Monday 21st Oct, 2019

Understanding the challenges of condition monitoring

Photo: MRD Rail Technologies

Electronic equipment manufacturer MRD Rail Technologies says the primary goal of its predictive asset condition monitoring system, TrackSense, is to give meaning to data to allow the customer to make data driven maintenance decisions.

 


MRD Rail Technologies has 30 years’ experience designing and manufacturing electronic equipment for the rail industry. Three years ago, it looked to capitalise on this with a push into the growing space of predictive maintenance and condition monitoring.

TrackSense, the system designed by MRD to carry out this task, has grown to now collect data and measure various parameters of condition in thousands of railway assets across Australia and in international markets.

In just three years, several operators throughout Australia and New Zealand are already using TrackSense, and it’s not slowing down: after attracting international attention exhibiting at Innotrans in Berlin last year, the Queenslandand-based company will exhibit at Railway Interchange USA in September.

Product Manager Yvie Hough says through a continued focus on listening to and communicating with customers, the TrackSense team hopes to refine its state-of-the-art approach, and help new and existing customers best take advantage of what it has to offer.

“The MRD team has been working closely with our customers to refine and improve our solution to provide a robust, easy to install system that is user friendly and provides valuable information to users,” Hough says.

Cost of ownership

Despite operational savings being a core benefit of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance systems, one major obstacle MRD has seen operators struggle to overcome is simply the cost of installing and maintaining a condition monitoring system, and the inflexibility of many common solutions available in the market.

“Some vendors charge exorbitant amounts for hardware and lock customers into fixed contracts,” MRD Managing Director Rob Gersbach tells Rail Express.

“The obvious downside to this is that should you decide to break ties with the vendor or they go out of business, you’re basically left with an expensive paperweight.”

Taking a different approach, the MRD loggers used in the TrackSense solution are not bound to that system.

“Yes, we offer a local or cloud server option for accessing the data, but this is optional as our loggers are capable of stand-alone operation,” Gersbach explains. “Our loggers log, process and alarm directly from the device without the need for external servers or software.

“This gives the customer total ownership and control of their hardware and data.”

Tuning for perfection

One misconception MRD aims to address is that a condition monitoring solution will provide maximum results from day one.

“When implementing a condition monitoring solution it’s important to understand it’s not a set and forget solution. It requires operator training, tuning and data input from the user,” Gersbach says.

To address this, MRD has developed tried and tested workflows to help operators get started with condition monitoring. The TrackSense team will also work with the customer to refine that workflow to their individual needs.

“Our auto-tuning feature will get you up and running fast and our teach feature will keep the system performing optimally,” Gersbach adds.

“We use shape recognition to identify anomalies, and KPIs are extracted from logged parameters and used to gauge an assets health and identify trends. All positive alerts and alarms are sent to the system’s fault library and fed back into the system to improve the systems performance. This library is also available for reference and training purposes.”

Critical to this is the use of machine learning to refine how data is analysed.

“The primary output of any condition monitoring system is data. Performing complex analysis of data collected from hundreds or thousands of sensors is a tedious and time-consuming activity, beyond the capabilities of human operators.”

By putting machine learning to work, Gersbach says TrackSense can help operators maximise the value of predictive maintenance while keeping costs down.

Local presence

MRD designs and builds hardware, and develops its software and applications locally in Australia.
Along with TrackSense, the company also provides EarthSense, a solution for detecting earth leakage; and RelaySense, a solution to test the condition of relays.

Its range of smart sensors collect data from fixed rail infrastructure, including points machines, batteries, track circuits and relays, as well as environmental, mechanical and portable assets. Measurements taken by MRD’s sensors includes current, voltage, pressure, temperature, vibration, and so on.

Contact: TrackSense.com.au

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