In mid eighties, when I joined a metal producer as GET (Graduate Engineer -Trainee), metal production and processing was altogether a different ball game. Apart from an EAF and concast, we had a small manually operated rolling mill where the labourers used to feed the hot billet in between the rolls using long tongs. This process was repeated from both sides of the rolls every time changing the billet face. Quite a risky operation considering very few safety gadgets these labourers were wearing. With no concept of ‘housekeeping’, the shopfloor environment was very dusty and dirty. Labour unions were very strong at that time and undoubtedly the bosses of the shopfloor were not the managers or the supervisors but the rowdy union leaders. Naturally the fresh GETs like us felt out of the place and also somewhat unsafe. Spending professional life in such a shady place after studying engineering can not be anybody’s dream. I think this was the main reason why ‘Metallurgy’ was the last preference of all the engineering streams prevailing at that time. Many engineering colleges would not even have this branch. Even the salaries in metallurgical plants were no way comparable with other industry verticals like auto, electrical, engineering etc. Further, many such plants are situated far away from the big cities, offering limited opportunities for socialising and entertainment. Those were the times with no mobiles and only one or two channels on the TV. Why would a young engineering graduate join this industry unless all the other options are exhausted ?
Since then in last about three and half decades, the metallurgical industry has surely changed its style of functioning, both in the office as well as in the plant. In eighties and ninties, the new management philosophies and techniques like Kaizen, JIT, TQM, Quality Circles were the buzz words in the industry and in almost all the big corporates. The management executives and ‘would be’ senior management personals would waste lot of professional time in attending these useless training sessions and playing childish games in the name of team building, as a part of these sessions. I know some would surely argue from the other side and would definitely have few valid and logical points.
The real transition took place by the start of 21st century when modern technologies like automation, ERP started creeping in the industry. Metallurgists started sitting in AC offices instead of an iron cabin situated at one corner of the shopfloor. Even the meltshops, rolling mills and the other processing lines in the plant were now controlled, monitored and operated through a central control station studded with monitors displaying real time figures, graphs and charts. The salaries too improved over the years and with the explosion in telecommunication sector, now it does not really matter wheather you are in Mumbai or at a remote location in Odisha.
Today the new concepts like digitalization, Industry 4.0 are storming the industry but I feel that the shopfloor is a place which can be made still better, with some innovative housekeeping, cleanliness, targeting zero accident weeks and months and consolidating professional work environment with human face !