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The Photonics100: Munjal Gajjar Q&A


Munjal Gajjar, Vice President of the R&D Department at Sahajanand Technologies Private Limited

Laser Systems Europe talks to previous honoree of The Photonics100 Munjal Gajjar, Vice President of the R&D Department at Sahajanand Technologies Private Limited, a provider of solutions for diamond manufacturing in Surat, India.

What is the next big thing in your area of photonics research?

The traditional diamond processing industry relied heavily on human acumen, expertise and experience, but all these had their limitations. Diamonds used to be cut with saws before the invention of laser cutting. Saws are rarely used because they’re time-consuming and errors could cause the stone to break. 

With the emergence of laser and photonics technologies, these limitations were largely eliminated. Diamonds are one of the many materials that benefit greatly from being cut with a laser. The use of lasers is much safer. In diamond cutting, the goal is to maximise the stone's inherent brilliance. To achieve this, the diamond's top face must reflect as much light as possible. Getting the crystal cut correctly is crucial because its value increases with its brilliance.

Diamonds come in a wide variety of shapes, but the round brilliant cut is the most popular and widely accepted. Most rough diamonds are shaped in such a way that two round brilliant diamonds can be cut losing the least crystal, making this cut ideal for smaller stones.

With the advent of laser technology, diamond cutting has become a much more streamlined, efficient, and precise process. 

Surat-based STPL has played a big role in infusing laser as well as photonics technologies and developed solutions for all the stages of the diamond processes, right from the planning of the raw diamond to the safe trading practices.

But still, material loss during the laser cutting process is a major hurdle in the way of increasing the profitability of the entire industry. Photonics has the potential to further enhance the accuracy of a diamond-cutting process and thus advance the yield to a great extent.

Another crucial area where photonics research can play a big role is the traceability of the diamond. 

Traditionally,  a diamond purchaser is informed about "The 4 Cs": colour, clarity, cut, and carat. The Gemological Institute of America developed this system to standardise the evaluation of diamonds worldwide. Anyone looking to buy a diamond can get a report on these characteristics, but they will not learn anything about the diamond's journey from the mine to the jeweller's case.

Consumers now are concerned with whether or not the products they purchase were made in a way that respects human rights and the environment, apart from ensuring their ingenuity. Customers are increasingly inquiring about the provenance of the diamonds they purchase. Retailers risk losing customers and money if they can't earn their trust.

High-intensity lasers can now be shot into a diamond to record its unique fingerprint on the inside, thanks to new laser technology. Fingerprinting technology is also used in the certification of diamonds. 

Further research in this area will simply bolster the buyers' confidence that they are paying for the utmost genuine diamond.

What do you think the biggest challenges in your area will be over the next year?

The diamond industry has been a highly human-resources-dependent industry. Even with the advent of lasers and other newer technologies, the industry still largely depends on skilled manpower. A shortage of employable, skilled workforce is one of the biggest challenges in the industry. 

Surat is the world leader in diamond processing and cutting, but it faces many challenges despite its prominence. Polished diamond quality and technological progress based on international standards pose significant challenges. 

Consequently, the key to solving the problem of quality as a whole lies in enhancing the abilities of industry workers. Formal training programmes are uncommon, although all areas of the industry require highly skilled workers.

Employee training and development in the diamond industry is complex and time-consuming. Capital expenditures are fundamental to business operations. As a result, no proper training and skill upgradation mechanisms have been put in place. 

The quality of the finished product suffers from uneven cutting. Theft is also a problem in this industry. That's why the diamond business relies on tightly-knit communities that can be trusted to keep information private. Recruiting new workers in the industry is conducted solely through personal connections and word of mouth from current, established workers.

All these factors pose serious challenges and call for well-conceived skill upgrade programmes and decentralisation of processing skillsets. The difficulty is exacerbated by the industry's dependence on expensive capital and outdated, group-oriented methods of production. 

What is the biggest personal challenge you have overcome?

I have been fortunate to work and find solutions for two of the biggest challenges for my nation – too much dependency on imported technologies in the diamond processing as well as medical devices sector.

The diamond processing industry of Surat, India was almost entirely dependent on solutions and diamond-cutting processing machines from foreign countries. The costs were higher and it was even costlier when the machines required some repairing. Waiting for parts coming from abroad used to halt the production processes completely. I, while working at STPL, had a chance to play a pivotal role in developing, indigenous, laser-based solutions for the Indian diamond industry. This entirely changed the game for the local diamond processors. 

We developed state-of-the-art technologies for every stage of diamond processing – right from planning, cutting, and polishing of the rough diamond to its safe trade practices. The diamond industry was heavily dependent on human skills, but it got revived with the help of computerised technologies, robotics, and laser. The solutions based on laser, AI and robotics by STPL are now being used in five continents of the world.  

The history got repeated in the medical devices field. During the late 1990s, being a poor country, India was paying heavy prices for the cardiac stent and other critical life-saving medical devices that were not manufactured in India and even well-to-do families of India were struggling to afford an extension of life. We ventured into this field with the sole aim that regardless of his/her financial status, everyone on the earth has a right to live a longer life. Our collective vision resulted in the first latest-generation stent manufacturing company in Asia. The persistent efforts forced multinational companies to reduce their stent price by one-third. 

Today, India is saving valuable foreign exchange and also earning foreign currencies as the company exports its products to more than 80 countries in the world, thereby saving thousands of lives across the world.

What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in photonics research?

The field of photonics is increasingly important in fostering innovation in a wide range of industries. Optical data communications, imaging, lighting, displays, the manufacturing sector, the life sciences, health care, security, and safety are just some of the many fields that can benefit from photonics.

In areas where current conventional technologies are reaching their limits in terms of speed, capacity, and accuracy, photonics offers new and unique solutions. Photonics has had a tremendous effect on our lives.

But apart from researching photonics for its direct benefits, young researchers must focus on thinking out of the box. they must pay attention to the fact that every innovation must be user-friendly and affordable. Unless the innovation is accessible by the lowest strata of the industry, the innovation is not delivering its best outcome.

You can make your nomination for The Photonics100 2024 here.

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