic and microscopic levels. Spreading of that knowledge is crucial in order to avoid premature failures in the service life of equipment. In our efforts to evolve economic designs of equipment and structure, we have not yet progressed enough to predict the fatigue life of engineering components.

In order to enter into an era of high technology, we should advance ourselves in each and every field of science and technology. Other nations have established strong national programs in science and technology, while we are yet to set our science and technology priorities. It should be realized that we would stand nowhere in the battle of international competitiveness if we do not become aware of the needs of the present time. We should put more emphasis on engineering science. There should be a proper balance between research in traditional engineering sciences and emerging engineering fields. We should use our engineers more effectively and become directly involved in educating our engineers throughout the span of their careers. We should hold technical seminars and discussions at national and international levels.

Metallurgy in Pakistan has emerged from neglected isolation in the past into a hopeful future. Integrated metallurgical plants and complexes like Pakistan Steel, Precision Engineering Complex of Pakistan International Airlines, Peoples Steel Mill, Heavy Foundry and Forge, Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works, Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and Dr. A.Q. Khan Research Laboratores are some of the major metallurgical industrial and research centres. They are sensitive to national demands and have responded to the country’s requirements.

After the nuclear tests, our achievements in the nuclear and ballistic missiles fields were praised. There was some surprise at the fact that my Doctorate degree was in Metallurgical Engineering. As a Physical Metallurgist, we had wide knowledge of engineering subjects as well as all aspects of physics, chemistry and mechanics. There was great joy amongst my fellow engineers upon learning this and more so when I stressed the fact that our program owed a lot to the fact of my being an engineer.

Scientific inventions represent super sophisticated technologies, which would not have been possible had metallurgists not invented advanced materials – nothing can be made without a proper understanding of materials. Of all the factors involved - manpower, materials, machines, methods and money – in industrialization, materials and how to shape and use them, is the most important factor.

Materials thus stand out, not only as a part of the natural world, but as useful to mankind and invaluable to society. This gives rise to a persistent need to probe materials ever more deeply and to use them wisely. This is both a challenge and a great responsibility. This challenge has been taken up very seriously by the governments of industrially developed countries and we should do the same.

Posted on Apr 24, 17 | 4:55 am