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The Data Challenge and Remote Condition Monitoring Opportunities

Efficient, safe, and profitable rail operations depend on several things, among which one key factor is the asset health of railway infrastructure. The most common barrier to ensuring good asset health is that many transit agencies and freight railroads don’t have an accurate/real time data about health of their infrastructure. This is a multilayered challenge, but it also uncovers great opportunities that railroads are now starting to tap.

In this post, we’ll share a few common factors causing lack of data and how to transform these into opportunities through Remote Condition Monitoring.

The Data Challenge

  • Aging Equipment

The data challenges can stem from age of equipment, although in some cases the older the equipment the more valuable the monitoring can be. Recently, our team noticed a series of failures (each undetected-and hence unreported) led to a situation where an entire interlocking was without power. Most agencies have different generations of equipment in the filed that makes it difficult to collect and consolidate data. For example, some agencies are still using transformers circa 1920 (True Story).

  • Upkeep of Assets

Our field engineering teams have recently been to locations that were so dated and poorly maintained that installation drawings and schematics did not match the actual layout in the field. This presented challenges with installing monitoring equipment but even more broadly raised questions about how this location was being maintained.

  • Siloed Departments

Some transit agencies face internal struggle that causes lack of data, e.g. one department could be unable or unwilling to share information with another department about work performed on a device that has implications for both groups.

  • Data Processing

Lack of process to support technology adoption is another reason that railroad companies don’t get around the challenge of generating or sharing valuable data. Data is only useful if there is a process in place to respond appropriately, so it’s critical that railroads focus not only on getting more data, but also to use the data to ensure asset health.

The opportunities and Possibilities with RCM

In the age where household items are transforming into smart things, we have a range of technologies that can turn railroad assets into an intelligent infrastructure. Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) is an amazing way to bridge the data gap that most transit agencies and freight railroads are facing. The opportunities are numerous, as there are thousands of devices where monitoring could be applied to provide an immediate return.  Following are a few of such opportunities to counter the data challenges listed above:

  • Monitoring the Existing Assets

Technology is now making it possible to identify timing issues with existing equipment that allows for maintenance workers to respond quickly when a track circuit is exhibiting poor performance or train stop motor is showing increasing resistance. The most common asset that we monitor are switch machines and they can also be the most valuable, when we get ahead of a failure we prevent a delay.  Another challenge we were recently presented with was the measurement and reporting of excessive vibration on device. Certain devices are not built to withstand force or vibration beyond some defined threshold; if you are unable to detect what actual force on the device, it is impossible to know if the vibration is exceeding the device’s tolerance. These are just some examples of how new technologies can help existing assets’ performance. Similarly, there are many other sensors that can report on the asset condition in real time and make it possible to keep the decision makers up to date on any critical asset’s impending failure.

  • Digitized Data Improves Information Flow and Asset Upkeep

The remote condition monitoring solutions also help departments struggling to break the silos through digitized record of asset health. The ability to monitor in real time and record maintenance activity creates a digital trail of all activity. This data can then be utilized by EAM (Enterprise Asset Management) systems as an actual log of device use and maintenance.

  • Accessible Technologies Improve the Process

Remote Condition Monitoring gives access to critical data and meaningful insights generated from this data through analytics. Moreover, the latest technologies employed by hand-held devices or the smart phones are an amazing way to encourage the technology adoption. These features make RCM a practical solution to the challenges of data processing and technology adoption.

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