Rail Express features, Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand)

Improving traceability in the rail sector

The ARA has partnered with GS1 to implement rail standards that will allow the rail sector to better track and trace components in its supply chain.

The Australian Rail Industry is driving the development of Project i-Trace which is set to transform the Rail supply chain

Project i-TRACE is an encompassing industry approach that uses GS1 standards to identify and track assets, parts,and components in the supply chain through the adoption of digitisation in rail operations.

GS1 is the standards body selected by the ARA for the project as it brought its global supply chain experience to the venture. It has a global network of member organisations, which ensures it can bring global experience to implement the project locally.

Dimi Pachiyannis is the senior advisor of freight, rail, and construction at GS1 Australia. She explained that i-TRACE is the umbrella term for describing a program of works to implement the standards used to track components and assets throughout their lifecycle in the supply chain.

Dimi Pachiyannis is the senior advisor of freight, rail, and construction at GS1 Australia. Image/GS1

“Project i-Trace will enable tracking and tracing parts and components through the use of unique identifiers, such as 2D barcodes, which can capture data that includes important information like serial numbers and batch numbers,” she said.

“These barcodes, and the data behind them, are all standardised, which allows all operators in the rail network to capture that data electronically, and all be speaking the same language.

“Whereas in the past, companies have had individual systems, using proprietary identification numbers that only have meaning internally, a GS1 identifier has the ability to be identified and used across all activities in a supply chain unambiguously.”

This system of standards may be fresh and exciting to the rail sector, but it can trace its roots back to retail and the introduction of barcodes across the supply chain.

“The entire supply chain in retail now utilises barcodes, and with their use, have realised enormous efficiency benefits. Project i-Trace brings the same opportunity to the rail industry.

“There are inherent benefits that are realised within organisations that are implementing GS1 standards themselves. Included in that are the efficiencies, accuracy and traceability that will help organisations to meet their own key initiatives.”

Pachiyannis explained that i-TRACE is implementing standards to an industry that already has excellent practices in safety and technical engineering. Project i-Trace  is aiming to bring excellence to the supply chain practices as well.

“The Australian Rail network is one of the largest in the world and rapidly expanding with significant growth plans,” she said.

“The management of those components and assets will be critical and we have the opportunity to implement supply chain standards and enable traceability across our rail network to support this growth.”

Current use in rail

Pachiyannis explained that the i-TRACE journey is different for all organisations and is being rolled out in a number of rail companies already.

Queensland Rail recently completed its pilot with i-TRACE, which involved a subset of five suppliers using the system. It is now accelerating its implementation with suppliers.  

Peter Burton is the operations director at Unipart Group Australia, which has been utilising the program. He is proud to support project i-TRACE.

“Continuous improvement is in our company DNA and the strategic fit with GS1 was immediately apparent,” he said. 

“Traditionally in the rail industry, master data is bespoke to both the customer and the supplier with little cross referencing making for additional work and errors.

“The process we undertook to standardise our master data in an internationally recognised format helped us define and refine our system data, which has had follow on business benefits in terms of process efficiency and customer visibility of our business.

“The benefits we realised also flow through to our customers, who additionally, have increased traceability with less data mismatches to manage.

The system has been tried and tested in a number of other sectors and GS1 expects similar success in rail. Image/GS1

“I would encourage all rail industry leaders to get on board and start the process of standardisation for the benefit of everyone.”

Mick Cooper, who is the director at PowerRail Australia, echoed a similar sentiment when discussing the project.

“Our experience with GS1 has been far less intimidating and far more rewarding than expected,” he said.

“From the extensive onboarding to implementation, introducing GS1 was not daunting and easily became part of our processes.

“We have learnt so much as a business on process and part validation.

“Our processes have improved in accuracy and as a by-product, we have simplified our warehouse procedures, giving our customers greater information while not complicating normal operation.”

Pachiyannis explained that regardless the size and complexity of these companies, i-TRACE can have similar benefits. 

“This complete traceability can increase supply chain throughput to 20 per cent increase in productivity,” she said.

“It can eliminate costly annual stocktakes allowing a lot more accuracy and an estimated 50 per cent in cost savings.

“This is all about removing user error and ensuring the system runs as smoothly as possible.”

Working nationally

GS1 Australia is based out of Melbourne and Sydney but works with the industry nationally.   

It works closely with all industry partners to develop the standards that are represented in Project i-Trace. Industry events, such as AusRail and industry user groups are vitally important to this collaboration. 

Currently, GS1 is working with mostly passenger rail companies but Pachiyannis expects that the benefits will be applicable across the entire rail industry.

“The rollout of GS1 standards will be important and of benefit to the industry,” she said.

“We see this being the same as it was in other sectors when we brought these standards in. Retail started with one or two adopters before becoming widely accepted, and even now you will see tiny stores utilising this.”

Pachiyannis said that this similar system has also been rolled out in health care settings.

“A hospital environment prioritises patient safety, and these standards were developed to support safety and traceability,” she said.

“The rail industry similarly, has great focus on safety and these standards enable proactive maintenance to support existing safety practices.”

The GS1 mantra is about productivity improvements.  As Pachiyannis explained, she expects this rollout to be a success.

“Harmonisation, traceability and sustainability are all important parts of
the industry, and i-TRACE provides a solution for this.”