Formed in 2005, the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) was a major initiative of the Department of Heavy Industry, Government of India aimed at enhancing as well as bringing in top-of-the-line testing, validation and R&D infrastructure in the country. Auto Tech Review caught up with Neeti Sarkar, CEO and Project Director, NATRiP, to know how it is addressing the diverse testing requirements of the automotive industry in the current scenario.
Neeti Sarkar has been serving as CEO and Project Director of NATRiP since March this year. A 1995 batch Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS) officer, she had earlier served as Director – Finance & Administration, NATRIP from June 2017 to March 2018. Sarkar earlier had a five-year stint in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting as Director of Broadcast Content, a role that involved granting various permissions to private TV channels, among others. She also worked with the Indian Railways, focusing on automation of massive loading statistics and on-boarding station balance sheets on automated systems. She was also instrumental in evolving the first E-auction system in Northern Railway. Prior to that, Sarkar had worked with Research, Designs & Standards Organisation (RDSO) and handled important assignments. She had a four-year stint at the Department of Electronics as a Class 1 Scientist and Test Engineer at its Jaipur Lab. She was also associated with the prestigious ‘Jammu- Udhampur Rail Link’ project.
ATR _ Give us a perspective about the operations of National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP)?
NEETI SARKAR _ The objective behind setting up the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) by the Department of Heavy Industry in 2005 was to bring in top-of-the-line automotive testing and R&D facilities in India. With the growth of the Indian auto industry, the homologation, quality and emission requirements as well as the testing arena have diversified drastically, thus necessitating the need for setting up an entity like NATRiP.
NATRiP’s focus was on setting up testing facilities – a task replete with challenges. One of the biggest challenges was to introduce state-of-the-art technology in India as very few manufacturers were from India and most technologies were sourced from abroad. Another challenge was to implement it, make it functional and simultaneously develop manpower that can support this testing. NATRiP has imbibed learnings by working closely with the auto industry and keeping itself abreast of new technologies and market demands. We want all our centres to be self-sustainable over the long-term. On that front, ARAI is already self-sustainable, while the International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT), Manesar and Global Automotive Research Centre (GARC), Chennai are expected to be on the self-sustainable path by 2018-end. VRDE, Ahmednagar is a completely Indian government facility funded by the Ministry of Defence and has been generating revenue. The National Institute for Automotive Inspection Maintenance & Training (NIAIMT), Silchar – our one-and-only training centre – and the National Automotive Test Tracks (NATRAX), Indore are both doing well.
Throw some light on the capabilities of ICAT, Manesar.
Formed in 2006, ICAT is one of the biggest testing centres in North India. It used to serve as the North India hub of ARAI before it came under the auspices of NATRiP. The work on the test track at ICAT is in progress and is slated to be completed by 2018-end. NATRiP recently inaugurated four testing facilities at Manesar – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH), Passive Safety Lab (PSL), Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Lab and Tyre Test Lab (TTL) at its second premises. ICAT has been focusing not just on homologation but also on development. The inception of ICAT has proved advantageous for the auto industry. Development requires a different mindset; you are not just looking at meeting the minimum requirements (needed in homologation) but also bettering that. We need to make a niche quality statement of your product and to do that, you need to test repeatedly and come up with a viable product for which you need an exclusive test facility, something ICAT provides.
NATRiP’s Rae-Bareli centre was envisioned to serve the auto industry needs of North India. Can you tell us why did this centre did not take off?
The proposed Rai Bareily centre had two main components – a testing site for tractors and off-road vehicles as well as an accident data analysis centre (ADAC). NATRiP also had drawn up plans to have a powertrain testing facility. We had endured a lot of hardships in acquiring land and when the land was finally allotted to us in 2014, we felt that the allotted location in Tirsundi was very remotely located. Given all the delay in acquiring the land, NATRiP felt it was tough to make out a sustainable business proposition and we returned the land by 2016. The ADAC used to operate from the ITI Rae Bareli premises in 2011 and was subsequently shifted to our NATRiP headquarters. All in all, shifting ADAC to our headquarters in New Delhi was a well thought-out move.
Give us a perspective about the capabilities of ADAC?
ADAC provides key differentiators and had inked an MoU with IIT Delhi during the 2015-17 period. As part of the MoU, ADAC conducted extensive studies of accidents occurring on the Delhi-Jaipur highway. Although this engagement started as a MoRTH project, it was basically a project between ADAC and IIT Delhi. ADAC has two top-of-the-line mobile crash vans that are fully instrumented and advanced. These mobile crash vans rush to the spot whenever an accident occurs. These vans are equipped with trained engineers, who take immediate on-the-spot evidences as to how the crash might have occurred or what could be the contributing factors. It tracks how much is the impact on the vehicle and on passengers, how the vehicle behaviour is impacting passengers or pedestrians, or study if there was any other vehicle involved in the accident. Another key factor is how much has the road contributed to the accident in terms of blind spots – an area where MoRTH has conducted an extensive survey.
ADAC engineers are able to reconstruct the accident in a scientific manner and are able to bring up factors that might have contributed to the accident. ADAC has so far conducted 249 accident studies, including in-depth studies of 30-odd accidents, including the famous Volvo bus fire accident. ADAC is in talks with various state governments to attend to blind spots and accident prone patches on roads, where our expertise can help bring down fatalities. The focus is on bringing about design and engineering changes on roads so that fatalities can be saved in case of an accident.
How has GARC developed in the last few years?
GARC, Chennai has homologation and developmental facilities similar to ICAT, Manesar. The test tracks at GARC were inaugurated last year, while it is also working on an EMC lab, passive safety lab and crash test. NATRiP is confident about completing all these facilities by 2018-end and offer to the auto industry 2019 onwards.
NIAIMT in Silchar is addressing the critical need of training. Can you tell us more?
NIAIMT, Silchar is a unique centre comprising of three business units – Driver Training Institute (DTI), Mechanics Training Institute (MTI) and Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Station (IMS). All these units are fully automated. The centre has two fixed and two mobile lanes. The mobile lanes are a unique concept. For example, if an RTO wants to check a particular vehicle at a certain location, but the vehicle cannot be brought to Silchar – these two mobile lanes swing in action. The vehicle is run over these mobile lanes and it gives you the test results in about 20 min, eliminating the need for location dependencies.
MoRTH had notified that all commercial vehicles must be checked for fitness once a year, but it was not implemented in letter and spirit. The ministry has now made an amendment in the Motor Vehicle Act proposing that this should be made mandatory. On the fitness lane, around six tests are conducted simultaneously on a vehicle. A vehicle owner almost immediately knows whether this vehicle is fit or which vehicle parameter is on the edge or has crossed the limit – it helps you analyse your vehicle.
NATRiP has suggested various state governments to start a fitness testing culture in their departments before it is adopted across the country. Today, there is greater awareness among transporters that vehicle breakdown is far more costly than actually repairing it on time. After all, no truck owner would want his vehicle to get stranded on a highway for hours. Ride-hailing players like Ola and Uber are using this fitness lane for optimum performance.
What update can you share on the testing capabilities at National Automotive Test Tracks (NATRAX) Indore?
National Automotive Test Tracks (NATRAX), Indore is basically a proving ground and operates as many as 13 tracks. Inaugurated in January this year, these tracks provide different types of severity meant for testing, including gradient, harshness, different types of surface for different types of vehicles (two-wheelers, three-wheelers, four-wheelers, trucks, buses, trucks, tyre manufacturers). NATRiP has put in place a high speed track of 11.4 Km that was built by L&T, who had subcontracted it to Nippo – a firm with extensive knowhow of building such tracks for private OEMs.
How would you assess NATRiP’s testing facilities compared to global standards?
ARAI and ICAT are already catering to customers as per global standards. GARC will go on the same line once it is fully operational. It is important to understand that ARAI, ICAT, GARC and NATRAX are dedicated to tracks and vehicle dynamics, while the focus areas of NIAIMT and ADAC are different.
Given the upcoming regulations with regards to emissions and fuel efficiency, how is NATRiP equipped to meet the market demands?
NATRiP has been consistently walking down the upgradation path – both ARAI and ICAT are offering BS VI-compliant services to the automotive industry, while GARC and NATRAX are also in the process of upgrading – this should happen by 2018-end. NIAIMT does not get affected because it is mostly dealing with human resource and ADAC is an absolutely new concept.
TEXT: Suhrid Barua
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay