Siemens striving for 100 per cent availability

Siemens Mobility Head of Data Services, Gerhard Kress, tells Rail Express about the transport technology firm’s push for a world with zero unscheduled railway outages.

 


If you’ve regularly caught the train in a major Australian city, the prospect of a passenger rail service with zero unscheduled downtime seems too good to be true. Read more

Advancing the conversation: Putting mountains of condition monitoring data to work

Rail Express speaks with Strukton Rail Australia Managing Director Paul McIlveen about the role condition monitoring plays in a smart maintenance solution.

 


Struckton Rail has been involved in the development of condition monitoring technology for over a decade and will continue to do so. But the company also wants to broaden the conversation around condition monitoring, and help others understand the role it can play in an overarching smart maintenance solution.

“Condition monitoring alone isn’t a solution,” McIlveen, Managing Director of Strukton Rail Australia says. “Condition monitoring forms part of a broader smart maintenance solution, and the benefits are fully derived when you’ve got all the elements of a smart maintenance solution working together.”

While the devices used to collect data are an important element, McIlveen says systems to ensure the relevance of what those devices are measuring and monitoring are equally vital to a good smart maintenance system. So too are methods of properly managing the data so it can be interpreted, using that data to organise and plan work, and delivering that work efficiently.

“That’s really where the benefits of condition monitoring are retained,” McIlveen says. “For example, we developed a system about 15 years ago for points monitoring, but if you’re just looking for points faults and responding to them as and when they occur, you’re effectively not making any savings.

“However, if you’re able to develop insights from the data you’re collecting, and you’re able to build smart algorithms – based on machine learning or just good engineering – then there are significant savings to be had.”

These savings aren’t only limited to a reduced volume of points faults. Once an operator starts to apply these smarts to how it structures its workforce and delivers maintenance, even more significant savings can be achieved.

“For us, condition monitoring is just the element that gives you access to a lot of data,” McIlveen explains. “The ability to analyse and interpret that data is what becomes really valuable.”

Of course the real upside of an improved maintenance regime is increased reliability on the network. “We’re aspirational in helping achieve a network which is 100 per cent available to rail operations, meaning no unscheduled loss,” McIlveen says. “We do that today: in the Netherlands we have contracts for which we provide a 99.8 per cent availability guarantee.”

In several cases this goal is being made achievable through clever application of artificial intelligence.

One example is a fault prediction system for insulated rail joints based on image recognition, which Strukton has developed in partnership with Siemens.

Strukton has also teamed up with Australian software developer Willow Inc. to develop an enhanced tool for managing and creating insights to existing rail data. The technology solution is described as a Digital Twin for Rail, combining operational data and asset management information into a simple and intuitive software platform.

Strukton Rail Business Development Manager Ben van Schijndel wrote last year the strengthened partnership with Siemens “goes a step further, because we are increasingly interweaving our business processes”.

Of both partnerships, he added: “We realise that the products and services we both supply are a perfect match. Each party has its own skills and together you provide more value than each party independently … The result of a partnership is better work.”

Strukton in Australia

Strukton provides engineering, asset management services, network optimisation, and condition monitoring hardware and software tools to Australian customers. This aligns to its history as a traditional rail maintenance contractor in the European market.

But with its recent pushes into new markets like the United States and Australia, it is also looking to leverage its experience to serve emerging needs. In Australia there is a growing awareness of the need to improve data utilisation from existing systems.

Strukton has already provided support to some heavy haul operators in Australia in this context.

McIlveen says this is a credit to Strukton Rail’s unique position in the Australian market. With a relatively small footprint compared to its European presence, but with the support of its global network, Strukton Rail Australia can focus on addressing a common issue limiting
in the region.

“There’s a lot of data already gathered on rail networks around the country, but there’s a real gap in the analysis and interpretation of that data,” he explains. “That’s an area we’ve focused on, and as part of that we offer the ability to improve the way condition monitoring is done, and the insights that come from that.”

For a lot of network owners and operators, collected data sits in silos, and that data sits isolated from data from elsewhere around the network.

Drawing on its experience in Europe, Strukton has encouraged its Australian partners to work to break down the barriers around those data silos, allowing the data to work together in a sophisticated way, using modern computing power to create important insights.

“I think we’re still at the stage in Australia where people are still wary of owning and being responsible for their own data,” McIlveen opines. “Part of the challenge is addressing those concerns of data ownership and security, because ultimately the data is worthless unless you’re doing something with it.”

It makes sense, then, that part of Strukton’s work so far in Australia has been helping rail companies transform their approach to data.

McIlveen stops short of describing Strukton as a consultant in this space, instead saying the company is comfortable helping bridge the gap between operations on the rail network and the maintenance of that network, by using internal teams as well as external contractors when they are involved in the solution.

“We operate in a niche part of this space, because we bring a very practical working knowledge of how to maintain and operate rail networks, and a very deep understanding, from an engineering point of view, of how a rail network should work and what maintenance requirements are important,” he concludes.

Contactless payments fully rolled out across Opal network

New South Wales’ entire Opal ticketing system is now capable of handling contactless bank card payments, after the popular Bondi Link was bus service was added to the scheme last week.

The Bondi Link, which has become the country’s busiest bus route since its launch 12 months ago – handling more than 8.7 million journeys – was the final service enhanced with contactless bank payment capabilities on September 23.

It means the entire Opal ticketing network, which covers train, light rail, bus and ferry services, can now handle contactless bank card and other payment device functions.

“The great news is those customers now have the ease of tapping on with a whole range of options, including debit and credit cards,” transport minister Andrew Constance said of the Bondi Link addition.

“This achievement marks the final piece of the contactless payments puzzle.”

Understanding the challenges of condition monitoring

Electronic equipment manufacturer MRD Rail Technologies says the primary goal of its predictive asset condition monitoring system, TrackSense, is to give meaning to data to allow the customer to make data driven maintenance decisions.

 


MRD Rail Technologies has 30 years’ experience designing and manufacturing electronic equipment for the rail industry. Three years ago, it looked to capitalise on this with a push into the growing space of predictive maintenance and condition monitoring.

TrackSense, the system designed by MRD to carry out this task, has grown to now collect data and measure various parameters of condition in thousands of railway assets across Australia and in international markets.

In just three years, several operators throughout Australia and New Zealand are already using TrackSense, and it’s not slowing down: after attracting international attention exhibiting at Innotrans in Berlin last year, the Queenslandand-based company will exhibit at Railway Interchange USA in September.

Product Manager Yvie Hough says through a continued focus on listening to and communicating with customers, the TrackSense team hopes to refine its state-of-the-art approach, and help new and existing customers best take advantage of what it has to offer.

“The MRD team has been working closely with our customers to refine and improve our solution to provide a robust, easy to install system that is user friendly and provides valuable information to users,” Hough says.

Cost of ownership

Despite operational savings being a core benefit of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance systems, one major obstacle MRD has seen operators struggle to overcome is simply the cost of installing and maintaining a condition monitoring system, and the inflexibility of many common solutions available in the market.

“Some vendors charge exorbitant amounts for hardware and lock customers into fixed contracts,” MRD Managing Director Rob Gersbach tells Rail Express.

“The obvious downside to this is that should you decide to break ties with the vendor or they go out of business, you’re basically left with an expensive paperweight.”

Taking a different approach, the MRD loggers used in the TrackSense solution are not bound to that system.

“Yes, we offer a local or cloud server option for accessing the data, but this is optional as our loggers are capable of stand-alone operation,” Gersbach explains. “Our loggers log, process and alarm directly from the device without the need for external servers or software.

“This gives the customer total ownership and control of their hardware and data.”

Tuning for perfection

One misconception MRD aims to address is that a condition monitoring solution will provide maximum results from day one.

“When implementing a condition monitoring solution it’s important to understand it’s not a set and forget solution. It requires operator training, tuning and data input from the user,” Gersbach says.

To address this, MRD has developed tried and tested workflows to help operators get started with condition monitoring. The TrackSense team will also work with the customer to refine that workflow to their individual needs.

“Our auto-tuning feature will get you up and running fast and our teach feature will keep the system performing optimally,” Gersbach adds.

“We use shape recognition to identify anomalies, and KPIs are extracted from logged parameters and used to gauge an assets health and identify trends. All positive alerts and alarms are sent to the system’s fault library and fed back into the system to improve the systems performance. This library is also available for reference and training purposes.”

Critical to this is the use of machine learning to refine how data is analysed.

“The primary output of any condition monitoring system is data. Performing complex analysis of data collected from hundreds or thousands of sensors is a tedious and time-consuming activity, beyond the capabilities of human operators.”

By putting machine learning to work, Gersbach says TrackSense can help operators maximise the value of predictive maintenance while keeping costs down.

Local presence

MRD designs and builds hardware, and develops its software and applications locally in Australia.
Along with TrackSense, the company also provides EarthSense, a solution for detecting earth leakage; and RelaySense, a solution to test the condition of relays.

Its range of smart sensors collect data from fixed rail infrastructure, including points machines, batteries, track circuits and relays, as well as environmental, mechanical and portable assets. Measurements taken by MRD’s sensors includes current, voltage, pressure, temperature, vibration, and so on.

Contact: TrackSense.com.au

Innovative train detection solutions

The Australian railway market has a growing demand for innovative solutions that support them in dealing with increasing requirements. These range from challenging environmental conditions and rising train density on track to the implementation of new technologies and possibilities. At this year’s AusRail, Frauscher Sensor Technology will present a selection of its products and latest innovations that enable the development of appropriate solutions.

Covering global requirements at one place

Travelling throughout Australia as a passenger gives you the possibility to experience tropical climate or deserts – as well as snowstorms and heavy rain falls. As inductive wheel sensors mark the state of the art in terms of reliable train detection, they have to maintain maximum availability under all of these conditions. Frauscher has installed a global base of approximately 200,000 wheel sensors – which have proven their appropriate capabilities on all continents. Based on their robust design, their functionality is not affected by extreme temperatures, moisture or even floods, mechanical impacts or electromagnetic interference. Additionally, the possibility of mounting these sensors using a rail claw allows for quick installation without drilling – and weakening – the rail.


Frauscher Wheel Sensors work highly reliably under various environmental conditions.

Flexible evaluation for individual requirements

The establishment of inductive wheel sensors in different regions and railway segments around the globe means that new areas of use are constantly being discovered. Due to its open, analogue interface, the Frauscher Wheel Sensor RSR110 can be easily and quickly integrated into any infrastructure. Evaluation of the sensor signal can be realised by the system integrator or operator themselves. “This allows for the economic realisation of wheel detection-based applications, such as weighing, lubrication, imaging and others in different areas, for example depots or yards. To provide support if required, Frauscher has developed a Wheel Signal Converter WSC, which converts the analogue signal into a digital signal and creates the corresponding interface”, says Lee Walker, Technical Support Manager at Frauscher Australia.


The Frauscher Wheel Sensor RSR110 can be integrated into individual applications simply and quickly.

Proven axle counter

Other Frauscher wheel sensors, such as the RSR180, come in combination with evaluation boards, forming full SIL4 wheel detection systems and axle counters. The Frauscher Advanced Counter FAdC provides flexible interfaces and high modularity. It allows for individual solutions to be developed in close collaboration with the customer according to project specific requirements. Additionally, innovative functionalities, such as Supervisor Track Sections STS and Counting Head Control CHC can increase the system’s availability even when unavoidable external influences occur.


The Frauscher Advanced Counter FAdC has proven its high reliability all over the globe.

“Connection to a high-performance electronic interlocking is possible both via a customer-specific interface and the freely available Frauscher Safe Ethernet FSE protocol. On that base, centralised architectures and decentralised architectures can be realised, as can a mixture of both. The Frauscher Diagnostic System FDS provides diagnostic data via remote access – which is extremely beneficial for wide spread systems. We have realised several projects using the FAdC throughout Australia. We look forward to seizing the opportunity at this year’s AusRail to meet known customers and new interested experts to discuss their experiences and requirements – and how we can support them in meeting them in future”, says Mr Walker.


Using the FAdC, mixed architectures can be realised to guarantee maximum flexibility in terms of individual requirements.

New intelligent sensors

As a highlight, Frauscher will present their new SENSiS system. “We presented SENSiS for the first time at InnoTrans 2018 and were overwhelmed by the great interest and positive feedback. With a newly developed sensor, which works as an intelligent device on the track, this system sets new standards. The evaluation of the sensor signal takes place in the sensor – i.e. directly on the rail. Using a dedicated bus system, digitised data is transferred directly from the SENSiS Detection Point SDP to the SENSiS Processing Unit SPU in the indoor location. The possibility of building ring architectures enables immense savings by reducing the cabling required. In addition, the sensor is able to collect information on temperature and vibration. In the overall package, this system opens up completely new possibilities and represents the latest generation of track vacancy detection against the backdrop of an increasing digitalisation of the railway industry”, Mr Walker summarises this highlight.


The Frauscher SENSiS Detection Point SDP was presented at InnoTrans 2018, along with the SENSiS system.

Digitisation in track maintenance

Rail Express speaks with track maintenance and construction machines OEM Plasser Australia about applying digital and condition monitoring principles to enhance its offering.

 


Plasser is already a market leader in the field for the supply of track construction and maintenance machines. Looking forward, a spokesperson tells Rail Express the company sees two of several new applications of condition monitoring principles as the next step for the Australian market.

Plasser is using condition monitoring to help operators better maintain their machines – through the PlasserDatamatic platform – and to help operators better manage their fixed infrastructure – through the PlasserSmartMaintenance solution.

Monitoring the machine

“For operators using Plasser machines, smart maintenance gives them a better opportunity to increase their return on investment, in the form of sweating the asset. This can now be performed with a level of comfort based on the data gleaned,” the Plasser Australia spokesperson says.

“By monitoring conditions and quality of components, we can actually get a better idea of when the machine may need to be serviced.”

PlasserDatamatic combines a number of systems to automate notifications based on the operator’s parameters and the known lifetimes of components on Plasser’s machines. When the time is approaching for a machine service or part to be maintained or replaced, the operator is notified ahead of time and can arrange the best time for work to take place.

Various aspects of the system can be enhanced with active condition monitoring. As an example: “You can monitor the condition of the oil. There are certain Australian Standards for engine oil and hydraulic oil condition, and if those standards are exceeded you’ll get an alert email, and you’ll know it’s time to schedule the machine for maintenance and address the issue.”

PlasserDatamatic incorporates an edge device on the machine, called the MachineDataConnector, which reports key information about the machine back to a central database, which is stored in the Cloud.

The operator can examine the information and coordinate actions through a web interface, called the MachineConditionObserver, and a mobile app, called the MachineMaintenanceGuide. The web interface can be customised, and the platform itself is designed to be scalable, providing key data for multiple machines to all members of staff involved in the operation and maintenance of those machines, whether they are in the office, the depot, or in the field.

“Over time, the platform increases the efficiency of the machine, increasing the return on investment, because the machine is spending more time out there working, and then being maintained when required and according to the real time data,” the spokesperson says.

Monitoring the track

Plasser is also applying digital methods to help operators respond to increasing pressures to reduce maintenance costs and time windows, with its PlasserSmartMaintenance solution, which aims to digitise track maintenance.

The solution uses modern sensors to study the rail corridor – primarily the track and overhead infrastructure – and create a digital twin of the asset.

Plasser’s concept to best use this digital technology is to seek opportunities for better cooperation between the fixed infrastructure and the maintenance machine, by incorporating data on infrastructure, geometry and operational parameters into the maintenance program.

“Nearly every network operator would benefit from this system,” according to the spokesperson. “The digital twin gives us the benefit of recording the fixed infrastructure and creating a virtual track. Through managing that data, we can put the required geometry movements into the track.”

Contact: Plasser.com.au

Prevention to prediction: The future of maintenance

Alstom’s Services Director for Australia Nicolas Thiebot says the company is working with operators and asset owners to demonstrate that it is safe to move to predictive maintenance across their networks.

For generations, rail operators and owners have relied on fixed schedules to maintain their fixed and rolling assets. General maintenance and component replacement was scheduled based on the distance travelled by a piece of rollingstock, or the amount of use endured by a section of track.

While this “preventative maintenance” gets the job done, it is far from the most efficient method. What if a replaced component is still in good condition? What if a component is faulty and degrades faster than it should? What if you’re performing general maintenance too often? Not often enough?

The basic theory behind the development of condition monitoring systems was to address these concerns. Devices installed in trains and around railways record and report data, so assets can be maintained and replaced when needed; not before or after.

Despite the rapid development of proven technologies in this space, however, Alstom’s Nicolas Thiebot says many operators are still hesitant to complete the shift from the old preventative maintenance model, to the new predictive maintenance model.

“The industry has a range of tools and initiatives around condition monitoring, but it’s often bolted onto a systematic maintenance plan,” Thiebot, Alstom’s Services Director in Australia, tells Rail Express.

“People are still a bit reluctant to move away from this systematic, preventative maintenance approach, to a more predictive model. At the moment, it’s a bit of a belt and braces approach, and we really need to move to an optimised version.

“I think the future lives in an understanding that it’s safe and more cost effective, to move on from the preventative to the predictive model.”

Since 2014, Alstom has used its platform, HealthHub, to facilitate a more wholehearted shift towards predictive methods for rail passenger rail operators. HealthHub looks to include as much of the data being collected from around the network, and incorporate it into a central hub to drive maintenance. It takes prioritisation into consideration before making recommendations for work to take place.

“Some of HealthHub’s tools are very mature such as the train to ground remote condition monitoring systems and have been a part of the maintenance industry for a long time,” he says. “The value of HealthHub is to bring them together into a shared platform, and to take the data and convert it into recommended actions to help keep assets in the best possible condition.

“When all the different initiatives around maintenance and asset management are put into one package, you can optimise your operation through dynamic maintenance planning.

“Some of those initiatives are based around asset planning, workload optimisation and work execution, some are to do with remote condition monitoring; they are all important factors in a smart maintenance program.”

Capabilities

Thiebot says Alstom has developed – and continues to develop – HealthHub primarily to aid its own maintenance operations.

Alstom is delivering ongoing rail maintenance for the fi rst stage of Sydney Metro, which opened in May 2019. On that project it is using HealthHub to integrate tools like Catenary Tracer, Track Tracer, Train Tracer, broken rail detection and point machine detection.

Throughout the world, the platform is also available to customers who want to do their own maintenance, however.

“We are developing HealthHub primarily for ourselves, because we believe in the technology and the benefi ts it adds to us,” Thiebot says. “But on operations where we don’t do the maintenance, we can package HealthHub as a product that a customer can use themselves, or as a service that we can perform for them: we produce the reports, do the data mining and so on, to make recommendations to their maintenance operation.”

HealthHub has included onboard rollingstock monitoring and track and catenary monitoring for some time. Thiebot says points machine monitoring is a more recent addition, and the company is looking to add signalling monitoring to the suite as it develops, as well as tools to rationalise the high volumes of data generated by power monitoring and infrastructure monitoring SCADA systems around the rail network.

“The end goal for HealthHub is to help an operator have the smallest downtime possible due to maintenance,” he concludes.

Contact: Alstom.com/Alstom-Australia

Thales successfully delivers CCS for Sydney Metro

Technology firm Thales has announced the successful rollout of its Central Control and Communication System for the Sydney Metro North West rail system.

The company detailed its work on the project, which commenced operations in May, on August 21.

The Central Control System ensures seamless rail operations, including real-time control mechanisms and data for various diverse systems, while providing a ‘big picture’ holistic view of the entire network.

Meanwhile the Communications System links up the public address and passenger information systems, CCTV and digital information boards, into a centralised system allowing a fully integrated operation.

“We’re proud to have delivered technology that will contribute to fast, safe and reliable journeys for Sydney commuters,” Thales Ground Transportation Australia Vice President Peter Bull said.

“The Sydney Metro project will define our great city for many years to come, encouraging growth and building continued prosperity.”

Thales was selected by the Northwest Rapid Transit consortium to deliver the technology in 2015. NRT was the lead consortium selected by the state government to deliver work for the $7.3 billion Sydney Metro North West project.

Rail Movement Planner brings Brazilian know-how Down Under

Brazil-based CFlex is now Rail Movement Planner. Rail Express finds out what prompted the change as the company continues its international growth.

 


Brazilian technology company Rail Movement Planner (RMP) has been in the rail game for a while now, but not as you’d know it. The company was founded as CFlex MPC in Campinas, Brazil (around an hour’s drive north of Sāo Paulo) in 2015, where it quickly made a name for itself for its CFlex Movement Planner product.

The company has now changed its name to Rail Movement Planner, having rewritten and evolved the CFlex Movement Planner consistently since 2015.

“The name ‘CFlex’ was too generic,” explains RMP president Elesbao Oliveira. “If you Google it you can find many companies that are not related to the railroad world.

“So, to improve our presence in the market and increase our visibility, the Rail Movement Planner company was born on June 3, 2019.”

Rail Movement Planner (RMP) is a state-ofthe-art solution for real-time circulation planning and train dispatching that can provide fully integrated timetabling, conflict detection and problem-solving services for rail operators.

This helps to improve the visibility of planned train circulation, allowing train controllers to increase the average speed of trains, which can lead to several productivity benefits.

It’s also possible to create and configure a regularity operational scenario where the RMP engine will prioritise the regularity of the train circulation.

“RMP optimises train circulation automatically or at the train controller’s request, delivering optimised and feasible train circulation plans in just a few seconds,” Oliveira says. “These plans take into consideration all constraints imposed by the dynamics of any complex train operation and fully comply with customer quality standards and safety rules.”

The system is already in place at several railroad operating centres worldwide, including Australia, where the solution is used by mining powerhouse Rio Tinto to provide effective planning of the company’s freight trains.

In the railroad’s operation centre, train controllers use our solution to plan the train circulation and have a great visibility of what’s coming in the next hours or days,” Oliveira says. “It’s also possible to apply restrictions to the plan — track blocks, speed restrictions, mandatory movements, high priority trains, trains’ dependencies — to simulate and validate the planned circulation.”

The company also operates internationally in territories such as Argentina, Chile and Canada, and has received significant government support in the domestic Brazilian market from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa de Estad de São Paulo) and Studies and Projects Financing Agency (FINEP, Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos).

The collaboration took place over three phases: concept, development and marketing, resulting in the successful rollout of the RMP product.

“Our partnerships with FAPESP and FINEP have served to successfully evolve and commercialise Rail Movement Planner,” says Carlos Carneiro, RMP vice president. “We also have another important partnership with the State University of Campinas, one of the best Brazilian universities. This partnership allows RMP access to brilliant human resources and cutting-edge researchers.”

RMP uses three levels of optimisation that are suited to different levels of train planning.

The first level of optimisation is the Basic Engine, which is built to address around 95 per cent of railroad planning issues, according to RMP, taking factors such as network topology, train specifics and basic operating rules into account.

“Basic Engine uses a meta-heuristic algorithm that is very effective and fast, with a typical response time of around five to 10 seconds” Daniel Oshiro, RMP project manager explains.

Adaptive Engine, the second optimisation level, is purely heuristicbased design capable of accommodating algorithms written in Java or Drools. It is intended to solve issues that cannot be properly solved by Basic Engine. Examples of this can include issues introduced through the specific idiosyncrasies and preferences of train controllers, or other special operational rules not otherwise covered by Basic Engine implementation.

The third level of optimisation refers to RMP’s Meta Planning Engine (MPE). Indeed, MPE is a powerful software optimisation architecture that allows RMP to run in parallel to several instances of the Basic Engine to address complex network issues. MPE also encompasses an Artificial Intelligence (AI) evaluator to select the optimal plan for users.

“The RMP integration layer encompasses mechanisms to provide and consume services, message mediation, service orchestration, service governance, business process management and service monitoring across all three optimisation levels,” Oshiro says. “RMP is scalable, expandable and was designed to fit any size of railroad operation.”

It also includes support for exploratory data analysis (EDA), model-driven architecture (MDA), and other enterprise integration patterns. It also provides support for industry standards such as WS-*, representational state transfer (REST), and other binary and nonbinary protocols. Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities such as security, reliable messaging and throttling are also built into RMP.

To ensure RMP runs as effectively as possible, round-the-clock services support and comprehensive user training are also available. Training is provided for managerial groups, train control groups, IT and other key users.

The managerial training is attended by managers and operation coordinators and focuses on introducing system support philosophies, basic architecture and functionalities to management.

Training for train control groups discusses system usability and how to generate effective train circulation plans. IT and key user training is an advanced course that focuses on high-level system functionalities, database maintenance and troubleshooting techniques for end users.

Overall, RMP is confident that it will continue to make a name for itself in the industry, even if the name itself has changed.