Interview spotlight: The benefits of ‘Internet of Trains’
In this interview for Global Railway Review Marcel Van Velthoven, CEO of ZNAPZ, explains that the emergence of ‘Internet of Trains’ can bring many benefits to the rail industry – particularly for bogies with flattened wheels…
What digital ‘health’ solutions are available for the rail industry?
The wider term ‘Internet of Things’ is entering our world more than we realise. Digital sensors are now applied to many pieces of equipment, supplying us with all kinds of information. It is now commonplace to have access to the Internet via our mobile devices, such as smartphones, and these devices can make use of this data to tell us, for example, what movements we made on a particular day and how that may affect our health. With the growing worldwide popularity of health apps, we are rapidly getting used to this. A similar ‘health device’ also exists for trains – in particular for bogies – although this may not be known by many people. However, with the huge number of passengers using rail transport today (1.65 billion on franchised rail services in the UK in 2015 (According to the UK Office of Rail Regulation) and more than 547 million in the Netherlands), we all experience the result of the improved technology.
How do these sensors work?
Trains are equipped with many devices, which provide a lot of information about the train’s health and performance. For instance, sensors inside doors can indicate their level of wear and tear and whether they are still able to close safely within the expected amount of time. Elsewhere, sensors in the water basins of toilets indicate if they can still be flushed and hence are sufficiently clean to be used. The list of how sensors can be used goes on and on.
What are the consequences of wheel flattening?
An important part of the train is the bogie containing, amongst other components, the wheels that are in contact with the tracks. It is because of the wheels on the track that trains have a lower level of resistance and therefore run more efficiently than any other form of transport. However, the wheels of rail vehicles are exposed to high wear and tear, which leads to ‘flattened wheels’. One can imagine that even the smallest flat surface on a wheel can lead to problems. Firstly, it causes the wheel to hit the track instead of rolling across the track, which in turn means that the track and wheel endure a higher force and results in damage to both elements. But where is this happening; at what speed; with what force; and what are the short and longer-term consequences? Rail infrastructure companies have extended the life-cycle of tracks by implementing sensors. These sensors indicate the temperature and pressure of the wheels passing by. This is combined with the load of the train and the temperature of the air. With this set of data, it is possible to identify which wheel on which bogie of which train is flattened and to what extent. The combination of this data supports the maintenance of the trains as well as the tracks.
So how do maintenance departments respond to this data?
Automatically, via the ‘Internet of Trains’, a signal can be sent to the train operator, informing them that a specific train has wheels that have a deviation (roundness) that is beyond an acceptable tolerance. This information can be fed back to the maintenance department, who then quickly plan and execute a wheel correction. This prevents further deterioration of the wheels, and because the deviation is detected early, the wheel repair effort is significantly less than if the flattened area had increased. If, for any reason, a wheel (or wheels) flattens quickly, the train operator can be advised to reduce the speed of that particular train, thus lessening further damage to the wheels and the track.
How useful is real-time information to asset health?
Wheel flattening is identified earlier than it would be with regular inspections, and this leads to longer life for the track. Also, in severe cases with limited inspection routines, flat wheels can lead to the track breaking, which could ultimately lead to a train derailment with very severe consequences. An additional benefit is increased comfort for passengers. A flat wheel means an uncomfortable ride. There are also lower noise levels for the environment as flat wheels make significantly more noise than round wheels. With the Internet of Trains we are able to assess the asset health of the train in real-time and take corrective actions early. Identifying asset behaviour and what is required to make assets behave in the optimal way is one of the core competences of ZNAPZ. Identifying which data is required to perform optimal Asset Management and making this data and the required analysis and models available to the asset owner and/or operator is our core business, in which we support rail organisations across the world.