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HI-STORY OF ICF

Sudhanshu Mani, General Manager, ICF, has brought about spectacular changes, not just in the number of coaches produced or their quality, but on a vast range of social indices as well. ICF is today the world’s largest rail coach manufacturer.

For several years’ post-independence, industrial development of Chennai metro was synonymous with that of Integral Coach Factory (ICF). A large facility was created in the western suburb of Chennai for producing rail coaches with Swiss technology. Owned by the Indian Railway, thousands of ICF coaches crisscross the country.
ICF has been providing employment to thousands and has also been training large numbers in welding, steel fabrication and coach building. By constant upgradation of technology and systems and outsourcing, ICF has been maintaining its pre-eminence in rail coach manufacture.
In a recent visit, I noticed dramatic changes in this six decades old factory that will account for the production value of around Rs 8500 crore this year.
Sudhanshu Mani, General Manager, ICF, has brought about spectacular changes, not just in the number of coaches produced or their quality, but in a vast range of social indices as well: “two years ago when we made 2277 coaches, we became the largest rail coach manufacturer in the world. In the following year, making 2530 coaches, we increased production by nearly 11 per cent and widened the lead. In the current year, ICF will make 3200 coaches, 33 per cent more than the projection! This will further increase to 3600 next year,” said Mani.

Three investment phases…

The General Manager referred to the success of implementation of three investment plans: “the first was a complete switch over to stainless steel; the second is to expand stainless steel coaches production to 2750 and the third phase is to expand production further to 3600 next year.
“These are made possible through timely investments, development of vendors to supply an increasing range of components and sub-assemblies just-in-time. We receive 8-10 trailers supplying fabricated parts and components by the hour. Our purchase this year will be Rs 7500 crore. Utilizing the existing infrastructure, with sound planning of inventories and material flows and vendor development, ICF can produce 4000 coaches at the existing factory!” said Mani.
This mature engineering unit directly employs 10,400 (a decade back these numbered 15,000). Mani estimated the company is aiding employment of another 15,000 at its vendors and suppliers. The annual wage bill is around Rs 1500 crore.

It’s make in India

Quite from early years, the focus was on make in India. Excepting for a very few components, the coaches are almost entirely indigenous.
In recent weeks ICF has been regularly hitting the news headlines, for its products of higher sophistication. An example is the modern and feature-filled coaches for the improved version of the Tejas Express, which operates on the busy Chennai-Madurai route. This train has reduced the journey time between Chennai and Madurai by an hour.
ICF’s renown extends beyond our shores. From time to time, ICF has been exporting rail coaches to
several countries. In the current year, 78 EMU coaches are being shipped to Sri Lanka. Mani said this will increase to 160 mainline coaches. Some are also being exported to Bangladesh.
The coaches produced at ICF are capable of running at speeds of over 200 km per hour. But operating at such speeds requires improvements in tracks.
Mani said that ICF should be manufacturing 5000 coaches including those for metros, coaches with aluminum body and with increased technology inputs. “We should be manufacturing coaches that would run on renewable energy leaving a minimal carbon footprint,” Mani said.

Increasing sophistication…

I was equally impressed by Mani’s rich contribution in a range of social amelioration. In moving around the vast ICF complex, I learned of the General Manager discovering a lost lake! Yes, years of neglect and letting off of sewage and the customary dumping of waste of every type, a vast water spread appeared irretrievably lost. Mani endeavoured to clean up and restore the lake, plugging the sewage canals. It’s a beautiful sight to see lush greenery around the lake’s clean, clear water that attracts several species of birds.
Thanks to Mani, ICF also has a sophisticated astro-turf for hockey, one of the very few in the south. By the side is a flood-lit cricket ground!
I was also impressed by the clean upkeep of the colonies that have around 3200 houses. It has a well-organized waste handling and management section where waste is segregated; organic waste is composted and others separated for recycling.

Green ICF

I found a lot of greenery around ICF. More interesting was the green image earned by ICF for its massively reducing carbon emission. The company made handsome investments in solar and wind energy. The vast surfaces on the roofs of the factory sheds and other buildings have solar photo-voltaic panels that have produced 2.4 million units of electricity. ICF also generated around 20 million units of power from wind mills it has erected in south Tamil Nadu. Mani referred to the handsome reductions in CO2 emissions and getting liberal carbon credits. The large factory is more than self-sufficient in power!
Another lasting contribution of Mani is the number of sculptures made out of the tonnes of steel scrap. Initially sculpted by renowned artistes, hundreds of these have also been carved by ICF workers. These deserve to be organised as an exhibition of their own that adorn the ICF complex. What an excellent way of imparting so much value to waste!

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