AusRAIL, Products & Technology

AusRAIL: Surge protection in the era of digitisation

Electrical engineering manufacturer, Phoenix Contact says it’s developed the world’s first intelligent system for surge protection, integrating the essential solution into the Internet of Things.


Surge protection is critical to the smooth running of trains, because railway technology depends on highly sensitive electric and electronic systems. These systems require a high degree of availability in order to avoid delaying critical operational processes, and inducing high costs associated with downtimes and maintenance.

Disruptions to the functioning of this technology, however, can be easily caused by a myriad of factors, such as weather events – especially lightning strikes, aging systems, or damage to conductors, interlocking components, modules or computer systems.

With the ongoing digitisation of the rail industry becoming more and more comprehensive, applying to every component and system across the sector, there is now an intelligent system for surge protection.

Phoenix Contact, which provides Surge Protection Devices (SPDs), has this year released a surge protection monitoring solution called “ImpulseCheck” which enables the continuous monitoring of the surge protection system’s
electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and the installed SPDs, and facilitates preventative maintenance in order to comprehensively reduce overall maintenance costs and increase the reliability of services.

Phoenix Contact’s national marketing manager in Australia, John Ortika, spoke to Rail Express about the world first.

“Products that we previously would have just installed and operated, we now want more information and more detailed information on them continuously. Are they still functioning at maximum capacity? Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing? Is there potentially a failure down the track that we can cater for and remove before it actually happens?”

ImpulseCheck monitors every single arrestor, detecting electromagnetic interference and surge currents on each active conductor, allocates a time stamp to the event, and then transfers the data to a cloud interface called “ProfiCloud”.

In ProfiCloud, the state of health for each mode of protection is analysed based on the recorded events.

“It’s the first solution on the market that dynamically and continuously monitors for surges and actually measures their frequency so that you’ve got an exact idea of how large the surge was and how often they’ve occurred, because it’s time-stamped,” says Ortika.

Once data from the monitoring system is input into the cloud system, Phoenix Contact conducts predictive analytics to offer remote diagnosis, identifying the error cause and offering prognosis of the potential disruption to the rail operator so they can conduct predictive maintenance on their systems with a precise picture. This enables the maximisation of system availability, avoiding breakdowns and reducing maintenance efforts.

“We can tell them, for example, based on the number of surge events that have occurred in your system, the surge protection components are starting to wear out and should be replaced prior to them failing, therefore allowing predictive maintenance and ensuring maximum system availability. It’s real time information and it’s accessible via a cloud interface, so its 24/7 basically,” Ortika says.

“Where previously, all of this involved guesswork, oh there was a lightning storm the other week and that might have damaged it, now we’ll have real time-stamped data to be able to really work out what has caused the issues that brought the system down or caused the component to fail.”

External sensors allow the system to be easily installed or retrofitted in both new and existing systems. Ortika says the implementation process is incredibly simple.

“In a few easy steps, you can affix the sensors to the connecting cables of the power supply or an SPD that is actively monitored. That’s easily retrofitted to the cable, so you don’t really have to stop the system in any way, shape, or form.”

But ImpulseCheck is not the only rail related solution Phoenix Contact offers, according to Ortika.

“Another one that’s been of interest to the rail industry, amongst others, are our power supplies and UPS systems, and again it’s about providing more information to the operator, continuously and in real time, about the availability and status of the power supply and the battery back-up system, knowing continuously that the battery is fully charged or what discharge level it’s at so that appropriate actions can then take place. Or, also knowing whether the battery lifetime is close to expiring, whether its nine years left or two months, so that the appropriate action by the operator can then be decided upon, and the operator is able to schedule maintenance rather than reacting when the battery is no longer functional.”

The significance of the data that ImpulseCheck gathers goes beyond preventative maintenance. With detailed data mining, it can provide the trends which operators will be able to react to and ensure the smooth operation of the railways.

“The analytics and what you do with the data that makes that data relevant and useable in a real application, that’s going to develop further over time.”

With its in-house machine building experience, Phoenix Contact knows the requirements of digitalisation and integrated data flow, from the engineering through the product life cycle. The future, Ortika believes, will see even further gains in the digitisation of all components of rail operation.

“We’ll see more and more electrical and electronic components being further and more deeply integrated into the operational system so that, right down to what were considered simple components in the past, we have the ability to see what affect they have on the overall lifetime and availability of the system.”


Visit Phoenix Contact at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 247.