Making a rapid stride, the modern Rail Wheel Plant at Bela has set an enhanced target of producing 53,000 wheels in 2020-21 from 35,000 from the last year.
Set up in the year 2012 at an estimated cost of nearly Rs 1500 crore, the Bela plant has been manufacturing cast steel wheels for coaches and wagons. Though, it remains the younger sibling of the Rail Wheel Factory, Bengaluru, it is now on a path of rapid growth and is fast becoming a major player.
In December 2019, the plant situated in a remote and rural environment in North Bihar has manufactured 8057 wheels, an unparalleled result of planning and teamwork and a record meant to establish the capacity of the plant which was never established since its inception. The plant has an installed capacity of over 8000 wheels per month but never produced more than 3000 wheels on an average.
We have done it without any additional manpower, said Shubhranshu, the Chief Administrative Officer who recently took over the reins. Railway Board has recognized this performance and has given the plant a target enhanced from 35000 last year to 53,000 wheels in the year 2020-21.
There were some bottlenecks leading to low out-turns such as a slow supply of scrap, quality of lime supply and refractory management. Most importantly, the officers and staff had got used to suboptimal performance.
The CAO said “the biggest challenge was to give the employees confidence. Now they are ready to enhance the target to 53,000 and most likely exceed the target.”
Earlier, machinery and plant such as crane, furniture, tool extraction system were not given necessary maintenance inputs since installation, he said and added the plant has taken a planned shutdown for 20 days in February-March to attend to critical machines which were never done earlier.
The plant with 1115 employees is expected to go full steam shortly.
Earlier the plant was making wheels for ICF for a long time now it has started manufacturing wagon wheels and very soon it would produce container wagon wheels.
Indian Railways, one of the largest railroad systems in the world largely meets its requirement of wheels from its in-house factories at Bengaluru and Bela near Patna. It requires about 2 lakh cast wheels in a year.
The technology at Bela is the same as that of Bengaluru which is the Griffin Technology from the US which is the bottom pressure pouring technique of molten metal in graphite moulds. At its peak capacity, the plant can produce one wheel every 2 to 3 minutes.
This involves the process of making cast wheels of steel in graphite moulds. The plant makes its own moulds from graphite blocks After casting, the wheels undergo control cooling then brakings.
The wheel then goes for normalising furnaces where it is subjected to 800 centigrade for two hours. After this, the wheel is sent for rim punching which infringes high-speed water jets under the periphery of the wheels for achieving necessary hardness.
As a strict quality control measure, the wheels undergo Magna flux testing under ultraviolet light in a dark room for the detection of fine cracks which are not visible in normal eyes.
Only those wheels which have passed after quality check are permitted for despatch, he said.
“Our endeavor in the coming times will be to become a global player in the rolling stock industry through sustain excellence and customer satisfaction, he added.
Rail Wheel Plant at Bela near Patna is the younger and more modern plant, though smaller than the other. In spite of its distance from urban and industrial centers, it has been able to keep its flag high and continues to make high-quality cast wheels.
The Bela plant has received several certificates such as ISO 9001 for quality, ISO 14001 for environment management and ISO 50001 for energy management. The wheels made here go through stringent quality checks in its in house chemical and metallurgical lab which is NABL certified.
The unit also has a well-equipped health unit, emergency medical care facilities and ISO 45001 certification for occupational safety of its employee and their families.
Apart from a modern automated plant, Bela boasts of a beautiful residential set up that can house over 40 officers and 500 supervisors and staff within its campus. It has a large well-equipped stadium, a staff institute and a functional central school for its residents.