Ashish applies his polymer technology skills to the automotive industry
Ashish Kumar Bhalla graduated from the master’s programme in Polymer Technology in 2019. He is now working as a Test and Verification Engineer at Semcon Sweden AB.
What company are you with and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m employed at Semcon Sweden AB as a Test and Verification Engineer. I’m currently working as an external consultant at the Volvo Car Corporation in Gothenburg, working on interior and exterior polymeric materials used in cars.
What is a regular day like at your job?
My work basically comes under Research and Development. I test and analyse the polymeric materials used in car interiors (for example, on the tunnel console – in the gearbox area, instrument panel – the cockpit and dashboard area) and the car’s exterior areas (front and rear bumpers, front and rear lighting, door sealings, etc.). The tests include chemical tests (to check for resistance against chemicals), mechanical tests (to check for strength of the materials and parts, impact resistance of the material and parts, etc.), flammability test (to check fire resistance), thermal tests (to check for resistance against elevated temperatures) and a combination of these tests. My work also includes documenting the test results and seeing whether the materials passed or failed for use in cars. I also develop new test methods for testing other factors such as cracking of the materials. Apart from this work, my regular day at work also includes meetings in the department to discuss the progress of our work and meetings with other departments with whom we collaborate or help with decision-making. We also have meetings with suppliers to discuss the scope of their materials.
Why did you choose this programme at KTH?
I was a part of the Nordic Five Tech master’s programme in Polymer Technology at KTH (specializing in Macromolecular Materials). I did a bachelor’s in chemical engineering and was interested in polymers and composites in my upper secondary school and bachelor days. Also, I was interested in coming to Europe to study because of its work-life balance and its major impact on research in the science fields. I investigated various colleges in Europe and ended up looking at this programme. It was highly attractive to me because of the courses taught on the programme, its alignment with my interests and also because it was a double degree programme. It gave me a chance to study in more than one country , get to know the culture, working environment and cultural life. I chose KTH as my first-year university because, again, the courses being taught in the first year were both interesting and important for me to study. And the fact that KTH was in Stockholm helped me with this decision. I also asked my seniors from my bachelor's university who came to Sweden for their masters at different universities for their advice. They advised me to go for KTH – and it turned out to be the right decision in the end.
I chose NTNU in Trondheim, Norway as my second-year university over DTU in Denmark or Aalto in Finland because NTNU offered courses that were closer to my interest area in polymers (synthetic and natural polymeric materials not focusing on biobased materials). I chose this university simply because of the courses being offered and my interest in these courses. And being in Trondheim and regularly seeing the Northern Lights was like the “cherry on the cake”.
Are there any insights or knowledge you acquired during your studies that have been particularly useful for you in your career?
Of course. Apart from the academic knowledge, I gained some practical knowledge during my time at KTH. One of the most important things I learnt was networking. Attending different lunch seminars, career fairs, events and meetings to interact with new people. I got to learn new things, but also gained a lot of new information that helped me and will continue to help me in the future. This opens a lot of avenues because you have more sources. It also helped me build my confidence in just approaching people and starting to interact with them.
I also learnt time management. Coming from India, where the family plays an important role in society, I lived at home until my bachelor days and didn't have many responsibilities. When I came to Sweden, I was on my own and had to cook for myself (which I’d never done before), do my own laundry, do my own cleaning (all the household chores) and this was apart from studying and leisure activities (which was the main reason I came to Sweden).
I also had to do all these things during my exams. So, it taught me how to manage time properly and be organized, which helps me a lot in my career.
What were the best aspects of your studies at KTH?
The international culture in the classroom and getting to know different cultures, as well as less hierarchy in the academic set up. This made it easier to approach the professors or other people when I needed help. This helped me improve my presentation and communication skills by interacting with many people from different backgrounds. It also gave me the opportunity to travel around Sweden and Europe between studies.
What is your best memory from your time at KTH?
I have several memories, such as sitting in the sun in the main garden (between the D & E building) to have lunch, going to the Bibliotek to discuss lab work and projects (even though these are study related), going to Tentapubs (our department’s and Nymble’s) after exams. Attending pot dinners at our friend's place, enjoying great food from around the world and ending up partying. Studying in computer labs late at night. Organizing different events such as India Day, Diwali Event and Holi.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are simple and cliché. I want to become an expert in my area, grow in terms of personality, knowledge and position. Give something back to society but also lead a good, happy (slightly luxurious) life while having time to travel and play sports.
What would you want to say to a student who was thinking of applying for this programme?
My advice would be that if you are interested in polymers, natural materials and also want to give something back to society (because the programme is also focused on sustainability – which is a bonus, I suppose), then go ahead and apply. There is freedom to develop yourself creatively and a lot of opportunities to develop both practical and technical skills and your personality. The prospects in this field are also very broad.
The programme will give you the chance to be at one of the best places to study and live while interacting with people from different cultures. And there is also a chance to spend one year at a different university in a different country, so you can get two degrees and get to see two different places. It’s a win-win situation.