GS1

Project i-TRACE: Have you departed Station 5?

2020 is the year to get moving on the digitalisation of rail asset management and implementing GS1 global data standards under the auspices of Project i-TRACE.

Project i-TRACE encompasses a range of digitalisation initiatives including the standardised identification and marking of parts, components and assets in the Australian rail industry.

Rail and network operators, suppliers, manufacturers and contractors should now all be on board to ensure international best practice in supply chain management; the first phase of which is the joint initiative of the ARA and GS1 Australia, involving 11 steps, identified as stations in a visual representation of phase 1 of the Project i-TRACE journey.

“By now, everyone should have departed Station 5, otherwise they are behind schedule,” said Bonnie Ryan, director of freight, logistics and industrial sectors at GS1 Australia.

Towards achieving a national approach, at a minimum suppliers should have attended a workshop, established a business case, obtained executive sponsorship, joined GS1 and received their unique global company prefix to enable GS1 identifiers to be assigned to materials.

Station 6 encourages the attendance of a Project i-TRACE training session while Station 7 involves the actual assignment of compliant identification numbers to products/materials/assets, adding these to internal systems and informing customers of same so they can also add to their systems facilitating the beginning of data alignment between suppliers and their customers. Support is provided for Project iTRACE training through GS1.

Many suppliers have already arrived at Station 8, which is where additional data elements can be added, such as serial numbers and production dates that can be embedded in data carriers such as barcodes.

Having assigned GS1 codes and associated data elements to materials, the next step is to physically mark and/or tag objects so that they can be electronically scanned. Choosing a data capture technology is an important and crucial element (Station 9) and vital to enabling data to be captured at the point of use, whether in a depot or out on the network.

GS1’s Ryan said that Project i-TRACE provides a critical foundation for the industry to digitalise common operational processes.

“In a couple of years, i-TRACE will no longer be a project but will be a normal part of business.

“Knowing that we are all working towards end-to-end traceability as a common goal is rewarding. The benefits are many and include improved maintenance and repair operations, reducing costs by automating operational procedures and improving traceability,” Ryan said.

Early adopters achieve success
One of Australia’s largest rail networks, Sydney Trains, has been very active driving improvements in their business.

The suburban passenger rail organisation is on track to having all the parts in its Rail Equipment Centre marked with an i-TRACE compliant label. It has also been actively involved in the Project i-TRACE Material Master Data work group, focussing on the efficient exchange of Material Master Data across the rail sector; a process which is currently very manual or non-existent.

Thermit Australia, a supplier of aluminothermic welding and glued insulated joints, began the journey of implementing GS1 standards in 2018. It worked with Victoria’s regional rail network, V/Line, to help standardise the identification (codification) and barcode labelling of stock to help fast track the management of inventory at V/Line’s main warehouse in Lara and the company’s additional 33 inventory depots across Victoria.

For assistance on Project i-TRACE contact GS1 on: itrace@gs1au.org

GS1

Let’s get moving

2019 was the year to get on board with Project i-TRACE. Bonnie Ryan from GS1 Australia highlights the importance of standardising the capture of data and is calling on the rail industry to get moving on digitalisation.

The Australian rail industry is preparing to digitalise the management of rail assets for increased efficiency around the network and to move more customers and freight in cities that are becoming more congested.

Bonnie Ryan, director of freight, logistics, and industrial sectors at GS1 Australia said the entire transport sector acknowledges that a critical focus should be on data regulation. Rail operators and suppliers are increasingly appreciating the benefits that digitalisation brings and understanding the dangers of ignoring its possibilities.

GS1 barcode numbers issued by an authorised GS1 organisation are unique, accurate, and based on current global standards. GS1 Australia works with key stakeholders in the Rail industry in order to improve supply chain management and the use of standards and processes both locally and globally. Through an industry-wide initiative pioneered by GS1 Australia and the Australasian Railway Association, Project i-TRACE is enhancing the digitalisation of operational processes.

THE YEAR TO GET MOVING
2019 was regarded as the year of implementation for Project i-TRACE. The traceability initiative firstly involves standardising the capture of data relating to all assets and materials in the rail industry, and by doing so, ensures a critical foundation upon which the rail industry can build its digital capabilities.

“Last year it was time to get on board, now we need to get moving,” Ryan said. Despite current restrictions and challenges in the current economic market, she said the industry is still active and bringing its business needs to the forefront of discussions. The ARA Project i-TRACE rail industry group is aiming to improve supply chain efficiency and visibility of operations by developing and adopting GS1 global standards. Ryan said the industry group is collaborating to determine how businesses can best navigate through the current climate and what further engagement and support is needed to help the rail suppliers adopt data capture technologies.

Communication is key, according to Ryan, in spreading the message that technologies including barcoding and RFID tagging will be fundamental components to a more efficient business and industry. The Project i-TRACE industry working group are further discussing how the industry is progressing with implementation. Ryan said measuring progress is underway. Operators will be surveying their suppliers in an effort to see where they are at with Project i-TRACE implementations. There is a need to instil a sense of urgency to action GS1 standards.

INDUSTRY ADOPTION
Project i-TRACE has at its core a focus on traceability. Ryan said i-TRACE will be implemented as an enabler for systems and is a very important part of the future of the rail business.

The Australian Transport and Infrastructure Council has affirmed the critical role the freight sector plays in providing essential supplies and services. Rail freight services stretch across state borders, servicing finely tuned supply chains across the nation and are the gateway to global markets. Ryan said it’s more critical than ever to review efficient supply chain management.

Ryan said for the rail, freight and logistics industry it has been business as usual, however unprecedented demand and restrictions to regular operations has allowed open-minded thinking towards better risk management and safety procedures. She said from conversations with executives in the rail sector, more companies are open to talking about technology initiatives that will help deliver business objectives in the long-term.

“We are engaged with all of Australia’s major rail operators. They all have representatives that sit on the Project i-TRACE industry work group and they’re all very committed to better control their assets, reduce costs and enhance productivity,” Ryan said. Major operators have different work to do than suppliers, as organising their systems to accept new data that they haven’t had before can be a challenge. Ryan said that operators can learn from one another to see the benefit of enhanced digital capabilities, but they’re all at different stages and have internal processes and data systems to review first.

V/Line was one of the first to adopt and implement i-TRACE in its supply chain processes to help achieve improved productivity outcomes.

“V/Line was early to adopt GS1 standards and continue to see success, however I’m proud to say that all major operators also have their own plans and projects after rapid adoption last year,” Ryan said.

WHAT STAGE IS THE RAIL INDUSTRY AT?
Ryan said the rail industry can learn from other sectors such as the retail and food industry, who are charging ahead with industry-wide standards, guidelines and solutions.

“Rail is different because movement of fast-consumer goods doesn’t apply. However, you don’t see pens and paper in major food retailers’ supply chains. Rail needs to build on its digital capabilities,” Ryan said.

With significant rail infrastructure investments earmarked for a range of projects across the country, embedding i-TRACE in the early construction phases in these projects is critical to delivering cost benefits over the life cycle of the asset, and avoiding the need to retrofit digital capabilities at a later stage.

BUILDING RAIL’S INDUSTRY CAPABILITIES
Ryan said rail is adopting technology including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and autonomous trains. She said the back-end systems and data management needs to be as impressive as railway innovation.

Australasian rail industry manufacturers, suppliers and service providers want to see investments in infrastructure innovation and that will improve the efficiency of the wider network.

Ryan said in order to deliver front-end innovation, having a good digital grounding will be critical to effectively exploiting these capabilities.

“The rail sector knows the importance of digital capabilities, and that’s why operators and suppliers are engaged in i-TRACE,” Ryan said.

She understands due to the scale of operations in the rail sector, the process of implementing global standards is a progressive working task.

“There will be a tipping point in a few years. i-TRACE will no longer be a project but will be business as usual,” Ryan said.

A critical steppingstone to build on rail’s digital capabilities will be building an appropriate digital framework.

Ryan adds not all data is equal, people can be sceptical about where it comes from and if it’s accurate so the only way to trust data is to have good governance and a framework so that you can measure data quality. The accuracy and validity of the data plays a crucial role in furthering downstream technological innovation.

“Having good governance, framework and set of standards in which to apply and adhere to gives the industry the platform to achieve success,” Ryan said.

Right now, Ryan is encouraging operators and suppliers to identify materials, register with GS1 and put the unique GS1 compliant codes on materials and products.

“That is essentially the first step, to begin the alignment of data,” Ryan said.

Ryan is proud to see rail working towards end to end traceability. i-TRACE benefits include improved maintenance and repair operations, reducing costs by automating operational procedures and improving traceability which is fundamental for through life support operations.

The barcode revolution: Standardising the industry

Thermit Australia’s Andrew Carter tells Rail Express how the company is implementing GS1 data standards and why global standards should be part of normal business.

As technological initiatives coordinate the Australian rail sector, the global standards that shape the entire industry will allow organisations to realise significant benefits as they streamline their operations. That’s why the Board of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) is encouraging the implementation of GS1 global data standards across the Australasian rail industry to prepare it for its digital future.

For Andrew Carter, operations manager at Thermit Australia, suppliers of aluminothermic welding and glued insulated joints, it was a no brainer to start implementing GS1 standards and realise the vision towards a national approach of rail technology.

Carter has been involved in businesses that supply to the rail industry for the past 20 years. He took on a new role at Thermit Australia five years ago to manage operational interests. Carter has seen the industry evolve over the years, however, the biggest change to digitalisation in operations at the company occurred two years ago, when regional Victorian operator V/Line requested

Thermit to implement GS1 barcoding in 2018. Thermit Australia is one of 24 companies within the global Goldschmidt Thermit Group – a supplier of products and services for railway tracks. In the group’s 120 years of operation, this global standard had never been implemented before.

The Australian company was the first business across the international group to adopt GS1 barcoding. Initially looking to implement the standard as a standalone company within the Goldschmidt Thermit Group, the head office in Germany had also been investigating implementing GS1 standards across all of the group companies.

MODIFYING AND IMPROVING OPERATION
The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) is encouraging the industry to act on digital capabilities and automation of operational processes by using GS1 global data standards.

The ARA resolved for 2019 to be the year of building rail’s digital capability through a transformational joint initiative with GS1 called Project i-TRACE. The ARA and GS1 established an i-TRACE working group to help support the ambitious goal of rapid adoption of standardising the entire industry.

Thermit Australia had already implemented the GS1 standards, spearheading this initiative a whole year before the 2019 Project i-TRACE action plan.

Two years before V/Line had discussions with the ARA to adopt GS1 standards, the Victorian government-owned corporation was already having significant issues around tracking critical spares in the inventory of the company’s maintenance groups and project works.

V/Line consulted Thermit Australia to help standardise the identification (codification) and barcode labelling of stock to help fast track the management of inventory at V/Line’s main warehouse in Lara and the company’s additional 33 inventory depots across Victoria.

V/Line was the first customer that Thermit Australia had that wanted the introduction of GS1 standards, so the company had to undergo operational changes to its welding consumables labelling in order to meet V/Line’s product requests.

Carter said implementing a new system meant facing new challenges, but Carter said GS1 Australia assisted Thermit in understanding the practices for standards in the industry and building the system to improve data quality and barcoding.

“We knew we needed to adopt a GS1 coding based on a group wide format, so the key aspects of the project were to implement the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) labelling on products for our customers, with V/Line being the first.”

Carter said throughout the initial process of modifying operations to comply with GS1 standards, V/Line provided valuable feedback to Thermit, ensuring the company can providing a suitable format that meets their requirements.

Thermit Australia had minor modifications during the implementation stage, sending V/Line prototype labels for review before supplying the final GS1 barcoded products, said Carter.

“We didn’t have to worry about V/Line coming back to us saying our barcoding wasn’t in line with their expectations as we engaged with GS1 the whole way through the first implementation stage,” he said.

Carter said the open collaboration between V/Line and GS1 Australia helped Thermit refine the style and format of labelling, according to the guidelines.

“GS1 Australia were of great assistance to help us implement the new barcoding guidelines, they would look at what we produced and then we created prototypes and got valuable feedback from V/Line.

“The first trial run of product with labels was sent to V/Line at the end of January 2019. Following feedback, some modifications were made and finalised at the end of March 2019 to provide them the efficiency they wanted through product handling,” Carter said.

“I’m very happy we’ve been proactive in embracing the GS1 barcoding standards as a supplier to the rail industry. It was an expectation in V/Line’s contract requirements and it potentially is a tender advantage as more requests for GS1 barcoding are rising within the industry.

“Once we implemented the barcoding with V/Line we have rolled it out to every customer that continues to request it, expanding our GS1 labelling process to major passenger rail networks including Metro Trains, Sydney Trains, and Queensland Rail.”

DRIVING TOWARDS DIGITALISATION

Carter said engaging with GS1 standards meant developing IT systems that aligned with the standard’s automating operational procedures.

Thermit Australia has two operational sites located in Somersby, NSW and Clontarf in QLD. Somersby was the initial facility using the barcoding standard as the site manufactures and provides welding consumables and implementation.

“The existing label generation at Somersby was a standalone system that required the manual transfer of data from our Navision ERP system into the label creation software,” Carter said.

“We decided to make this process more efficient and looked into having the ERP software send data automatically to the label software to generate the new GS1 compliant labels.”

After the company engaged its inhouse and external ERP software consultant, along with label manufacturer Wedderburn, Thermit Australia established that a new label generation software was required.

The new software, called Bartender, was compatible with the company’s existing label printing hardware, making the implementation process smoother, Carter explained.

“Our ERP system needed to be customised to allow the capture and transfer of the required data to the Bartender software,” he said.

By the end of June 2019, the new GS1 compliant product identification labelling was rolled out, with all customers receiving GTIN labels on the weld kits.

Since then, work has been commencing on adding GS1 barcoding to other products, with the first crucibles to be supplied to the market early this year.

Carter said the Clontarf site where labels are manufactured to be attached to the rail and installed in track will catch up in time.

At Clontarf, the existing product label is an aluminium tag with stamped data, and through the second half of 2019 Thermit investigated options to find a solution to add the GS1 data to the aluminium tag, Carter said.

“Dot peening was pursued with a new supplier and samples were sent to GS1 Australia and V/Line for assessment, they provided positive feedback however there were reliability issues reading the tags in different lighting environments.

“The readability of the dot peen on the aluminium is not satisfactory for the scanners that are already being used by our customers, so we are currently looking at a alternative materials instead and this work is ongoing.” Carter predicts over time the rail industry will more broadly see the benefits of adopting global standards, staying ahead and being up to speed with current standards has improved the efficiency of operations at Thermit Australia.

“This implementation project is driven by the industry and remains a key priority for us, so we will continue to endeavour to meet the requirements of our customers.”

The entire transport sector is undergoing a technology revolution: GS1 senior manager

The Australasian railway industry continues to undergo significant change and businesses are being encouraged to maximise the opportunities from new and emerging technologies. The industry is preparing changes to digitalise management of rail assets, efficiency around the network and moving customers and freight in cities that are becoming more congested.

In 2018, Smart Rail Route Map was introduced as an industry driven initiative by the Australasian Railway Association to promote standardisation, integration and harmonisation over the next 30 years. During a panel discussion at AusRail last year, Professor Douglas Creighton from Deakin’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation said there has been tremendous feedback since the release of the final version.

“This is the bridge between vision and action and it’s time to connect the dots,” Creighton said.

Bonnie Ryan, senior manager of freight, logistics and industrial sectors at GS1 Australia, in the AusRail panel discussion, spoke about the industry having a drive to digitalise.

“The entire transport sector is undergoing a technology revolution,” she said. “GS1 Australia works with over 20 sectors, and they’re all at various stages of the shift to digitalisation.” She stresses the importance on the first step which is to “digitise data”.

Ryan adds not all data is equal, people can be sceptical about where it comes from and if it’s accurate so the only way to trust data is to have good governance and framework so that you can measure data quality. Ryan expresses the crucial role that the accuracy/validity of the data plays in the process of driving technology innovation.

“In the GS1 world we talk about data that is generated from the source, so if you’re providing traceability data, for example, it must come directly from the manufacturer.

“That’s the only way you can truly trust it.”

Project i-TRACE was named i-Trace for the purpose and context of traceability.

“The word ‘enable’ gets used over and over again, but i-Trace is implemented as an enabler for our systems and is a very important part of the future of the business.” said Ryan.

“Project i-TRACE is an initiative of the industry gradually coming together,” she said.

Furthermore, Stephen Baker, Head Product Innovation at Siemens said Project i-Trace has been an enabler for enhancing more than just supply chain management. Additionally, Ryan suggests that “having good governance and knowing where the data is coming from before allowing it to flow into your organisation is really important and the major focus is on visibility and traceability”.

Moreover, “there are hurdles to overcome for the industry to move forward, not just the technical skills but the way and approach to new technology,” Ryan said.

Ryan proceeds to explain that; although there are some fantastic data management tools in the front end for organisations to utilise in their day to day systems, there are still too many manual processes in the back end. As result, “we are constantly working with the industry to deliver efficiencies and deliver those benefits that will ultimately roll out better network performance and asset management practices”.