Having revolutionised the way large amounts of information can be gathered perpetually, Perpetuum has become the world leader in vibration harvester powered wireless sensing systems
Established in 2004 as a spinoff from Southampton University, Southampton based Perpetuum revolutionised the way vast amounts of information could be gathered from maintenance free wireless sensor nodes and was originally focused on providing industries such as industrial and oil and gas with its award-winning, quick-to-install and maintenance-free technology. However, upon researching potential target markets, the company realised the immense opportunities available within the rail industry and made the strategic decision to enter the market in 2010.
An expert in vibration engineering, the company is able to supply a total solution to the rail industry, comprising of hardware components, operating software and an information service. In more detail, the hardware comprised of an energy harvester, sensor, RF transmitter and microprocessor; the software, meanwhile, gathers vibration data from the trains via the sensor systems that are transmitted wirelessly to the company’s database. This information service adds real value for customers as the company’s algorithms translate the raw vibration data into simple actionable information in the form of for example a Bearing Health Index and a Wheel Health Index. Data is reduced from 1.8 million sets of temperature and vibration data that is collected each day into a colour coded and numerical number to signify the level of condition. Automatic email alerts are then sent to the train operator when vibration levels move above set parameters.
“Our expertise is vibration engineering, which we use in two ways; firstly, we get ‘power from vibration’ so the sensor systems are powered by our proprietary vibration energy harvesters. The benefits of this is that as there are no batteries or wires involved, the system is easy to fit and maintenance free. The second area is the use of our vibration expertise to gain ‘information from vibration’ in a mechanical system; this is essentially condition monitoring and is of interest to the rail industry as this is not traditionally how companies operate maintenance regimes,” says Steve Turley, Chief Executive Officer at Perpetuum.
With the rail sector becoming the prime candidate for the company’s servitisation model due to the major benefits and potential savings that condition monitoring could deliver, Perpetuum began working with Southeastern and Bombardier to demonstrate the benefits of its technology to the rail industry. “The first deployment we did with Southeastern was actually with Bombardier Electrostar trains operated by Southeastern, so the first project was really a close co-operation between Bombardier, Southeastern and ourselves. We worked as a team to roll that out and demonstrated how quickly the equipment could be fitted; the company also had some issues with bearings at the time so we were able to demonstrate and pick out which were good bearings and which were bad. This trial resulted in Southeastern realising it could completely relook at the way trains in its fleet are maintained,” explains Steve.
Commercial Director of Perpetuum, Justin Southcombe adds: “The trial took around 12 months and Southeastern were so impressed with the capability that they decided to deploy it on the full Electrostar fleet.”
Looking back on this key moment in the company’s history, Justin continues: “We often win awards for innovation and are well known as an innovative company, however, the most innovative thing to happen in our history is the recruitment of the British Airways Maintenance Director as Southeastern’s Engineering Director. This HR move led to a major disruption in the organisation and allowed the business to relook at how it approached availability and performance. Perpetuum are helping with the maintenance side with an attitude of predict and prevent by giving information months in advance so planning can be done and fleets can be optimised, exactly like how the aviation sector operates.”
Since successfully trialing and improving its technology on wheels and bearings, Perpetuum is keen to diversify into other segments of a train’s operations as Steve comments: “We began with wheels and bearings but are now monitoring gearboxes and traction motors as well as tracks. To monitor track condition we measure the shock and vibration around the wheel, which is a combination of vibration from the track and from the vehicle. If we correlate this with the motion of the rolling stock and the rotation of the wheel we can get rolling stock condition information, but if we correlate it with its geographical position, we get a real time map of shock and vibration in the network; this will offer real-time visibility on defects that originate on the track, which is highly valuable information as it can identify problems as they develop.”
Looking ahead, the company is keen to take advantage of its strong position in a market that could greatly benefit from its innovations through strategic expansion into target areas, as Justin states: “The last two years have been about building on our success through expansion; so far we have gained contracts in the UK, Australia, the USA, Holland, Ireland and Sweden. We are also looking to progress into the next tier, which involves more traditional players in the industry, and are making progress.
“Over the next ten years I believe the railway market will achieve what the aviation market achieved in 25, with information technology becoming embedded in the railway industry, providing analytical capability and treating data with the respect it deserves. With the dawning of the Internet of Things in the rail sector the traditional barriers have been removed and the kinds of rich information Perpetuum is uncovering will be readily accessible to optimise trains, fleets and networks around the world,” Justin concludes.