In tune with technology

Print edition : April 25, 2003

The ICF has come up with state-of-the-art design features for its new coaches for passenger comfort and safety as well as for easier maintenance benefits.

WATCHING a new rail coach roll out of the Integral Coach Factory's assembly line is a fascinating experience. Each new coach is a tribute to the unit's systems, processes and technology management.

A coach under fabrication, being hoisted for furnishing work.-

The ICF, known for its quality management system, got the ISO 9001 certification in October 1996, covering activities including design, development, manufacture, and commissioning of passenger coaches - powered and non-powered, air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned, and luxury.

The ICF, which got through the ISO 9001 re-certification processes recently, had been awarded the Environment Management System certification, ISO 14001, from the German certification organisation RWTUV in December 2001. In terms of ensuring maintenance, safety and comfort, the ICF is well-equipped to meet the future needs of the Indian Railways.

Corrosion is a major problem that is encountered. To address this, the ICF has, after a long process of research and testing, introduced two stainless steel air-conditioned sleeper coaches. Last year, the ICF introduced stainless steel trough floors in coaches.

To increase operational quality in terms of performance and acceleration wherever the power available for traction is double that of the usual 700 hp, the ICF has introduced the HHP DEMU. The HHP DEMU is more reliable as the electrical insulation used on the motors and alternators is modern, and superior to, that used earlier. These coaches are also fitted with air-springs for riding comfort.

The brake system in the mainline coaches has several linkages. This means not only high maintenance costs but also down time owing to brake binding. To overcome this problem, the ICF has introduced a composite brake block in place of the cast-iron one.

The ICF is manufacturing a new type of AC/DC EMUs (electrical multiple units) for the Mumbai suburban section, one of the largest suburban networks in the world, one which ferries some six million people daily. Conversion of the electrical lines from 1500 V DC to 25 kV AC is under way in a phased manner. These EMUs, which can operate in AC and DC modes, are to have a three-phase propulsion system that will save power substantially and also reduce maintenance costs and improve reliability.

To avoid mounting of coaches and minimise injury to passengers during accidents, the ICF has manufactured a coach shell with provision for a centre buffer coupler. The prototype, tested by the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), is to be tried on rakes running between Delhi and Allahabad.

To improve reliability and riding comfort, reduce the need for maintenance and curb noise, and meet passenger overload situations, the ICF has developed, with support from the RDSO, a pneumatic suspension system that uses air springs for the secondary suspension of DC EMUs.

The coach body maintains a constant level regardless of the number of passengers. This facilitates easy entraining and detraining.

The finishing stages of a newly built coach.-PICTURES: K. GAJENDRAN

THE ICF has major plans to upgrade technology. These include:

* improving the quality and productivity of the sheet metal processing facility by introducing the "cut-to-length" system and an automatic storage and retrieval system. The idea is to cut metal sheets in various thickness, and store and retrieve them whenever needed. This keeps the volume of scrap to the minimum and enhances quality.

* enhancing productivity with a "coil slitting line" system that helps to mass produce shell components.

* upgrading the quality of shells by avoiding welding joints. For this, the ICF is introducing a "cold-roll forming" system that manufactures shell components in continuous length.

* enhancing sheet-metal cutting and welding processes by introducing modern laser and plasma cutting technologies that can cut a full-length side wall of 20 metres at one go.

The ICF has come up with special coaches for the disabled, wider and longer side-berths in sleeper coaches, an improved exhaust arrangement in the toilets of air-conditioned coaches, emergency windows, a reclining mechanism in chair-cars, night light with berth number indication, central aisle lighting, improved reading lamps and so on. For easy and better maintenance, the ICF has introduced fibre-reinforced panelling, stainless steel roofing and polycarbonate windowpanes in the air-conditioned coaches.

To commemorate the 150th year of the Indian Railways, celebrated from April 15, 2002 to April 16, 2003, the ICF rolled out special coaches in record time. The Jan Shatabdi coach, which has such special features as wider windows for better ventilation, a rail mart, a mini-pantry car and improved interior fittings and furnishings, is a case in point. Work on the 16 rakes was completed in a record 45 days. Its coaches have modern pantry cars with cooking ranges, ovens, water heaters, refrigerators and fire extinguishers. The 148-seater, double-decker coaches are designed to take care of passenger overload on short-distance inter-city routes. These coaches have such amenities as blower fans, protective rails at the doorway and luggage racks.

Forty-eight coaches (eight rakes of six coaches each) of new generation EMUs for the Andhra Pradesh Metro are also ready. The new design features include stainless steel panelling for walls and roof, moulded foam-cushioned seats, improved seating layout, central duct-type lighting arrangement, stainless steel luggage rack, wider windows, a public address system, and a new exterior colour scheme. The ICF is also ready with 21 shells of the Palace on Wheels, the luxury heritage train, for the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation.

The motor coach of the new generation EMU has features such as a broader windshield, a large single window without grills replacing the existing twin window and metal grills. The unbreakable laminated polycarbonate sheet on the window has been replaced with glass to improve visibility.

Over 26 anti-injury features have been incorporated in coaches that have rolled out of the ICF since July 2002. As a result, sharp-edged components inside coaches have been removed and emergency exit windows have been provided.

To enhance the appearance and lifespan of coaches, the technology for painting the coaches has been upgraded. The manually applied alkide painting system, the life of which is only two-and-a-half years, has made way for the polyurethane painting system, which has a life of over five years. The ICF is building a Rs.26-crore, state-of-the-art, semi-automated painting booth. The facility is to have a robotic blast cleaning process, and ovens for uniform drying of the paint.

To cater to the rising demand for coaches, the ICF is also planning another production line. The Railway Board, which allots the investment both for coach improvement and infrastructure development, has sanctioned Rs.50 crores to the ICF to upgrade its coach manufacturing processes. This will involve putting in place laser technology for cutting and welding, and a robotics welding technology.

The secret behind the achievements of the ICF, the largest passenger rail-coach manufacturer in the world, is its 13,500-strong workforce. While over 10,000 men work at the shop floor level, nearly 1,000 women work in the administrative departments. Employees are absorbed after apprenticeship training at the ICF's Basic Training Institute.

The ICF's workers are organised under the All India Railway Federation and the ICF Labour Union. While the workers' primary demand is for higher wages and bonus, in recent years they have been fighting against the system of contracting out to the private sector the production of items that can very well be made at the ICF. The workers, who are generally cooperative, are represented by a 13-member staff council. The management negotiates all issues pertaining to workers with the council.

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