Maintenance is generally understood as an activity of cleaning, lubrication and replacement of worn out parts. Yes it is so, but in a very simple form. When Maintenance is a subject of learning from experiences with a direction to keep on establishing good design and manufacturing practices.
The easiest part of maintenance is what is to be done and how it is to be done? But the important part is why? e.g maintenance schedule prescribes to check the tightness of a fastener (what) and do it with with 20Kg-m tightening torque (how) but why?.
Maintenance is a subject of engineering when ‘why’ is answered and understood, otherwise it is simple managerial exercise.
Engineers love to associate with maintenance when it is a subject of Engineering
When ‘why’ is answered, there is a smile and job satisfaction in doing a job or assignment.
The activity of design and manufacturing requires very little time as compared to its expected life span of about 35 years (generally the life assigned to Railways assets). The asset will stay with Maintenance Engineering for that much number of years requiring new challenges every year.
Maintenance Engineer, thus, had an important role to play in improving designs, sustainability of design for such a long time, reliability and cost of maintenance.
Objectives of maintenance
- Availability of Asset
- Asset is meant to give services at its full capacity.
- Reliability of Asset
- Availability of reliable asset is design and manufacturing feature. It is their responsibility to ensure that the item produced will work to the full satisfaction of user for the envisaged full life of the asset.
- Reliability of available asset is maintenance feature. Therefore as soon as the product is out of the manufacturing plant and accepted, it becomes the responsibility of the user or maintainer.
- Cost of maintenance
- In the name of reliability and availability, maintenance cost cannot go unaccounted
- Cost of maintenance is an indicator of reliability. Rising trend is indicative of falling reliability. Cost of maintenance is taken into account while working out life cycle costing.
- Look for scope of value engineering. Every maintenance man shall understand the concepts of value engineering. In simple terms, the cost of the product is in line with the value it provides or cost of the service shall be in proportion to the value it provides.
Learning of Maintenance
Electrical Department is associated with maintenance and operation of electrical assets such as Locomotive, EMU/MEMU, Traction Distribution, train lighting and air conditioning, electrical general services, workshops etc. at field level. There are no mathematical models to evaluate a design for the maintenance need for its lifetime. Also no software or program through which we input the equipment and there comes maintenance schedule. Maintenance is based more on learning and experience. Wrong Learning or interpretation leads to redoing. Understanding fundamentals of maintenance can avoid wrong interpretations and bring uniformity in it.
Most of the discussion is in reference to Electrical equipment of Indian Railways, but it holds good with all equipment irrespective of the owner of the asset.
Challenges of Maintenance in Railways
Challenges of Maintenance in Railways are different.
Rolling as well fixed infrastructure Asset calls for
- Safety and Reliability – no tolerance
- Heavy, continuous conversion of energy from one form to another with heavy-duty/wear/tear and unpredictability. Unpredictability does not mean that equipment fails just like that. It only means a need for intense condition monitoring at every moment. Sign of smoke emission from any rolling asset, hanging parts, abnormal noise etc. are monitored continuously almost within every Kilometer of run by Station Staff/gatekeeper/patrolman/crew of train running at the adjacent track etc. .
- Widely varying environmental conditions: The asset is designed to work satisfactorily in all environmental conditions. But for maintenance man it is difficult to perceive hot weather during the winter to make sure maintenance of coach fan. It, therefore, becomes a challenge for the maintenance engineer to perceive all-weather conditions and do the job. Maintenance shall suit all-weather conditions and in its absence, a system of whether specific drives like summer, winter, monsoon drives has built into the system.
- An asset not owned or operated by one agency.
- Supply of spare parts with original quality standards during its entire life span.
- Training and de-training of Staff.
- Facing the blunt of design and manufacturing deficiency, misuse, tampering, theft, encroachment & shortage of funds