An Interview with Dr. Iqbal Ahmed, Creator of World’s Smallest Steam Engine

Dr. Iqbal Ahmed, the Guinness World Record holder for the smallest working steam engine and the recipient of the India Innovation Pioneers Challenge Award for 2006-07 is a big name in the miniature world. As you enter his house, you see tiny models of various machines adorning his shelves. They have a world of their own, a charm that can be visualised but can hardly be put to words.


His “smallest working stationary steam engine standing at 6.8 mm (0.267 inches) high, and 16.24 mm (0.639 inch) long and weighing 1.72 gm (0.06 oz) with a flywheel measuring just 6.8 mm (0.267 inch) across” is an engineering marvel by itself.


V.P- In a world that talks of the bigger and the biggest, why miniature?


Dr.Ahmed- When I look at big machines I always wonder if they can be replicated at a smaller scale…’s this ego of seeing big things at miniature levels that keeps me going. From eight inches to four to two to one to thumbnail size, a perfectly designed model must always work. Ultimately it’s in the work that you put in, big or small hardly makes a difference.


V.P-Is there any practical use of miniature models as such?


Dr.Ahmed- Miniature models are less expensive and friendlier for experimentation. Innovation has to start at a small scale for it to be feasible. Apart from that, it brings a huge personal satisfaction to see self made small replicas of huge machines.


V.P-Is there any particular reason for you being so interested in the miniature world?


Dr.Ahmed- It’s been a childhood passion with me. I used to see the links and joins of steam engines and marvel at their functionalities without realising how they actually work. I had a dream of making one myself. Finally, after twenty five years of work I saw my dream being realised. The steam engine that I made worked on its first run, that it entered the Guinness World Records is another story though (smiles)


V.P-How much of general awareness do you think exists of this miniature but beautiful world?


Dr. Ahmed- Sadly not many are aware! Most people get excited after seeing my models; even enquire about them. However, only a few remember them. The concept of miniature engineering dies down the moment the exhibition is over. The process of miniature engineering requires huge patience, perseverance and interest because the results are not instantly obvious. This acts as a turn off for many people


V.P-Which has been your favourite model or one that has given you a lot of satisfaction?


Dr. Ahmed- The four-stroke engine has been the most satisfying one. I had no blueprints, no specifications, and no designs. The engine was self made from whatever ideas I had by observing large four stroke engines and it worked perfectly fine on the first run.


V.P-Any specific future plans or ideas that you are nurturing as of now?


Dr.Ahmed- I have lots to do. My models have participated in a wide range of international competitions winning accolades and there’s more to come in the near future. I am working on a “Crankler’s” engine right now. It’s a bit difficult but it’s shaping up well.


V.P- What are the qualities that you would like to see in the present day engineers?


Dr.Ahmed- There is a huge difference between practice and theory. An interest in practical solution of a problem is a must for any engineer and this must be encouraged at all levels of education. An engineer’s education must not be limited to text books and let’s not forget necessity is the mother of invention and hence unless you create necessity you won’t be able to do anything innovative.


Compiled by:

Shreetam Subhrankar