Digital technology has been transforming business practices and processes for some time and the Industrial Revolution 4.0 is having a huge impact on all commercial sectors including rail
The increasing expectations of passengers and government regulators are providing the impetus for train and network operators to invest in new systems and technology that will deliver long term financial and operational benefits.
The intent of the UK rail network could not be clearer, as highlighted by the launch of Network Rail’s Digital Railway which intends to bring technologies e.g. signalling, for track and infrastructure together, along with the procurement for each. This places a greater emphasis on a fully ‘connected’ railway, which requires a slicker supply chain to support it, and contribute to operational and maintenance efficiencies.
An example of such performance gains will be the ability to keep trains running for longer without disruption by minimising planned or unscheduled maintenance interventions, enabling service episodes to be controlled by condition-based intelligence.
Presentation at Infrarail
David McGorman, Unipart Rail’s Digital Director, recently presented the concept of an integrated Condition Based Supply Chain at this year’s InfraRail exhibition. The concept involves the seamless management of real-time data and information, combined with multiple data sources relating to the asset, to deliver increased operational efficiencies and maintenance savings.
David said: ‘For the train or network operator there are many benefits in having a condition-based supply chain such as maintenance optimisation and increased asset availability. By moving from scheduled maintenance to maintenance by condition or preventative based maintenance there will be cost reductions and increased efficiencies to realise in the utilisation of client’s workforce who can focus on vehicle and track enhancements.’
The Condition Based Supply Chain offers the management of data and information, combined with data sources from the asset, to deliver increased operational efficiencies and maintenance savings. ‘On asset’ sensors are one source of data, but other information can be used to help monitor and predict the need for replacement parts.
Instrumental web portal
Data analytics services in reports, or automated online, can be used to inform a predictive maintenance regime. The Instrumentel web portal – Paradigm Insight – is used to display performance data, deliver notifications on any device, and provide transparency and traceability of the supply chain network.
Crucially, Paradigm Insight is more than just the display of data – its powerful ‘back office’ server tools also learn the ‘normal’ operating parameters of complex technology and compare it against the expected performance. It also identifies ‘expected’ off-target performance (such as a person blocking train doors) and ‘profiled’ off-target performance (such as the first signs of motor failure) – meaning that maintenance is only triggered by a profiled (or unexpected) event.
There is, however, a wider issue where monitoring an individual component in isolation could give you an incorrect reading. With the complexity of systems onboard and trackside, the potential of system and inter-system effects are high.
Induced currents in components from power systems, insufficient shielding from system parts, or misread frequencies can cause apparent component off-target performance. Through monitoring all system components and layering the off-target performance to geographic and environmental (weather) data, Paradigm Insight provides a richer more accurate view of the asset performance.
The four ‘C’s
The use of digital technology to improve the effectiveness of the supply chain will have a large impact on the UK rail industry performance imperatives – four ‘C’s (Cost, Carbon, Customer and Capacity).
Cost reductions across the four ‘C’s:
- There will be cost reductions for maintenance operations as they become more focussed on replacing parts that are actually wearing out
- There will be less delivery vehicle movements as the supply chain is more co-ordinated to reduce carbon emissions
- The customer will have more reliable vehicles to travel on as work-teams focus on train and track enhancements instead of maintenance tasks
- There will be increased capacity as the trains are out of service less regularly.
The future of supply chains
Implementing new Digital technology is the only way that the rail supply chain can meet the challenges of the four ‘C’s. Existing systems need to speed up and be much more coordinated to reduce friction.