A CENTENNIAL COLLEGE SUCCESS STORY
COLLEGE OPENS DOORS TO WORLD-CLASS AEROSPACE PROJECT
By MARK TOLJAGIC
For seasoned air travellers, it’s an inconspicuous moment during the flight that usually escapes any notice beyond the dull “thump” they might hear as the airliners landing gear retracts into the belly of the plane. But Gheevarghese Saju thinks about that moment a lot.
As a mechanical engineering technology student at Centennial College, you could say he’s almost obsessed with landing gear, and for good reason. He was hired on a co-op work term by Safran Landing Systems to help bring their new-generation technology to life by animating the landing-gear mechanism using CATIA software.
“Safran has been working on this project for more than 10 years, and they wanted fresh perspectives from students who could bring new ideas to the table,” says Saju, who at 25 years has a mechanical engineering degree earned back home in India. “They told us they were giving the project to students to see if we could think outside of the box.”
What Safran and the students have been working on is electric actuation of retractable landing gear, a task that has been powered by hydraulics (using oil under high pressure to fold the struts) for as long as anyone can remember. By switching to electric motors, the machinery is less complex and lighter, so that the next generation of airliners will be more fuel efficient, Saju says.
If it sounds simple – after all, automobiles have transitioned from hydraulic power-steering systems to electric steering over the past 10 years – Saju assures us that the engineering challenges are not easily overcome.
“Hydraulic systems are highly reliable after decades of use,” he says. “Reproducing the same forces using electric motors is not simple. Aircraft require a lot of safety redundancy, which is a big issue when you’re designing landing gear to fit in a small space.”
The software he uses to show how the new electric landing gear will work can simulate actual stresses that occur during takeoff and landing. Virtual dynamic testing can be done digitally on the screen before casting a single piece in metal, which accelerates the prototyping process.
Saju is located at the college’s brand-new Innovation Hub, a 4,500-square-foot modular workspace in a commercial building in Scarborough, a short distance from Centennial’s Progress Campus. Designed for collaborative interaction between students, faculty and private companies that come to Centennial seeking expertise, the space is conducive to brainstorming and blue-sky ideas – something Canadian businesses find in short supply.
Saju says the work his team has done over the past year has given Safran a leg up on the project. Their digital models have been sent to the French company, which has approved them for use by their own engineers. It represents a gratifying vote of confidence for Saju. At the same time, the co-op work project illustrates the benefits of studying engineering technology at the college level.
Born in Kochi, Saju grew up in a busy household led by his bank-manager father and his mother, a school teacher. With a head for mathematics and physics, he concentrated on the sciences and computers in school and completed the 12th grade with stellar marks. Keen to become an engineer, he wrote the national examinations, earning him a place in university with the tuition almost fully paid for.
“Almost one million students apply for 1,500 seats in the government-funded universities, and I was one of them,” he smiles. He pursued a degree in mechanical engineering at the esteemed Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU), which boasts some 300 affiliated colleges spread over five districts in central Kerala.
Upon graduation, Saju came to the realization that studying overseas would be more beneficial than proceeding with a Master’s degree, since he could potentially work in industry and gain some experience before studying further. He had two job offers in India, but the work was in software engineering, a subject that didn’t capture his imagination. He was thinking about Canada.
“I had applied to study in the UK, but the immigration rules there are restrictive. They only allow four months of work after graduation, which is not enough,” Saju explains. He turned his attention to Canada, which offers more opportunities to learn and work.
Saju enrolled in Centennial’s Mechanical Engineering Technology – Industrial program, which he could complete in two years (“fast track” mode) given his academic credentials from MGU. The program also provided one year of paid co-op employment. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Saju and a colleague landed in Toronto in September 2016 and settled in a rented Scarborough bungalow with a few other students. They were in for a surprise, having come from a country where the temperature rarely falls below 18C.
“Winter was tough to get used to. We learned to buy the proper clothing, which helped,” Saju notes. “Commuting in Canada is tough, too.” He was unaccustomed to riding on Toronto’s buses. Back home he had the use of a Renault SUV, which he could drive to school.
Saju found his college program fulsome with less emphasis on textbook learning and more time in the labs working on mechanical engineering problems and solutions.
“There are fully equipped engineering labs in Indian universities, too, although the robotics equipment there is a little behind. Mechatronics are rare there,” he says, comparing the two institutions.
Having worked with Safran Landing Systems since last January, his co-op work term has drawn to a close. Saju will be graduating from Centennial College in April. He says he values the work he has done for the company at the Innovation Hub, which has facilitated the exchange of ideas between students, faculty and employers as intended.
Citing his enviable combination of an MGU engineering degree, a Canadian college diploma and a year of work experience with a multinational aerospace company, Saju believes his future looks bright. He hasn’t given up on pursuing a Master’s program, either.
“It gives you an edge and elevates your position at work, but the focus is narrow in a single field of engineering,” he points out. Research-based theory is better suited to a Master’s degree, something he will consider later when he is established and has a career focus in mind.
Was his relocation to a Toronto college worthwhile? Saju believes it was.
“The field is wide open for me. I feel I can start anywhere and move forward and go higher,” he says. Predictably, you could say the sky’s the limit.
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