The Power of Innovation: Sundar Amancherla (Aman)
From the very beginning, GE has taken pride in redefining the landscape of science and technology. However, at the heart of the progress, we make every day, there lie heroes who are passionate about challenging existing boundaries and committed to unlocking advances for a better tomorrow. Sundar Amancherla, better known simply as ‘Aman’, is one such hero.
Looking up at planes flying by, the teenaged mathematics-and-aircraft-loving Aman had no way of knowing that his affinity for numbers would take him halfway across the world and then lead him to the deserts of Arabia to his current role as Director of the Hot and Harsh Technology Center of Excellence (COE) at the GE Manufacturing and Technology Center (GEMTEC) in Damman, KSA.
Aman grew up in Anantapur, a town in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and had always shown an aptitude for mathematics and problem-solving. A Bachelors in Technology degree in Metallurgy from the Indian Institute of Technology (Madras) helped bring his interests together. Here, he had the opportunity to use numbers and physics to specialize in the metallic materials used in aviation, automobiles and civil construction. More importantly, it was here that he decided to pursue a career in research and innovation. In the senior year of college, he applied for and was accepted into a Doctoral program on Materials Science and Engineering at Ohio State University (OSU). During his years at OSU, he further advanced his understanding of metallic materials, and how to enhance their strength and ductility.
Towards the completion of the program, Aman attended a Metals and Minerals Society Conference in Tennessee where he met an executive from GE’s Global Research Center (GRC) in Niskayuna. “The rest, as they say, is history,” recalls Aman. “The executive told me about an opening at GRC in Bangalore and I didn’t need much convincing. I knew there weren’t too many places out there that had the kind of impact and offered the career opportunities that GE did! I mean, who else builds jet engines, locomotives and gas turbines? So, I interviewed for the job and joined GE in 2002 as a Materials Scientist.”
Aman’s first task was to set up a Center of Excellence for Modelling for materials. Here he developed mathematical models that could be used to further industrial interests such as reducing the time required to develop new materials, application of magnets, and much more. “The work was interesting but it could take years to get from the model to an industrial application so I rarely got to see the model in action in real life.”
After four years, he decided it was time for a change. “I wanted a better understanding of the business side of things at GE and decided to get more involved in developing technologies that had immediate applications.” He joined GE Energy in 2006 and promptly set to work. During his time with the Bangalore-based GE Energy and GE Power and Water teams, he helped establish 8 laboratories, including for aerothermal flow testing, vibration testing, material testing and spray coatings. These helped enhance the performance of gas, steam and wind turbines, as well as reciprocating engines and other technologies. He also implemented processes to improve productivity in various fields, including the repair processes at GE’s service shops, leading to about $5 million per year in cost savings to GE.
In January 2015, Aman was one of a select team invited to visit the GE Manufacturing and Technology Center (GEMTEC) in Dammam, KSA for a brainstorming session on a new research and development (R&D) COE – the Hot and Harsh COE – that was going to be established at GEMTEC. Eventually, he became the leader of the COE, officially joining as its Director in January 2016.
“Aman was the right leader at the right time and in the perfect location,” Aba Khalidi, Chief Technology Officer for GE Power in the Middle East and Africa, commented. “When we set out to build a unique global COE, we were looking for a passionate, hardworking and relentless leader, who could start from the ground up and deliver on commitments, and Aman was the natural choice”.
The Hot and Harsh COE at GEMTEC is a unique GE facility in the region. It has been set up with the express intent of addressing the needs of regional customers. “Works on new innovations can often be isolated experiences, disconnected from the real world,” says Aman. “Here though, almost everything we work on has its root in a pressing problem that requires an immediate solution. A customer tells us they are experiencing a particular issue and we then work backwards towards addressing it. This customer-centric approach allows our team at GEMTEC to pilot solutions at customer sites, go back to the drawing board quickly for further iterations when necessary, and ultimately deliver better outcomes at faster speeds for customers.”
One real world example he highlights is how customers in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region often have to shut down their gas turbines at more frequent maintenance intervals than those in many other parts of the world because of the use of harsh fuels such as crude and heavy fuel oils. Among the first solutions Aman and his team worked on was the development of fuel additives that help gas turbines run more efficiently under these conditions.
Under Aman’s leadership, the Hot and Harsh COE at GEMTEC has already successfully submitted and been granted 10 patents with another 5 in process, driving Saudi-based innovation for the region – no mean feat for an institution that was only inaugurated in 2016!
What else is Aman passionate about, other than driving innovation? Building local teams who can take his love for invention further! One of Aman’s most critical responsibilities at the Hot and Harsh COE was to build a team of scientists who would be based at GEMTEC full-time. With the support of the regional GE Power leadership team, Aman identified talent within and outside the GE network that had its roots in MEA.
“The idea, essentially, was a sort of ‘reverse brain drain’,” he explains. “We have incredibly intelligent, hard-working people in the region who often leave because of the lack of meaningful career growth opportunities. We planned to bring them to GEMTEC because we wanted a team invested in the future of the region, in helping it grow and in improving things for our customers and wider communities.” His team now comprises of people with roots from across the Middle East and Africa who were either previously working outside the region or may have left had they not been provided the opportunity to work at GEMTEC.
From a little boy who loved numbers, to a team leader who runs his own labs developing customer-centric solutions for the MEA region, everyone is high praise for this scientist. Aman’s love for problem solving and creating the next ground-breaking invention is always evident in his work and no problem is too complicated for this GE Power Hero.