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Rail business: Virtual inspections on the rise due to Covid-19

Mamuni Das New Delhi | Updated on November 12, 2020

Businesses that supply equipment to be used in the Indian Railways’ eco-system are increasingly resorting to virtual inspections and online audits after Covid-19.

Spread of Covid-19 has impacted the physical visits in the vendor registration process, a method that requires giving a go-ahead to companies which can supply material for use in the Railways, after checking the vendor’s infrastructure.

Online audit

Recognising the challenge to vendor registration, prototype inspection and quality audit process, Lucknow-based Rail Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO) — one of the Railways’ quality assurance approval agencies —enabled an online audit system starting August 20. This is valid till February 2021. RDSO is also responsible for providing quality approval for large parts of iron and steel, such as girders, used in bridges.

On the supply side, Rail Coach Factory (RCF), the Kapurthala-based production unit, which was the first production unit to reopen after the Covid-triggered lockdown, started trust-based video verification of infrastructure in vendor premises early on, top officials told BusinessLine.

French major Alstom Transport also started accepting products on virtual inspection during Covid-19 lockdown in India. “At Alstom, multiple functions/processes have been revamped and are being undertaken online now. One of the most important functions in a manufacturing company like ours is quality assurance and control,” Alain Spohr, Managing Director - India and South Asia, Alstom Transport, told BusinessLine. Given the challenges posed by the pandemic, which has restricted travel, it was no longer feasible to be present on site to undertake these checks, he said.

Remote is the way ahead

Even after the pandemic fear fades, Alstom intends to continue specific remote inspections as it has proved to be both reliable and collaborative, while saving time and cost.

Post the lokdown, RITES, a public sector unit in the transport consultancy space responsible for inspecting wheels, axles, rails and several other items used in Indian Railways, hired local agencies for doing quality inspections for imported wheels and axles to be used in trains because of travel restrictions, according to sources. This is backed up with further virtual verifications by RITES. Quality assurance and inspection charges have gone up.

Some factories are treading cautiously as trust-based inspections lack the rigour of a physical inspection. Rae Bareli-based Modern Coach Factory, that made 1,930 coaches in fiscal 2020 and rolled out about 500 coaches from June onwards this year, has not adopted any virtual inspection for quality certification, a source told BusinessLine.

Published on November 12, 2020

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