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Remote condition monitoring optimises performance

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Knowing how trains are performing, and what may be wrong with them, is crucial as operators strive to improve fleet reliability

The ability to monitor how locomotives and trains are performing, as well as how their drivers handle them, gives train and freight operators an important tool in increasing performance and ensuring that passengers and cargo get to their destinations on time – every time.

Despite all of the recent purchases of new train fleets, which are being introduced around the country, the average age of the national train fleet is still nearly 20 years old. There has therefore never been a better time for train operating companies to get a handle on reliability, to ensure passengers continue to arrive at their destinations on time.

Any breakdowns when in service could be costly in terms of time, reputation, money and experience of the engineering staff, who may be not as familiar with the nuances of older rolling stock, so ensuring trains remain fully functioning is critical.

This is where 3Squared’s retrofitted Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) system – which is part of the firm’s Railsmart suite of tools – comes in perfectly, as, with streams of data being fed through older rolling stock, train operators can be proactive with maintenance, rather than being reactive once something has gone wrong.

RCM allows customers to monitor more than 100 data channels in real-time, enabling them to keep track of their trains even when they are in remote parts of the country.

Examples of how RCM has helped clients include:

  • Passenger and freight train operators (TOCs and FOCs) being able to set trigger alerts when certain data channel conditions are met in order to take proactive measures, such as warning when a locomotive is running low on fuel or coolant, helping to save time and money from reactive measures. Incidents can be analysed using a customisable graph and raw data can be exported for further analysis.
  • RCM has been able to identify faulty sensors on older locomotives ahead of time, saving the amount of time a locomotive is out of action – and therefore not earning money – while another client has been able to identify instances of vehicle idling following data analysis, which helped to boost the case for introducing stop/start technology.
  • In the case of an incident, time can be saved attributing root cause, as access to RCM has meant incidents can be investigated immediately, without the need to physically download data from the loco with the ability to search RCM at the point of an event/trigger, saving around three hours of analysis on average during an investigation.
  • A trigger can identify when a battery has been left on overnight, mitigating instances when an older vehicle cannot run a service the next day due to a flat battery.

The system captures data from older locomotives and units in real-time, however, fleet managers can also look over historical information in easy-to-understand graph and table formats, allowing managers to pinpoint exactly when and where incidents occurred.

In addition, alerts can be created – for instance, if the oil pressure is less than x then the relevant parties can be informed automatically, helping to save time when diagnosing faults and problems.

Employees too

But it isn’t just rolling stock that RCM helps stay on track, as 3Squared’s Employee Development System (EDS), also part of Railsmart, reduces the administrative burden of employee competency management, enabling rail companies to manage and optimise employee performance.

RCM integration into EDS provides the following benefits for customers:

  • managers can view driver irregularities for a given time, for example, 09;00-18;00, today, last week or last month, all in one place, to assist with competency management;
  • managers can keep track of driving irregularities including speeding, adherence to signal advisories, throttle notch usage and emergency brake usage;
  • managers can build reports on driver performance by depot and region;
  • RCM graph views can be used during assessments to show the events leading up to an incident, while GPS can be used to view where incidents occurred.

Having doubled its turnover year-on-year in the last few years, and now employing a record number of staff, 3Squared maintains the entrepreneurial spirit and capability of a start-up but has the experience and maturity to address the needs of the complex rail sector. It can develop bespoke solutions for its clients, meaning that no job is too big or too small for its dedicated team of experts.

RCM is an award-winning product too, having been crowned with the award of Digital Technology Excellence at the 2019 Rail Business Awards.