With the advent of connectivity and intelligent onboard data collection, the aerospace sector’s servitisation model looks set to transform performance in the rail sector. JUSTIN SOUTHCOMBE shares his views

From the station platform to the trains and the track they run on, the rail industry is undergoing a slow, but very real, digital transformation. It is, in part, driven by consumer demand for connectivity and today’s desire for information 24/7. Consumers now manage vast chunks of their lives from their mobile or tablet, not to mention most aspects of their rail journey. From booking tickets to remotely controlling home heating and lighting before they even arrive home, the passengers’ expectation is growing.

The wider angle view
To see how far we have come in such a short space of time, think how the passenger experience has changed in just a few years; stations have become a hub of information, a place to connect, work, shop and meet. Business passengers now expect the stations they use, and the trains they catch, to be extensions of their mobile office, with Wi-Fi and network connections increasing their productivity. An excellent service with the train being on time may not even be noticed if a train operator’s Wi-Fi system is not working or non-existent.

Couple these consumer expectations with fast development in technological and data analytics and you can understand why many in the rail industry see the potential for transformation. Manufacturers are digitising their factories, products are becoming intelligent and data is beginning to be seen as a powerful tool with which to transform services to better suit our habits, or offer us new services we never thought we needed. The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the world: as the connectivity of sensors, technology, communications and software combine, they produce the rich data which can be used to offer new services, monitor usage, manage stations, service demand and so on. This could include the remote condition monitoring of the trains and track they travel on, the collection and analysis of passenger flow information, managing, automating and changing timetables, controlling passenger activity and optimising station operations.

All these advances are already being explored, but the time when trains can self-monitor and act ‘intelligently’ is already here and in service with train operators around the world. Exploiting the key features of the IoT, connectivity and reduced need for human intervention, Perpetuum has developed and implemented this new technology to provide constant, real-time ‘inflight’ monitoring and diagnostics. This data is turned into clear actionable information about the health of the train on a daily basis by software algorithms which alert train operators of impending problems many months in advance. It’s an approach that’s already commonplace in aircraft and it can now be transferred to trains.

The rise of the intelligent bogie
It’s not science fiction; train operators are already using information collected by remote condition monitoring to drive down their maintenance costs and drive up their availability. In fact, we are now in a position to see how products like bogies and wheelsets work as a system, not just on the performance of its component parts. We are at a point where a bogie can now become truly intelligent, collecting and sending data instantly on its condition.

This data can be used to predict failures, increase asset management efficiencies and improve safety, meaning more time on the track for the bogie and a better chance of meeting the increased demands train operators face. The Rail Supply Group (RSG) predicts that by 2020 we’re going to see 20 per cent more passengers using the railways. Transport For London (TFL) is also pursuing 24-hour operations and the requirement for trains and availability is moving significantly upwards.

Improving on rail maintenance
Most current rail maintenance regimes are mileage or time based, which means maintenance is done regardless of condition, resulting in both massive waste and unpredictable breakdowns. Looking specifically at wheelsets and bogies, the global industry spends about £8 billion worldwide every year replacing wheelset and bogie components using largely hard-time maintenance cycles. With condition monitoring, train operators can do maintenance only when necessary. They are not risking being caught out because damage is reported in real time before it causes danger or delays.

Perpetuum’s system uses the vibrations in the train to generate enough power for the sensors, microprocessors and wireless transmitters. Self-powered vibration condition monitoring can be used on bearings, motors, gearboxes and, currently with Network Rail, it is being used to monitor track condition too through the critical wheel/rail interface.

It has been fully deployed on the trains of one of the UK’s largest train operators, Southeastern Railways. In Kent alone, over 1.8 million data points are monitored per day. Over 1 billion service kilometres from more than 5,000 sensors have been scrutinised on over 600 cars across 1500 miles of track in the South East of England. This means significant statistical models are produced upon which to build and create powerful life cycle management processes, enabling asset managers across the rail industry to save cost, increase safety and plan more efficiently.

Furthermore, a fleet of Turbostars have been deployed with the system on the adjacent Sussex network with the respective train operator, Southern, and Scotrail are installing on their 120 Xtrapolis cars in Scotland. over 9,000 sensors have now been deployed on fleets around the world and on a growing portfolio of bogie components including motors, gearboxes, wheels and bearings allowing them to monitor the vehicle, the ride and the track condition. Operators are seeing at least 60 per cent increase in the mileage they’re getting from their bogies. After 12 months of development work with Network Rail, Perpetuum also secured a contract to provide track condition information for the Kent route, calculated using vibration data from thousands of wheelsets on Southeastern’s C375 and C376 Electrostar trainsets.

Following in the footsteps of aviation
As the technology and data allows us to create an intelligent system on every bogie, we have the potential to fundamentally transform parts of the rail supply chain in much the same way as the aviation industry did back in the 1990s. The aircraft industry experienced a fundamental change in the sourcing and purchasing of its key products. Pressure was brought to bear on jet engine manufacturers by airline operators to explain and fully understand why their engines were not performing as well as the reliability specifications had outlined in their contracts with airlines.

Over 10 years, jet engine manufacturers such as Rolls-Royce created a robust, constructive, conditionbased maintenance strategy, which they then deployed. It was not simply a technological achievement alone, but a commercial one too and a new business term was coined: servitisation.

Rather than being merely a business school theory confined to textbooks, Rolls-Royce completely transformed and adopted servitisation as a new business model. Today it advertises 65 per cent of its business around aftersales service and maintenance, with the slogan Power-by-the-hour. It was truly a transformation, where the interests of the manufacturer and its clients became much more closely aligned, and the Tier1 OEMs like Airbus and Boeing have had to adopt and follow.

The future for rail?
Procurement moved away from its focus primarily on new build engines. Rather, the engine manufacturers’ interests now lie in the business of keeping jets in service, in the sky. This servitisation model drives and rewards performance, performance that can be measured simply and easily in passenger numbers, and by the number of hours an engine is flying, servicing and meeting efficiency targets. Much of the new information that has enabled this model to be successfully deployed comes from the extensive remote condition monitoring that was carried out in the early years on the jet engine system.

There is an opportunity for the rail industry to learn from the servitisation model. The ability to utilise existing condition monitoring technology, in a similar fashion to the aircraft industry, to save cost and create truly intelligent products is within reach, but it is a transformation which will take understanding and coherence from suppliers and clients within our supply chain.

Train operators are already beginning to create intelligent bogies, collecting valuable data at a component level which have been proven to save cost and keep rolling stock rolling for longer, meeting passengers’ service expectations. As we move forward, technology will enable us to reach a point where we no longer see gearboxes, motors, brakes and wheelsets as separate components, but truly as an integrated bogie system.