Products & Technology, Digitalisation, Uncategorized

Upgrading legacy systems

SIEMENS Nexas vehicles in Melbourne have been in service since 2003, with 72 sets (216 carriages) in operation, and while having an upgrade in 2016, much of the design has remained. It is a testament that many of the electronic products are continuing to provide service after all these many years.

But time marches on and after close on two decades, even these highly reputable units were found to be showing their age when it came to their programmable logic controllers (also called PLCs).

For a refresh, PLCs act as an interface with many of the onboard systems and a driver’s panel. For the Nexas they are based on a Siemens SIPLUS model which is designed for the challenging environment on board.

According to Eric Bougeois, country business unit manager of the Siemens Mobility facility at Port Melbourne, when it came time for replacement, some of the units were  outdated .

“We we reached out to our cousins in Siemens Limited Digital Industry Factory Automation for assistance,” he said.

Experts of both teams analysed the status together and found a replacement PLC from the S7 SIPLUS Rail Extreme Series.

Then COVID hit and the entire application development and testing was performed using simulation over MS Teams by engineers both in Mobility and Digital Industry Factory Automation . Having produced a functional like for like replacement, it was time to install and commission.

“Both Siemens Mobility and Siemens Digital Industry were able to test their systems even though not co-located,” Bougeois stressed.

When it came to the commission of the equipment the teams had to show some imagination. The solution was again found in cross -industry collaboration with one MTM team on the train and the two separate Siemens teams conducting all tests  via MS Teams.

“After successful commissioning the vehicles went straight back into service,” Bougeois explained.

“Having the processing power of a PLC in place it was then decided to further enhance the application and provide a logging capability in which the PLC logs every transaction to the inserted SD card. That means when a vehicle comes in for a service the maintainer can download the logs and take the necessary action even on transient alarms.”

Alarm aggregation

Siemens Mobility products and solutions development manager Steven Baker said many subsystems made modern trains complex.

“One of those subsystems happens to be the alarm aggregation system which communicates with many of the onboard systems and displays them to the drivers console,” Baker said. These trains were still in great shape but the data capturing capabilities need to be enhanced because technology evolves fast. 

The question is whether to continue down the path for which the unit was originally designed or, in contrast, to add enhancements to the system. The decision was to take the latter option. Baker said they were now well-placed to implement downstream processing and capture of alarms and analytics as required.

By putting in enhancements, the system can now  interface with a full analytics platform, for example Railigent. 

“It shows after all these years we can support our products and produce enhancements,” he said. “Siemens is such a diverse product family and can collaborate across industries,” he said.

One Siemens entity

Bougeois adds that they sought to be seen as one entity “albeit with multiple departments across Australia, but we always work together to find solutions for our customers because we have enormous breadth of knowledge and depth across multiple industries”.

“When we started doing development work in this area, we reached out to our digital factory cousins and worked with their development engineers,” he said.

“The work was done as a great team effort and this is one of the strengths of dealing with Siemens Mobility; you may be dealing with one business unit but we have access to new developments and solutions in other industries and know how to implement them.”

Bougeois said it was about more than enhancing the life of an asset.

“It is also about boosting safety and security for passengers,” he said.

“The first step is to monitor the product. That is what we do with the PLC.

“That way, we can predict issues.

“We prevent issues happening, we could prevent traction system issues and we get access thanks to the PLC.”

Siemens Mobility CEO Raphaelle Guerineau said teamwork and innovation were part of the Siemens DNA. 

“The technology-for-a-purpose concept is key to our Siemens strategy. Due to our collaboration with other Siemens businesses we’re able to deliver bespoke solutions for our clients in Australia and New Zealand and enhance existing systems,” she said.