Driving from Mysore towards Nanjangud, a little further from the bridge across river Kapila, a road to the right leads into the industrial area of Nanjangud which sits on the southern bank. This is where the 20 acre plot of the environment-friendly Austrian Technologies and Systems (AT&S) is situated amidst the verdant greenery.
This Printed Circuit Board (PCB) manufacturing unit was started as INDAL by Indian authorities in 1989. It was bought over by AT&S in 1999.
As soon as we enter the main gate, we are welcomed by three fluttering flags - the Indian tri-colour, the Austrian national flag and the AT&S flag. A faint chemical odour hanging in the air transports me back in time to my chemistry lab classes in college. Sniff, sniff, I strain to identify the chemicals and hurrah! One among them is Ammonia. But I fail to identify other chemical aromas romancing the air.
Friendly employees attired in navy blue and sky blue uniforms ushered us into the spacious canteen which had doubled up as nice meeting hall for the day. A quick sip of tea pepped us up and our small group of Rotarians, Rotaryannes, Rotaractors and Annets were given a guided tour around the campus by an employee. Two more groups had started early before us.
We first visited the environment section of the factory which houses the effluent treatment plant. Ninety percent of process during the manufacturing of PCBs involve water along with various chemicals and metals, some of which are hazardous. Thus polluted water is treated in this plant to remove all the impurities and render the water clean which is used to quench a thousand and odd trees and a nice garden in the campus.
The next stop was at the unit where the raw water drawn from the river is purified to be used in various processes. A generator room beside this unit houses three massive diesel generators which churn out enough electricity to feed the entire power requirement of the factory. Hence the campus is self sustained in electricity.
We then move indoors where the PCB is manufactured. We were allowed to peep into the designing section where multitudes of computer terminals were occupied by their human conterparts. In this section, the designs of PCBs , as given by the clients, are checked, corrected and converted into a language that is understood by machines doing the tasks. As we were curiously peeping into the glass windows, the human subjects on the other side looked amused and perhaps felt like fishes in an aquarium.
Next we were taken inside a long airconditioned hall which had complex machines each the size of a small car (sorry you can't drive them but rather they can drive a hole into you). They were drilling various sized holes into glass fiber epoxy laminate material (board) and creating a racket. Cacophony of the machines was because they were drilling at an incredible speed of 120,000 rpm (revolutions per minute), my gosh! Listening to it my head spun for a second at 120,000 rpm.
In the next section we saw the drilled boards being sandwiched between two thin copper foils between hot rollers (anyone for a hot sandwich or two?). Next the circuit diagram is printed on these boards with an acid resistant ink. Boards were rolled into a series of narrow acid baths of about 30-40 feet long bubbling with blue, green and clear liquids. Some of these machines were sporting cool red bulbs which were going off and on at random intervals. Liquids in these baths etch out excess copper except at the places protected by the resistant ink.
The boards go through many more such massive machinery and finally are subjected to gold electroplating where a very fine film of gold deposits on copper to prevent oxidation and thus providing a long life to the PCB. We were told that (hold your breath ladies!) a whopping 80 kilos of gold is consumed every month in this plant alone (ladies, dont you think that it is a sheer waste of yellow metal? I see many beautiful heads nodding in agreement).
The boards are taken onto cutting machines (if the PCB being manufactured is small in size, then usually five to six of them are produced on a single sheet of board) and cut to the required size and shape. Thus finished PCBs undergo complete tests, first electronic testing and later manual testing for scratches or abrasions. This manual testing was being done in a controlled environment under lens and microscopes by ladies. Dr. Maya Sitaram asked our guide why only ladies were employed to do the manual testing while ladies were present in none of the other departments. Mr. Keshav gave a tongue-in-cheek answer saying that ladies are good at finding faults (well, does that mean, men are good at making faults? hmm, I guess I am no Shobha De to answer that).
Finally we were at the packing section where each PCBs are bundled in tens, vacuum sealed and packed. Back at the meeting hall, in a formal meeting Rtn. Pradeep Mehta, MD and CFO, AT&S gave a few glimpses about the vision and organisation of AT&S which was followed by a multimedia presentation by Mr. Brown. Mr. Hegde, MD and COO, AT&S was present.