Friday 22nd Sep, 2017

Looking into the crystal ball to keep the rail industry on track

Scott Peters , Solutions Director, Certus. Photo: Certus
Scott Peters , Solutions Director, Certus. Photo: Certus

ANALYSIS: Scott Peters explains how rail companies can best take advantage of sophisticated technologies including asset management systems, IoT and cognitive analytics systems.

 

In an asset intensive industry like rail, the infrastructure and assets provide the backbone of the business and having a high performing, reliable asset base is critical.

Creating an efficient train network system that doesn’t compromise safety and meets the rising expectations of travellers and transporters through optimal disruption management is the objective of pretty much every operator in this industry globally.

Trains have been running in Australia since the 1850s and with over 30,000km of track and in excess of 40,000 wagons, the scale of the asset management task for our rail industry is enormous. Since that time the science behind comfort, noise reduction, safety and performance has constantly evolved to ensure optimum performance and safety. We are in the midst of resurgence in rail due to its fuel and cost efficient way of moving people and goods efficiently without the inconvenience of increasing city traffic.

The consequences of a major infrastructure failure can not only be inconvenient to travellers and companies transporting goods, but also tragic if for example, a derailment occurs that involves a passenger train.

The Hatfield derailment near London in 2000, where four people were killed and 70 injured, was a disaster waiting to happen and had huge financial impact on the operator and the industry. Many experts say it could have been avoided with proper maintenance and safety measures.

When rail companies’ diverse range of equipment, lines and rolling stock are not available or working at their optimal state, their financial performance will be impacted. These assets are spread across a wide geographic area and are maintained by a field-based workforce. They are affected by human and environmental factors, which can adversely affect a rail company’s key stakeholders in a variety of adverse ways that ultimately negatively impacts profit and reputation.

Stakeholder requirements translate ultimately into asset management objectives. The core objectives of rail asset management fall into one of three fundamental categories:

  1. Safety – for people and their environment
  2. Service delivery – can be agreed explicitly in contracts or implicitly in service charters or public promises
  3. Financial performance – necessary to the continued viability of the organisation

Failing to achieve any of the above objectives can be costly and can jeopardise the future viability of an organisation in the rail sector, and achieving them has to be concurrent.

The ability to meet these challenges and deliver exceptional outcomes is being aided by advancements in the asset management ecosystem. Railway operators can and should take advantage of opportunities related to people, processes and technology to achieve their strategic objectives.

 

People

One of the most important changes we are experiencing in the rail industry is generational, and I am not talking about tasks being taken over by digital processes, as that has been happening for decades in rail. Now that the last of the baby boomers are retiring, knowledge retention is a real issue and the rail sector is losing organisational wisdom, but technology can play a role in filling the void.

It’s widely accepted that the break-fix method is expensive and it makes railways more vulnerable to unplanned service interruptions and outages due to equipment failures and can also compromise safety. No longer can train operators rely on an experienced employee with a keen ear for diagnosing potential engine problems before an inconvenient break-down. Rail companies can now use a listening system to gather data about engine health and then combine that with information from sensors. These real time actionable insights allow train operators to schedule immediate repairs before any equipment failure.

 

Technology and Processes

The rail industry’s younger and more digitally savvy workforce is fundamentally changing how businesses within the sector invest in technology solutions, and the outcomes they seek to achieve.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is often mentioned as a silver bullet for achieving organisational goals related to Asset Management. The reality is that the underlying technologies that drive the IoT have been available for decades (sensors, Electronic Data Interchange, mobile devices). Large physical assets with digital footprints are now being targeted in the rail industry for predictive maintenance, from transportation to engineering to mechanical to communication and also signalling.

IBM has been working with the rail sector for over 100 years and in a recent interview for International Railway Journal, Keith Dierkx, global transportation and rail leader at IBM, explained how video and print pattern-recognition capabilities are now detecting wear and changes to wheels, trucks and rail cars. Analytics technologies for travel and transportation providers can gather evidence of asset conditions, which generates intelligent insights about what is happening currently and what is likely to happen in the future.

Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation (THSRC) employed IBM Maximo to build an advanced maintenance management solution that employs advanced sensing and condition-based monitoring. What makes it smarter is the automated, rules-based workflow management, ensuring maintenance issues are addressed before they can become passenger safety issues.

The fact that rail operators can visualise data in dashboards via Business Intelligence tools, Enterprise Asset Management systems, mobile apps on smartphones or tablets and even wearable devices does not ensure the accuracy of the information that they are consuming. In order to take advantage of the IoT solutions available, it is critical for rail organisations to review their data governance strategies to deliver high quality information in real time.

 

The Future

As we look into our crystal ball of things to come, more rail companies will be adopting sophisticated technologies including asset management systems, IoT and cognitive analytics systems. Those that are ahead of the curve in terms of adopting these technologies will not only be able to predict equipment performance, but they will also be able to deliver a personalised customer experience, as well as optimising forecast accuracy. However in order to really gain a distinct competitive advantage, rail companies need to successfully align their people, processes and technologies in order to make all of those investments integrate seamlessly.

 

Scott Peters is Solutions Director at Certus. Scott has been collaborating with large organisations in the infrastructure sectors for over 15 years to achieve operational excellence, including the rail sector.