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August 18, 2015

Remote Condition Monitoring in Railway Industry

In today's highly competitive world, Rail operations are highly dependent on the condition of asset. The Industry needs to strike a balance between growing operational costs and compliance to regulatory and safety standards while meeting objectives like punctuality and network speed. Being a major asset and labor sector, railway networks scattered over large topographies and going through difficult and inaccessible terrains with tough climatic conditions naturally makes the daily manual analysis and asset condition monitoring a cumbersome and expensive work. It also places those at risk who work under dangerous environments. Some assets need day-to-day and regular review to lessen the risks nonetheless regular manual inspections are costly. The question is- how to ensure a thorough maintenance works while still being cost effective in such scenarios?
Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) technologies through its potential to automate condition measurements and report asset failures of an asset have been helping the railroad industry to channelize their preventive maintenance and self-correction. The data gathered through the RCM has been a key driver of numerous asset maintenance decisions. It uses present and historical asset data to predict failures, before they allow condition based maintenance, which really reduces operating costs and improve productivity.

Let's take a case of train journey. Some railroad client like to forecast when the wheels are heading for failure beforehand, then they use predict and prevent approach which thwarts derailments. Here, infrared sensors can be situated for every 20 miles on tracks to take around 25 million temperature readings of wheels a day, check for overheating which is an indication of imminent failure. It can also have microphones situated on trackside to heed for rumbling bearings inside the wheels. Furthermore for big and heavy goods trains, it even records ultrasound images, tries to find defects inside the wheels.


RCM helps to achieve the punctuality and network velocity which are considered as Targets for Rail Industries. It also saves the time and cost involved in frequent inspections as it is an automated system which uses sensors for processing the conditions. It can provide uninterrupted services as it prevents the incident to occur by following preventive approach.

Let's take another example of batteries in railroad operation. One of the major uses of batteries in this industry is to provide an electrical backup to the mileposts alongside rail tracks. Now the major challenge for the industry experts is to increase battery life. With the help of remote condition monitoring by means of kinetic energy processes which is made by the movement of wheels can be used to revive the sensor batteries. These movements in wheels can be seen or measured by using mobile or closed-circuit television (CCTV) so that batteries can be recharged or replaced before their condition is detoriated. Statistical data is directly sent through fiber-optic cables which sends data back to data centers. There the intricate pattern-matching procedures that flag the defects and let the professionals decide in short span of time whether a driver should stop the train for inspection or to just slow down till it can be repaired at the next station.

Several prominent railway establishments are in progress to embrace sensor based expertise to monitor assets remotely to improve their asset managing abilities. These sensors differs in conditions, standards and comes in different sizes which are expensive and wireless coverage is still a problem since it does not cover all topographies. An enormous share or investment is required with the aim to create a robust communication support so that data communication is made consistent and reliable. Another major challenge for this industry is the lack of competencies in selecting and applying sensor networks for remote monitoring and communication set-up. It is always crucial to plan various factors such as sensor technologies, placement of sensor, collecting and handling of statistical data, information distribution, and data formatting, alarm monitoring, device supervision and maintenance among other things additionally to the volumes of the data generated by a real time sensor network.

In general periodic maintenance, the threat of failure is lessened by carrying out maintenance at planned intervals. These tasks include inspections, measurements along with interferences. If an asset or equipment fails, it is detected in the system due to prebuilt safety tracking in signaling design which implies that the assets must be verified before they can be operative and are signaled to the route. If it fails, the maintenance personnel is required to go to the site quickly and inspect and diagnose the error using his expertise and perform maintenance as required.

Many railways organizations have 0 level capability fixed as part of their signaling system. For crossings and switching, it is in the form of detection lines which will verify that a switch is in the correct end position and should the end position signal be absent then it is fair to conclude that the switch has failed to operate appropriately.
In the above scenario, the methods operated with level 1 capability in the system.

In Railroad Community, continuous discussions are in progress to find an optimal solution for all the above challenges, for instance few railroad industries are considering using remote technology for smaller and minute sensors. In future, advance nanotechnology will perform a main role in identifying equipment in the industry as most of the industry expects the knowledge of joining everything to create simplified and updated asset condition.

The RCM system measures important parameters on asset and concludes if the measurements are suggesting a healthy or a defective asset. If a defect is suspected to be found, a message is sent to maintenance personnel who inspect the asset and fixes it. This method is useful in detecting faulty behavior in an asset before any failure occurs which gives the possibility of correcting it at maintainer convenience avoiding disturbance to traffic.

RCM helps to increase the performance and availability of assets. Thus, RCM can prove a good solution for an improved and successful rail operation. The industry needs to diverge from traditional fix on fail to more preventive and practical approaches using RCM and it's time for them to explore in the direction of intelligent and effective infrastructure.

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