Friday 26 May 2017 News Updated at 03:05 AM IST
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Taking the bus route to innovation - Deccan Herald
Taking the bus route to innovation
Hrithik Kiran Bagade, DH News Service,
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India has several perennial issues pertaining to public transportation, with all of them acting on each other. One prevalent sore would be a lack of good roads, cascading further to a dearth of comfortable and safe transport solutions, and perhaps the most painful aspect being the woefully mismanaged traffic situation.

If there was ever an answer to alleviate one above the grim situation, the advent of premium bus manufacturers - with global expertise in innovation and product design - into India has brought forth new paradigms in the way people travel in the country.In India, around 85% of passenger transportation is on road, and many take the bus.

And if the latter is premium, safe and supremely comfortable in ride and seating, compared with the lower-grade competition, then the bus is something that ought not to be missed.

Premium busmakers, predominantly from Europe, first set foot in India around 20 years ago. In 2016, 750 premium buses were sold in the country, with the segment growing at 31% in two years. Sweden’s Scania brought in its own plans and bus fleet about four years ago, eventually setting up a state-of-the-art facility at Narasapura, on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

The seriousness with which Scania has gone to market, along with its sturdy range of buses - CITYLINK LE (city buses) and METROLINK 12.0, 13.7 and 14.5 (intercity buses) - is best sensed while glimpsing the clockwork perfection and accuracy with which technicians and engineers put together buses at the 13,752-sq metre facility, built at an investment of Rs 300 crore.

Factoring in the factory

Armoured in safety gear, it doesn’t take long to reach the bus factory floor once inside the facility. The entire flow of assembly from what can simply be described as a bunch of parts all the way up to snazzy buses ready to be delivered, are serialised alphabetically for ease of process and to specify each task.

The first part of the process which one encounters is the pre-fabrication area, where the basic structure of the bus’ body, the skeleton, is welded together, owing to certain preset codes depending on the model.

At stations P01 and P02, the front structure and module of the skeleton are welded, while at P03 and P04, the rear module and structure are welded, respectively. While P01 and P04 stations are fixed before the structure is moved further down the line, P02 and P03 can be rotated on fixtures for operational purposes. All these stations, which primarily give a bus its shape, work parallelly. The plant has set a 240-minute minimum tact time to complete this task.

It must be noted that irrespective of the model, while the length of a bus may vary between 12-, 13.7- and 14.5-metres, the width remains fixed at 3.6 metres. Hence, the rear structure can be adjusted according to the variant.

Next, all the parts from stations P01-P04 head to a larger W01 where they are all welded together. This forms the bus’ top. Further, at station P05, a team of technicians are busy working on the bottom area of the bus which includes creating space for luggage storage and the gangway within the cabin. At W02, the docking area, the bottom is raised to be fused with the top, creating the bus’ complete skeletal structure.

The buses’ safety assurance commences from this very juncture, vouched by a strong structure. At stations W03 and W04, further reinforcements to the basic structure are made, such as strengthening of the driver area, luggage area, and placing of mobile charging sockets, among others.

From the pre-fabrication area, the skeleton moves into a tunnel. This is station C01 or structure booth, where all the material around the skeleton receives a coat of basic primer, to prevent rust. At the insulation area C01-1, heat resistance is provided. There are 10 stations in pre-fabrication, including sub-assembly.

An integral section of the factory floor follows C01-1. "We are at the chassis area, station A00,” announces an engineer at the factory, adding, "It’s here that the bus chassis imported from Sweden in the form of kits begins to get assembled, with the main activity surrounding tyres and wheels. Once the kits are received, we intake them and run a checklist to see if all aspects are okay, before moving ahead to station A01.” It is from here that the actual assembly line starts.

Bus building blocks

At A01, the body and chassis receive joint welding, which will also involve cockpit fitment. From here onwards, the bus’ appearance begins to reveal itself, as one-by-one, new fittings and parts begin to be deftly placed by a highly-skilled workforce who number 212, which includes over 60 women. In station A02, the bus gets its roof, front, back, and side plywood and hydraulic sheets, while electrical rooting is also done here.

Next, in station A03, work related to floor plywood, side panel and front opening panel, and rear bumper are carried out. The following few stations carry out some of the most elaborate tasks, leading all the way to complete assembly.

Scania imports its engines, which get mounted onto buses at station A04. The hatrack is fitted here. "Passengers keep their luggage in the bus cabin on a sort of a shelf above the seats called a 'hatrack’. This gets fitted here, along with air conditioning system connections and electricals, passenger and driver doors, emergency doors and luggage doors. At next station A05, also called the finishing area, the bus will have rexin, header fitment, and carpets laid on it,” the engineer says.

Meanwhile, partially-finished buses are seen lining up at station C01-2, the paintshop. This No Entry zone has a provision for six buses in total - four in the preparation stage, and two undergoing paint job.

Station A06 has vinyl floor mats being put into buses, along with work on the exterior lamps and glass fitment, which is followed by the windshield being fitted in A07.

In order to get the buses to feel more comfy for passengers, premium busmakers like Scania add a touch or two of niceness within each cabin. This is aptly experienced from the seats, which get fitted in A08, along with the TV. A lot of sealing and stickering activity, and logo fitment also happen at this station. Next, station A09 has AC vents being fitted, apart from the infotainment system and interior lighting.

The bus is almost ready. The wheel alignment, brake test, STP (spanning tree protocol) programming, coolant oiling, and fuelling are all done at A10, from where the bus moves to A11, where deviation inspection is carried out to check for quality. "If a fault is detected, inspectors from the particular station under which that fault might have emerged arrive to help correct it. This is the pre-delivery stage, followed by the shower test to check for leakages inside the cabin. Finally, the bus is test-driven for 50 km to check for performance, efficiency, and simply to see if all systems and fittings are working perfectly. Later, an underbody coating is applied before handing over the bus to the customer,” she says.

Scania says that a bus takes five weeks to move from the start of production to delivery. While the annual capacity of the factory is 1,000 buses, at the moment, it only works in single shift from 8.00 am to 5.30 pm, with a capacity of 3.3 buses per shift.

The company delivered four buses in India during 2014, growing over 200% ever since to deliver 231 buses in 2016. The factory is not only an embodiment of the importance of public transport and the technology involved in making it relevant today in the Indian context, but also a classic example of Make in India.