Engineering Research and Development was virtually non-existent during the colonial rule in the country. This activity was deliberately discouraged during this period as it would have been detrimental to the interests of the colonial power Everything that was required in the way of materials and equipment had to be imported from manufacturers in the United Kingdom. No industrial development
took place other than the production of tea, rubber and coconut, which were exported to be processed abroad.
Under these conditions there was no scope at all for Engineering research and development till independence in 1948. Thereafter the priority given for the development projects that were carried out provided the opportunities for research and development.
It has to be mentioned here that there was a certain amount of development work in the irrigation sector even before independence, which resulted in a significant amount of research being carried out at the Research Division of the Irrigation Department. This was possible due to the fact that this research did not result in any competition with the industries in the country of the colonial power a further reason was the important position given to irrigation projects, which were started for increased food production, especially combined with the agricultural colonisation schemes that were started in the North Central Province.
world war two there were small 'post war development projects' started
in the port of Colombo but major development work started only after
Independence. The proposed Port Development Project had been held up
by powerful vested interests that operated the lighterage services.
The main Port Development Project was entrusted to foreign consultants
and foreign contractors hut the minor projects were handled by the Harbour
Engineer's Department of the Colombo Port Commission. These consisted
of the reconstruction of jetties and warehouses, which gave the opportunity
for carrying out research and development to find solutions to some
constructional problems that were faced at that time. The fact that
all this development work was carried out using direct labour by the
Port Commission enabled R & D to be carried out as part of the development
programme without special funding for this purpose. The existence of
excellent workshop facilities in the Port Commission enabled the fabrication
of machinery, equipment and structures required for carrying out the
R & D work. The very sympathetic and helpful attitude of the senior
Engineers of the Harbour Engineer's Department of the Port Commission
enabled the young Engineers to carry out the R & D work leading
to successful results.
The Engineering Faculty of the Ceylon University had not been properly established at this time. There were no R & D facilities in the field of Engineering except in the Irrigation Department, which confined its research to hydraulic problems associated with irrigation.
It can be claimed, therefore, that Engineering R & D in the country started with the work carried out by the Harbour Engineers Department of the Colombo Port Commission starting in 1948. This work, which started with an effort to find solutions to certain Civil Engineering problems, was expanded later into the fields of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering.
The establishment of the State Engineering Corporation in January 1962 provided further opportunities for Engineering R & D. The programme for industrial development in the sixties involved the construction of a number of large factories involving Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering work, which enabled R & D work to be carried out in these areas. A R & D division, with workshop and testing facilities was set-up for this purpose in the early sixties at the State Engineering Corporation. A considerable amount of R & D work was carried out during the period 1962 to 1971. This came to a stop with the Author's departure to Malaysia and Singapore in 1971.
The National Engineering Research and Development Centre (NERD Centre) was set up in 1974 as a result of a proposal made in 1970, but it had not been possible to carry out much work during the period up to 1978 as the emphasis had been to sponsor R & D as there were no facilities to carry out this work at the Centre itself. The Author assumed duties as Chairman of NERD Centre in September 1977 and convinced the Hon. Minister Mr Cyril Mathew of the necessity of setting up facilities to carry out R & D at the Centre itself. As a result, laboratories and workshops were established at its present premises at Ekala Industrial Estate on a nine-acre land allocated for this purpose. The facilities were expanded rapidly and large amount of R & D work was carried out in the field of materials, construction and the utilization of renewable energy resources.
above is a short history of the R & D work carried out in the field
of Engineering outside the work carried out in later years at Universities
of Peradeniya and Moratuwa and a small amount carried out at the CISIR
where a much wider programme, including other fields of Science and
Technology, was covered.
National Building Research Organization was set-up about fifteen years
ago but its contribution to Building Research, which comes under Engineering
Research, was limited due to it resources being diverted to consultancy
and testing services.
While acknowledging the large amount of Research work in Engineering carried out at the Universities in recent years, the Author will deal with the pioneering work done in the institutions with which he was associated, namely the Harbour Engineers Department of the Colombo Port Commission, the State Engineering Corporation and the National Engineering Research and Development Centre. In addition, the R & D work carried out in his own R & D facility at Batagama Estate, Ja-ela, will also be included. This limitation was adopted due to the difficulties of collection of the vast amount of information available in the Universities, within the short time available for preparing this presentation. The other reason is that the Author has detailed information on the work carried out at the institutions mentioned above as he was personally involved.