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Loram is building upon its history of providing the right services to the rail industry with sophisticated expertise in track and infrastructure monitoring technology.
For over 50 years, Loram has been providing rail grinding and track maintenance services to the Australian market. It has become only natural, then for the company to use its expertise in precision rail management to innovate and provide a comprehensive solution when it comes to the interaction of different rail infrastructure assets.
According to Thomas Smith, director business development, cost and consistency are two major issues that are facing rail networks. Having a rich and understandable picture of the track asset can allow for better decisions to be made when it comes to maintenance.
“Having an advanced diagnostic profile of the current health of your track and identifying trends over time allows our customers to migrate to a preventative maintenance program which can save significant money by extending the life of their assets,” said Smith.
“For decades, Loram has had the equipment for repairing and/or maintaining the rail and drainage, including ballast and ditches. Having the ability to know exactly where and how to apply that equipment has been a development process leading Loram to create or acquire the technology it offers today,” said Smith.
This technology has taken Loram’s knowledge of the dynamics affecting track condition and brought a level of precision engineering. For the past 30 years, Loram has been refining its rail grinding through the use of high-speed measuring and analysis, which uses laser camera technology. To analyse track for substructure maintenance, Loram has deployed cutting- edge technology for the last 15 years.
These developments in inspection services have been crystallised into three major areas. The first is rail inspection services, which use rail inspection vehicles (RIV) to collect rail profile, wear, gauge, and cant data. This data is then used to refine a rail grinding program, said Smith.
“Collected data is mapped to exact track locations to positively match the grind plan and applied to the grinder.”
The second area is Loram’s Aurora Track Inspection services. These use imaging technology to scan and reveal the exact condition of below rail infrastructure. Manual detection methods can only detect so much and are limited in terms of the speed at which they can be conducted.
“Aurora can perform inspections at over 65km/h and plays a critical role in prioritising and streamlining our customers’ capital maintenance programs,” said Smith.
Loram’s third area of inspection services are in the field of geotechnical inspection services. These services use tools such as ground penetrating radar and LiDAR scanning technology to measure and analyse geotechnics and substructure. The equipment that performs these scans can be mounted on the vehicle platform most suited to the task, including geometry cars, rail grinders, hi-rail trucks, or other track vehicles.
Taking the results of these services together, Loram can build a solution for a rail infrastructure owner or manager that includes track maintenance as well as formation analysis and remediation. With experience working in many different environments, Loram’s services are able to be delivered in any circumstance.
“Loram hasn’t found a location yet where we couldn’t deploy and manage our services. We recently conducted a geotechnical survey in South America where there wasn’t even rail infrastructure present, only formation. Our technology is set up to be deployed in many situations and can be customised to help meet our customers’ demands,” said Smith.
With the data collected through a combination of these technologies, the next step is to ensure that it is presented in a way that enables actions to be taken and decision to be made. To simplify this, Loram is working on combining data from its various services into a comprehensive track maintenance platform, said Smith.
“The data we collect is technical, time consuming to analyse, and can be overwhelming. That is why the final output that Loram provides our customers simplifies the information into easy-to-understand reports that are customised to our customer’s specific needs.”
With these insights in hand, maintenance can be conducted in a way that uses resources in the most efficient way possible.
“Having the ability to accurately measure the condition of your track assets allows our customers to intelligently and precisely plan maintenance activities with regards to subgrade, ballast, sleepers, components, and rail,” said Smith. “When our customers understand the conditions of these assets and how they degrade over time, then they can take actionable measures to prevent degradation and truly maximise the life of their investments.”
What makes Loram unique, however, is that not only can it identify and monitor issues related to track and infrastructure management, but it has the ability to fix and remedy the issues.
“With all of these inspection and maintenance solutions provided by one company, we have the experience, expertise and historical data to understand how all of the different rail infrastructure assets and dynamics affect each other,” said Smith.
Loram’s own rail grinding and friction management equipment can be deployed to areas of track where defects have been found by rail inspection vehicles. When ballast maintenance is identified as an issue, Loram has an entire fleet of ballast maintenance equipment and geotechnical services that are designed to manage track drainage and quality, or material handling solutions that can pinpoint where extra ballast is needed.
Sleeper maintenance is another area where inspection technology can be used to determine the quality of individual sleepers and components, with the data management to deliver customised reports to the required specification.
“We have this broad range of track data and knowledge from seeing just about any track issue that allows us to help our customers precisely plan, prioritise, and execute track inspection and maintenance on their networks,” said Smith.
Getting the balance right between preventative maintenance and over-spending on upkeep requires an independent set of eyes highlights Lycopodium.
The Port of Newcastle handles over $18 billion worth of freight each year, with 97 per cent of trade moved by rail. This makes ensuring that the lines which feed into the port from the Hunter Valley coal network and the links to interstate freight lines are in good condition a critical requirement.
Scott Campbell, general manager – rail for Lycopodium Infrastructure knows this well having worked with a number of rail infrastructure owners whose exports travel to the Port of Newcastle.
“If there is a fault or a defect that will prevent freight transport, that’s a huge impediment, not just to the individual companies who are trying to get a train through but to the logistics and transport industry in Australia,” said Campbell. “Some coal producers put out up to 10 trains a day, so that’d be about 80,000 tonnes of coal per day out from their facility. If there’s a failure in the infrastructure on a particular day and it takes a week to repair and get the trains back on track that’s potentially half a million tonnes of coal and when the market is good, that’s at $100/tonne. That’s a huge amount of money.”
Lycopodium assists freight operators and infrastructure owners nationally to determine the right rail maintenance program that suits their operations. For Campbell, this is about ensuring that maintenance is done in a controlled manner.
“Commercially and logistically, it’s imperative to get a maintenance program in place so you do preventative maintenance rather than breakdown maintenance. Being able to understand the status of track condition and to fix or upgrade the track back to a fit for purpose standard before there is an issue means you can program and plan your production and your maintenance, reducing risk to operations.”
What sets Lycopodium apart is that unlike maintenance contractors, there is no large shed of equipment and machinery waiting to be deployed to work on the track. While Lycopodium is an accredited rollingstock operator with its own hi-rail inspection plant for on-the-spot repairs, their focus is about designing the maintenance program to fit the job at hand.
Operating in all mainland states, Lycopodium is an independent advisor when it comes to maintenance, with deep expertise in design, project management, and infrastructure management, and has the ability to conduct track inspection and certification.
“We provide an independent, fit for purpose solution. We will go there and do the inspections, certify the tracks, and identify defects,” said Campbell. “If required, we can then prepare scoping documentation to call tenders and manage the maintenance work on behalf of the client.”
With Australia’s vast network of rail track providing very different tasks depending on the location, Lycopodium can design a maintenance program that responds to the needs of a particular section of track. With this information in hand, infrastructure owners can then ensure their maintenance provider is providing them the best value for money.
“We work on a lot of private sidings around the country where we do the inspections, identify any defects and then put in place a maintenance program,” said Campbell. “We assess the condition of the infrastructure at the time of inspection, report on the severity of any defects and provide an analysis on infrastructure condition trends.”
Through rigorous inspection and trends analysis, Lycopodium’s engineers begin from first principles. By starting with the infrastructure configuration and condition, rather than inferring from theories or assumptions, the maintenance program is tailored to the specificities of that track.
“Our engineers look at the duty of the rail, what tonnage is going to be going across the track over any given year – not just the overall tonnage, but the point tonnage – what the axle load is going to be. We look at the status of the infrastructure from the formation of the ballast to the rail, sleepers and fastenings, and then we provide a maintenance management plan to the client so that again the predictability is there and they can forecast costs when they need to have an outage to conduct on-track maintenance,” said Campbell.
The maintenance needed, whether it be rail grinding, safety measures, or upgrading ballast and sleepers, is therefore based upon the actual usage rate of the track.
To get this understanding of a network or section of track, Lycopodium works with the client in partnership. A round of inspections are done to form a base line and then once usage is discussed a further maintenance inspection will be carried out to see the trends of the track’s wear.
“If a grain siding is only going to be putting out 50,000 tonnes a year and it’s only going to be operated at the end of a harvest, we’re not going to be inspecting the track every month for 12 months,” said Campbell. “We’re going to look at it at the end of the harvest, so we do a condition assessment at the end of it, and we will compare that with how we predicted it would be.
“We might do a six-month inspection and look at how it’s stood up to almost no use and then come back in closer to harvest time where we’ve predicted what the condition is going to be. Then, we will see what maintenance is required so that the siding is suitable for their forecast use over the next harvest season.”
Within the rail group, Lycopodium has 40 staff, including track inspectors and certifiers, maintenance manager, and condition analysts. The data from the inspections is fed into Lycopodium’s Maintenance Management Systems (LycoMMS) so that clients can get a real-time understanding of where the defects in the track are. This tool can then be used to forecast when maintenance is needed.
“A lot of the industry have conducted regular inspections and upgrade tracks to a standard that’s not required,” said Campbell. “What we have focused on is engineering from first principles and monitoring to make sure that the track is fit for purpose, while making sure that the clients don’t overspend on an asset.”
“Focusing on a rail asset’s actual condition and usage, rather than an assumption can avoid overspending in the order of three times the amount required,” said Campbell.
“Marrying up the strong engineering principles with the maintenance management system that provides monitoring and trending, we can then tailor a maintenance program to a client’s real needs, rather than a best guess.”
4Tel is working to bring the latest in artificial intelligence technologies to simplify the uptake of condition monitoring.
In a report prepared for Infrastructure Australia ahead of the first Australian Infrastructure Audit, consultants GHD surveyed the maintenance needs of all major categories of Australian infrastructure. When it came to rail, the report found that maintaining Australia’s diverse rail networks was a high priority and in regional rail in particular there was a high likelihood of a coming maintenance gap.
For the regional rail networks, the combination of competition with road freight and existing infrastructure reaching the end of its useful life left much of these networks facing maintenance issues. As the provider and maintainer of train control technology for the Country Regional Network (CRN), Newcastle-based software and hardware engineering firm 4Tel is on the front line of developing innovative technology solutions that provide the ability to bridge the maintenance gap.
General manager of control systems Graham Hjort describes how condition monitoring has been enhanced on the Country Regional Network through application of an Internet of Things (IoT) approach.
“The I/O ports on selected field signalling and telemetry assets are connected to a modem which connects the ports remotely back into a central asset management system called 4Site, which then allows the health of the asset to be interpreted and, if need be, alarms or reports triggered based on the information received from the asset.”
The process also allows changes to be directed back to the field asset by the reverse connection to change selected settings.
“Another way in which condition monitoring has been improved is through improved analysis of information from the field sites,” Hjort continues. “One of the typical functions that 4Site is able to perform is a real time analysis of how long it takes a set of points to move between positions. If the time taken for those points to move and lock into place is above an acceptable threshold, an alarm is raised via 4Site and an appropriate course of action initiated.
By tapping into the existing telemetry, for remote connectivity, 4Tel has been able to remotely control field assets and their reporting without the need for any additional communications hardware. When you start to talk about return on investment, it is minimal outlay, maximum return.”
While this approach to condition monitoring has its benefits, unless maintenance providers use asset condition information as part of their infrastructure maintenance practices, then the benefits may be illusory.
Many physical rail assets are unable to provide an interface for health information, however 4Tel is using emerging technologies to solve this issue. In 2018 4Tel partnered with the University of Pretoria, South Africa, to understand the role that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) could play in remotely identifying and assessing the health of rail infrastructure. This relationship, along with an existing relationship with the University of Newcastle, NSW, has proven fruitful by providing a platform for researchers to practically apply their work to solving current issues facing one of the largest industries across the globe. With students from these universities, 4Tel is exploring how AI will improve operations for both train operators and rail infrastructure maintainers.
4Tel’s senior artificial intelligence scientist, Dr Aaron Wong is part of the 4Tel Artificial Intelligence Engineering team that includes staff in Australia and internationally. He also continues his work as a conjoint lecturer at the University of Newcastle.
“The use of AI not only can assist in the identification and analysis of defects and faults, but it can also help to reduce cost and risk by allowing the AI to trudge through the data to identify the areas of concern,” said Wong.
Putting these software-driven solutions into practice has also enabled 4Tel to take condition monitoring beyond signalling and cover a broader range of rail infrastructure.
“AI allows us the ability to move beyond track circuits, points, and interlockings for condition monitoring. AI can be applied to rail, ballast, sleeper, and structural defects,” said Wong.
With rail maintenance vehicles and trains travelling across the network, 4Tel is developing a suite of sensors and cameras which are able to easily be fitted to a range of vehicles to provide continuous monitoring of rail condition. The aim of this project is that faults are able to be identified in real time, geo-located and tagged, and then reported back to a maintainer, said Hjort.
“What we are aiming to do here is detect where the fault is or is developing, and if needed, send the maintenance team information about the defect to allow them to conduct their initial assessments before they’ve even left their depot.”
Wong highlighted that ML teaches the AI system the different characteristics of a fault or defect.
“Then the system will be able to utilise that learning in future assessments to identify these faults as they develop over time,” he said.
The introduction of AI into the rail industry in Australia is just beginning with practical applications across a range of environments.
“4Tel’s AI solution allows for multiple inputs into our AI and Machine Learning application. We are able to cater for all the different environments that impact rail operations including in areas of low light such as tunnels, fog, and other challenging spaces including those with high traffic, with the aim of reducing people in the corridor.” said Wong.
“Once the information has been captured through the sensors and/or cameras, the AI processing mines through the data that is collected and then provides detailed assessments to the maintenance provider on the state or the health of the asset,” he said.
AI can significantly shift the rail industry in Australia to more proactive maintenance structure. While this is an example of 4Tel using AI to monitor the health of rail infrastructure, the application of this technology also extends to the above rail operations.
Railway networks and train operations are going to be extensively impacted by AI-based innovation over the current decade and in the future.
In Adelaide, Bombardier have developed an in-house remote diagnostics system.
For over 15 years, the South Australian (SA) Department of Planning, Transport and infrastructure (DPTI) and Bombardier Transportation (BT) have been working together to ensure the safe and efficient running of heavy rail fleets. Their aim is to provide the traveling public with high levels of customer satisfaction and increased availability, by working closely and listening actively to feedback to develop a deep understanding of SA’s specific needs.
Reliability is perhaps the highest priority when it comes to the operations of networks and ongoing rollingstock maintenance and performance is key.
Keeping trains on the tracks and moving passengers safely is a cornerstone of any operation and through BT’s through life support, intrinsic knowledge of the SA network, and true collaboration with DPTI, BT has been able to continue to provide high levels of mean distance between failure (MDBF) and ensure fleet performance.
These realities are front-and-centre for both DPTI and BT, which has manufactured and has the contract for the ongoing maintenance of Adelaide’s EMU fleet. The A-City fleet, currently comprised of 22 three carriage sets, with another 12 on order, were the first electrical units to operate on the Adelaide network.
Introduced in July 2013, with the first entering service in February 2014, the fleet has begun to require modernisation to improve services to the traveling public, through implementation of technical enhancements in the through life support of the vehicles.
According to Todd Garvey, Bombardier Transportation’s head of sales, Australia and New Zealand, a unique solution was required to update the fleet and keep performance of the trains at the high level required for the Adelaide network.
“The system allows real time analysis of signals that can ensure the vehicle is safe to run without attending site,” said Garvey.
The remote diagnostics solution can measure an array of vehicle specifics, including engine speed, temperature, oil pressure, HVAC temperature, converter diagnostics, and other faults.
With this information provided to remote maintenance managers, faults can be reset while a train is in service.
“The quick benefit seen by all is being able to reset faults remotely in traffic such as HVAC and convertor issues; these improve on time running and passenger comfort,” said Garvey.
Not only does the system increase uptime but works to enhance vehicle safety. One example of this is having remote awareness of the door safety interlock. The remote diagnostics solution allows for this safety critical element to be monitored and fixed without returning to a maintenance facility.
A COLLABORATIVE HOME-GROWN SOLUTION
While remote diagnostics are not unique to this fleet, the solution is a demonstration of value creation through collaborative engagement between DPTI and BT, and has empowered BT to develop a system that is based on its local knowledge of the conditions in which the A-City fleet were operating. As a relatively small fleet, the return on investment in implementing and off-the-shelf solution was prohibitive.
“Therefore, it was necessary to engineer a bespoke solution to maximise the return on investment to get to a point of providing real benefit to the operation,” said Garvey.
In addition to supplying and manufacturing the A-City fleet, BT has also provided maintenance services out of Adelaide’s Dry Creek railcar depot.
Site general manger for Bombardier Transportation at Dry Creek Brenton Valladares said the local expertise that BT has in SA was essential for this project.
“Our local experts Carl Parr and Graham Schier – an electrical engineer and IT guru respectively – have together been with Bombardier Transportation for over 45 years across the world,” said Valladares. “Graham is a shopfloor electrician, born and bred in Adelaide, apprenticed by BT with exceptional IT skills that were identified and leveraged for the project. This combination of using in-house talent from both the shopfloor and engineering function to deliver a high-quality solution make this project unique.”
Parr and Schier worked with BT’s local partners and global network to develop a custom-built solution to run real-time remote diagnostics on the A-City fleet.
With capital investment and a true partnership approach with the SA government, BT developed the concept and the system integration with third-party suppliers. How the system works is that onboard equipment is networked via the existing service port of each system to a hardware gateway. This gateway is then connected to a secure remote server. The requested data is sent to an alternate server hosted by Hasler that analyses the signals, looking for data matches that align with predetermined events. Hasler also supply the data logger hardware and platform event diagnostics.
“One of the key challenges was networking the legacy systems into the program. These were overcome with some reverse engineering. The support from DPTI on this project has been marvellous and their ongoing backing of innovation, rail in SA, and BT is something we value greatly.” said Valladares.
When the data aligns with the predetermined events an alert is sent via email or other notification to the maintenance facility. Two full time team members are dedicated to monitoring and reviewing the system now that it is in place.
DELIVERING BENEFITS As the A-City fleet has undergone further modernisation, one of the elements to be aware of was the learning curve for drivers. By taking these diagnostics out of the train cab and into the hands of remote maintenance personnel, drivers are supported to focus on the new elements of the trains.
This new technology is a great asset for both Bombardier and DPTI said Garvey.
“With these upgrades and changes occurring across multiple systems in the fleet, remote access provides real time information, thereby reducing the learning curve for the drivers, this is a great asset for us and DPTI” said Garvey.
Another unique facet of the maintenance and upkeep of the A-City fleet is the structure of the depots. Adelaide’s mix of electrified and unelectrified lines has meant that the Dry Creek depot is unelectrified. This means that when maintenance does need to occur, the EMUs are hauled into the facility. Having remote diagnostics enables access to the vehicle’s systems without needing to go into the yards as often.
“We have also seen improved turn-around times for maintenance due to having an improved understanding of the faults prior to the asset arriving at Bombardier’s facilities,” said Garvey.
“In addition, there are reduced nuisance faults (less time on NFF) and more cars remaining in traffic. We are also able to reset faults in service, so that maintenance can be planned at an appropriate time.”
With the system now rolled out across the fleet, the system has doubled the KPI that was set for it in parallel with other project work. The system has now reached figures of above 100,000 MDBF, highlighting the effect that the delivery of local ingenuity, backed up by global expertise, can have on a unique train fleet.
Using a digital twin to drive operational decisions when it comes to maintenance is about turning what could be a cost into an asset.
By 2025, the world will be creating 175 zettabytes annually, according to market research firm IDC’s Data Age 2025 report. To put that in context, one zettabyte is equivalent to one trillion gigabytes. How rapidly this data is growing can be demonstrated by the fact that in 2012, only one zettabyte of data existed.
But, with all this data being produced, how much of it is actually useful? While a rail organisation is only a small proportion of the global data total, according to Andrew Smith, solutions executive responsible for Bentley’s Rail and Transit solution, they are still producing a significant amount of data.
“Rail organisations typically are very data rich,” said Smith. “They’ve got a large number of asset disciplines because it’s a huge complex system and each of those asset disciplines has a number of inspection and measurement mechanisms that can produce data.”
This data on its own, however, is not yet a useful resource.
“Data is a discrete fact about something,” said Smith. “For example, the distance between the left and right rail at this location is X, but data is no use to you when you’re actually trying to either work out short term what you’re going to do or longer term what may happen in the future. What you need to do is start a transformation process, so the first step of that is to go from data to information, which is data in context with meaning attached.”
Giving data its context turns what can be seen as a cost, the accumulation and storage of data, into a resource, information that can be used to make a decision.
“In order to be able to do that, you need to have a framework in place that allows you to pull all the different classes of data together, such that you can see all of that data in context,” said Smith. “And to me, that’s at the heart of the digital twin.”
Digital twins are a replica or model of a system or asset that can be used to take the information that a rail organisation has, in the form of data, to create insights, that are conclusions drawn from data and information.
“When you bring all this information together, the digital twin can tell you how as well and why things are happening, and it can give you contextual history,” said Smith. “The digital twin can give you design intent information that you wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise, as well as the as-constructed record. Critically, a railway is a system, it’s not just a set of isolated components, and what a digital twin allows us to do is understand specifically the relationships between those components and how they can be affecting each other.”
While digital twins are widely used in many fields, including construction and manufacturing, they have a distinct role to play when it comes to the maintenance and management of rail assets. As the complexity of operating a railway requires various departments covering different skills and mandates, applying a digital twin can overcome the data and organisational silos. Smith, who has been working in the rail industry for over 20 years, highlights one way in which this can be applied.
“For anywhere that’s got overhead electrification for example, if you’re on ballasted track you can move the track from side to side through maintenance, but you need to maintain the relationship with the overhead wires, but these are often managed by two different teams. The digital twin will manage by design the relationship between the two. The maintenance records, where you’re going to go, and the type of maintenance you’re doing means that there is a chance that you will actually introduce a change to the overhead wire relationship. Therefore, you need to tag that work order as needing somebody to go out and actually measure the overhead wire relationship as well, whereas historically that relationship wouldn’t be as tightly coupled.”
DESIGNING A RAIL-BASED DIGITAL TWIN Getting to this level of maturity with a digital twin takes a deep understanding of how a rail network operates and how best to design a digital twin that fits the reality of a rail organisation. Bentley, as part of its portfolio of solutions in the rail and transit space, has experience working with rail operators around the globe to design and deploy digital twins. From this experience, Smith highlights, the usual understanding of what a digital twin is can be re-evaluated.
“Normally if you think about a digital twin you actually start with a four-dimensional model, however railways often don’t think in terms of XYZ axes. They tend to think in terms of linear distances with lateral and vertical offsets and that drives the way that measurements are made, the way that inspections are made, but also the way that maintenance is actually managed. If you’re sending someone to go out and do some tamping along a piece of track, you don’t send them to an XYZ coordinate or a latitude- longitude coordinate, you’ll send them this many metres past kilometre post seven on such and such a track.”
With this in mind, Smith suggests that digital twins in the rail space can be more useful if they are designed to fit the way that railways are understood. Then, the data that makes up the digital twin can be overlaid on the representation of the network. When needed, for example at a station or in yards, this data can be visualised as a three-dimensional model, but linear visualisations may be more appropriate for a section of track.
To get to the point of having a representation of a rail network, a large amount of data will have to be collected and interpreted. As managers of an array of legacy assets, rail organisations can turn to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to sort and organise the vast streams of data, said Smith.
“One of the challenges that we see with a digital twin for a lot of brownfield sites in particular is that there are a large number of assets in place that are not being represented digitally. Being able to use image recognition or identifying features from reality meshes and then being able to put an attribution against them is a great use of AI to be able to identify where the assets are.”
With this data in place, the twin must be maintained and kept up to date. With networks spanning across hundreds of kilometres, rail organisations can use automated surveys of a network to provide the constant data upkeep needed.
With the digital twin now operating as a living representation of a rail network, defect detection can be done in a way that gets to a root cause, rather than just addressing individual issues. One example, that Smith describes is if measurement scans identify vertical deterioration. A digital twin would then allow for a cross referencing against other assets that are in place, to see if there is a culvert on that section of track.
“Then I’m not going to send a tamper out,” said Smith. “The first thing that I’m going to do is send a crew out to inspect a culvert to see if it’s collapsing over time. The next thing I might want to do there is ask, if I’ve got twin track, am I seeing the same deterioration on both tracks? Normally they’d be considered in isolation, separate from each other. Then I would ask, has any maintenance taken place at this region? That’s not just maintenance of this asset, but all maintenance records, so I could say, ‘Hang on, someone actually went in there and did some maintenance work on the drainage in-between, but it happens to be in an area that’s close enough that it could’ve had an unexpected knock on onto the condition of the track.’”
These kinds of insights can only be gained through the kinds of insights a digital twin is able to offer, by bringing together disparate data and putting that data into context.
DRIVING THE SOLUTION While a digital twin may seem like a laudable goal on its own, according to Smith, the implementation of such a tool only makes sense when a rail organisation has identified what are the issues that it needs to solve.
“The driver here is not a technology change. The driver is to change the way of working, so an organisation has to first understand its current working practices, where the efficiencies and inefficiencies are, where the limitations and constraints may be, and then we can understand the aspirational state, where they actually want to be at some stage in the future.”
Implementing a digital twin begins with understanding the process of going from a current state to an aspirational state in the future. Rather than jumping in straight to a predictive maintenance solution, the first step may be to identify where the current most significant issue is, with a plan or vision to have a predictive system at a point in the future. Understanding where the technology is going to be implemented comes down to working with the people who are going to be using the software.
“It is absolutely critical that those people are engaged right from the outset, not just the management but the end users,” said Smith.
To get people on board, Bentley has used model offices where representative users are invited to be involved in the design process and give their insights into the particular challenges they face.
“Then there’s buy in,” said Smith. “There’s engagement at that side, which means that the final product is a tool that the engineers have designed and set up to help them do their job better that means they’re positive about the tool and they’re positive about the process change that’s in place to be able to do it.”
Rather than success looking like a piece of software that is installed to contract specifications, Smith outlines how in developing a success plan for the implementation of the software, the outcome is about delivering value.
“Owner operators of railways aren’t installing these systems because they like technology. Technology is an overhead to them – it’s a cost, an expense, and it’s a risk, so the only time that it’s worth doing is when they can show that the value is greater than the cost associated with it, so what we’re moving to is making sure that the focus is now on the value to the users instead,” said Smith.
“You can look into the future and run ‘what if’ scenarios. So, I’m going to increase the tonnage over a particular length of rail and I’m going to run a simulation of what that’s going to do to my rail replacement strategy that I have in place. We can use AI on top of this to look both tactically how do I optimise right now, where do I best spend money, but also starting to look further out by running simulations and trying to predict what the impact the change is going to have.”
This value can be defined in any number of ways, but as Smith highlights, it is the process of creating insights out of data.