Wednesday, 16 July 2014

In conversation with T.C. Rao- "the father of Indian mineral processing"

T.C. Rao
With T.C. Rao in New Delhi, 2012
It was great to catch up with my old friend Prof. T.C. Rao at the IMPC in New Delhi in 2012. He presented a keynote lecture, and in introducing him, the chairman described him as "the father of Indian mineral processing", which few people will dispute. He has published around 225 research papers in International and National journals and his pioneering works on modelling of unit operations in coal and mineral processing are still being extensively used by academic institutions and industries all over the world for process simulation and optimisation. He is the recipient of many awards/citations from various professional bodies and is a Fellow of many prestigious societies. In its early days he was Regional Editor of Minerals Engineering and he is, or has been, a member of the editorial boards of the International Journal of Mineral Processing, the International Journal of Coal Preparation, the Transactions of the Mining, Geological & Metallurgical Institute of India and of the Indian Institute of Metals. He is a Council Member of the Indian Institute of Metals and the Mining, Geological and Metallurgical Institute of India. He was a past President and presently a Patron Member of the Indian Institute of Mineral Engineering and was honoured as a Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineers in Coal and Mineral Processing Specialization.

The IMPC was our first meeting in 21 years, since his attendance at Reagents '91 in Cornwall. It was good, therefore, to phone him at his home in Hyderabad and talk to him about his early formative years in Australia, and his views on modern mineral processing.

TC in Cornwall, 1991, with Dr. M. Prasad, Prof. Shouci Lu and Prof. T. Wakamatsu

Tadimety Chakrapani (TC) Rao was born in September, 1940, and he received a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Geology from Andhra University, Waltair, India in 1959, and an M.Sc. in Ore Dressing from the same university in 1960.

He then felt that Australia was the place to be to progress his career, and was offered a research post at the University of Queensland (UQ), supervised by the late Prof. F.T.M. White, Head of Mining at UQ, who also recruited Alban Lynch to the department to start up an experimental mine and mineral processing at the University. Later with a donation from Mount Isa Mines, this became the Julius Krutschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC), with Alban as its first Director. When Prof. White left UQ for Canada, TC was supervised by Prof. Lynch; TC helped with the teaching of mineral processing in the fledgling department, together with the late Rex Bull, who was senior lecturer at that time. In those early days he was inspired by Antoine Gaudin's 1939 Textbook of Mineral Dressing, and A.F. Taggart's 1945 Handbook of Mineral Dressing, as they "explained the theory of mineral processing in a simple way".

He obtained his Ph.D degree, under the guidance of Prof. Alban Lynch in 1965, working on the characteristics of hydrocyclones. He obviously regards Alban Lynch with great affection and respect, describing him as "an exceptional man, who treated me like a family member, and helped me develop my latent talents". They published their work on hydrocyclones in a number of seminal papers, and the models are still valid today, being used in many hydrocyclone manufacturers' performance curves. He attributes their ongoing validity to their simplicity, involving parameters which can be easily measured, such as vortex finder diameter, spigot diameter, and can therefore be confidently accepted by operators. He feels that this is the failing of many modern modelling techniques, which, due to their complexity, often inhibit their use industrially. He made a point that particles in a closed grinding circuit are moving in a fluid medium, but many of the models are based on screening size analysis, so there is a need for methods of characterise particles according to hydraulic size, putting particles into 'behavioural' ranges, as is done with 'sub-sieve' particles in devices such as the Warman Cyclosizer.

TC stayed in Australia for eight years, working for a time at Broken Hill mine, before finally returning to India to take up a position as a Faculty member of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur for a further eight years, before accepting the position of Professor and Head of Mineral Engineering at the Indian School of Mines (ISM), Dhanbad in 1977. He established a new four-year graduate programme (B.Tech) in Mineral Engineering, the only of its kind in India and was also Dean of Academic & Research at ISM. He invited many visiting lecturers from overseas to interact with staff and students and teach courses. I was one of them and it was in Dhanbad in 1989 where I first met TC.

Dhanbad 1989, with TC (centre) and P.R. Sinha
At the IMPC in New Delhi it was reported that only 2% of the world's minerals engineering graduates came from India, compared with 50% from China. TC feels that youngsters are not coming into minerals engineering "because we are not exciting them" and that academics, who seem to spend most of their time striving to publish papers, should have some industrial experience, to pass on the importance of "seeing the whole picture" to their students. Minerals engineers are” custodians of a finite natural resource” and each corporate office should put a certain amount of money aside as part of their budget for teachers to spend 2-3 months with their students on a mine site". I agreed, mentioning that in the 1970s this did happen, and in 1978 I spent 6 weeks in South Africa supervising student vacation projects, and learned a lot in doing so which I could pass on to future students (see also the posting of 30 August 2010).

In 1989, Prof. Rao took over as Director of the Regional Research Laboratory, Bhopal (now Advanced Materials and Processes Research Institute AMPRI), the only CSIR laboratory in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Though the laboratory was on the verge of closure at that stage, it emerged as one of the best performing CSIR laboratories under his Leadership and achieved many laurels for its outstanding contributions.

He formally retired in 2000, but is still actively involved with many industries and R&D Organisations as an advisor. It was really good to talk to him, and I hope to catch up with him again in the not too distant future- maybe at this year's IMPC in Chile?

More Conversations

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for the reporting.
    Rao made some important points re the industry and mineral processing, e.g., complexity of modeling approaches / models, development of faculty, attracting students, etc.
    It remains to be seen what can and will be done to address them.
    Robert Seitz, Manager - Crush, Convey, Concentrator at Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., USA

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  2. Dear Dr. Wills,

    Thanks for this blog. Prof. TC Rao is a great source of inspiration for people like me though I am not a direct student of Prof. Rao. Prof. Rao remembers Prof. AJ Lynch with high regard. We are indebted to you for introducing Prof. Rao to the new generation.

    Thanks,
    DMR Sekhar

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Dr.Barry for blog post. I am sure after reading the MEI blog post budding engineers get motivated towards the profession. Without any iota of doubt, Prof.Rao is a role model for all mineral engineers. I started getting fascinated with the subject after I worked under him for a brief period at AMPRI, Bhopal during 1990-91. He has inspired us for application oriented research and with his guidance I have worked in different fields of mineral processing - R&D, erection & commissioning and plant operation without any problem. Like me so many students got benefitted with his encouragement. He always encouraged young engineers and has great vision for the Mineral engineering fraternity.

      Kudos to Prof.Rao for his contribution to mineral engineering.

      Dr.K.Srinivas, Lead Flotation Metallurgist, Maaden Phosphate Company, KSA

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    2. Prof Nikkam Suresh, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad18 July 2014 at 13:26

      Dr Barry, I am glad that you have recognized a ‘True Mineral Engineer’ who devoted his lifetime for the sake of Mineral Engineering. Today, the Department of Fuel & Mineral Engineering could be established in the country only because of his concerted efforts. The seed he sown (in 1976) at Indian School of Mines has started giving fruits and has become one of the biggest in the world.
      You have identified his sportsmanship in a right spirit and placed the same on the blog. This is a great motivation to all of us, and students in particular. His models developed along with Prof. [Dr] A J Lynch, another great personality, at the end of 1960’s are still industrially valid for simulation of mill classifier circuits. I feel proud to be his student and fully agree with Dr K Srinivas’s comments – ‘he is role model to all the mineral engineers’.
      I sincerely thank for the blog.
      Prof Nikkam Suresh, Indian School of Mines-Dhanbad.

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  3. I have been fortunate to have been closely associated with Dr. Rao since 1979, almost 35 years. I have done my Masters degree and also Doctoral thesis under him. Together we have worked on various projects , the mot important of which was the work on two stage classification in grinding circuit in a plant in Indian copper industry. It led to almost 30% increase in new feed rate to the mill. It was presented in the XIVth IMPC, in 1982 at Toronto.Apart from this we have published at least three more papers of import some of which was published in International journals. He is a Guru in the true sense we find Indian religious scriptures (may be Chinese too). He does not teach in the conventional sense but leads the student to analyse & understand the issues within a problem and thereby find a solution.He opens their eyes to see and appreciate the beauty in the inherent logic in the behavior of a system, plant or equipment and there by control them or tune them to the requirement. He has an enviable relationship with his students, young & old, and their problems bother him enormously. Even at this age he runs around the whole country trying to find listeners for his sagacious advice. A Great Teacher indeed and I salute him from the core of my heart.
    Arabinda Bandyopadhyay ( Bandyo), President ( Business development & Technology) at CDE Asia Limited, India

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  4. I am not a student of Prof. Rao, but got an opportunity to be associated with this gentleman for some time. I feel we are constricting his glory, in a true scene he is bigger than what he got. His contributions to the Mineral Engineering are immense as a teacher, researcher, administrator, and most importantly as a human. He inspired many youngsters to choose Mineral Engineering as a profession during the days when there was no light of hopes for mining related activities. While, many teachers and researchers were busy in writing papers, showing talents, and updating CVs. This was the true fact!
    As a researcher, Prof. Rao’s contributions helped many industries and research organisations. No doubt, he is a scholar of great stature.

    I would like to thank Dr. Wills for this wonderful MEI blog. I take this opportunity to sensitise Mineral Engineering fraternity in India to convene a seminar or symposia to honour Prof. Rao.

    Dr. B.P.Ravi, Professor in Mineral Processing, VSK University, Nandihalli, Bellary – 583119, India.

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  5. Dear Dr Wills
    First of all thanks for bring up the new editions of fathers of Mineral Dressing
    Wills Lynch& Rao Gaudin Taggart....
    For a mineral Engg in India Prof Rao is dream. Though I closely associated with Prof . Rao from Tata Steel R&D (2008).Though the people are fortunate to grow under his guidance I got an opportunity at that time. His emphasis on small changes in plant will give major out has given me many directions to implement my ideas. Developing data bank for a process, optimizing the parameters with minimum disturbance to plant operators are the key focus a mineral Engg, he always emphasize on.
    Words are few to describe the association with Prof.Rao.
    Thanks
    Ramamurthy

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  6. It is very enlightening to all of us to read the conversation that you made with Dr Barry Wills on the MEI Blog. I know Dr Barry only through his popular book he wrote on Mineral Processing Technology. I believe that during my students days in 1980’s and in fact even today, it is the only book that I find as student friendly with a lot of industrial applications explained in simplest form. Dr Barry, a globally popular person, has written so high about you and declared as Father of Indian Mineral Engineers. This is a pride and momentous occasion to all of us. I would like to convey my heartiest congratulations to you on this achievement.

    D.C. Panigrahi, Director, Indian School of Mines

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  7. I am fortunate to learn Mineral Engineering under Dr. T.C. Rao at ISM, Dhanbad. This blog brought me all old memories of my association with him and ISM. One feel short of words to describe him, in short we can say he is a great Gentleman and embodiment of all good things, a inspiration for Mineral Engineers.
    Thanks for the blog,
    P.S. Prabhu. Fluidmac Hose Industries, Kakoda Industrial Estate, Curchorem, GOA-403706, INDIA

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  8. Dear Barry,
    It is very happy to see a blog and writing about Prof. T C Rao, and describing him as "Father of Indian Mineral Processing" which is not at all disputed. He is inspiration for Indian Mineral Processing personnel. Technical people who are working in Mineral Processing is a dream to meet him and to have at least one photo/Selfie with him. So many people had been groomed by him and grown to greater heights in India and abroad. I am lucky to have in contact with him from last 5 years. It is not an easy thing to author/co-author more than 250 published journal articles. With this one can understand the contribution of Prof. T C Rao to Mineral Industry/ Mineral Processing community. He believes that small changes in process can lead to heavy savings in the Industry. If we try and able to modify the each circuit, Indian Mineral Processing industry will be benefitted largely. He encourages and supports Indian Institute of Mineral Engineers, Mining Engineers Association of India and MGMI etc. Even at this age he participates in various events of the above said organisations.
    HATS UP TO YOU Prof. T C Rao sir
    I thank Wills for his Blog and writing about Prof. T C Rao
    Thanking You
    G V RAO, R&D Centre, NMDC Limited, Hyderabad, INdia

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