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By Michael Popke
The Internet of Things (IoT) enables railroads to use sensors, Big Data analytics, cloud computing and other technology to gather and analyze information from various sources. The aim: to use that data to drive efficiencies, better manage operations and, possibly, offer new services.
Every link in the railroad chain is riding the data train, including the mechanical department, particularly for predictive maintenance purposes.
What types of technologies can they turn to these days? Progressive Railroading recently reached out to a cross-section of rail-industry suppliers. Emailed responses from seven companies follow.
Amsted Digital Solutions, a division of Amsted Rail, offers a wireless intra-train communication system for freight-rail revenue service.
The system includes a low-power wireless network running the length of the train, connecting sensors on each rail car to the locomotive. Built on IEEE 802.15.4e standards, the mesh communications network employs a “scalable, self-forming, multi-hop mesh topology,” Amsted officials said.
Additionally, the network incorporates security features to ensure data being transmitted can only be read by authorized devices, has not been modified in transit and has been sent from the device it claims to have been sent from.
The system enables railroads to transmit critical time-sensitive information from each freight car to the locomotive; confirm the car’s condition, complete system checks and secure before departure; and provide prompt responses if an unexpected event occurs.
Lat-Lon, a BSM Technologies company, offers a system of universal sensors that communicate directly with its own solar GPS product line as well as a locomotive monitoring unit.
The Solar Tracking Unit 15K is Lat-Lon’s most popular product, company officials said; its solar-powered devices are designed primarily for non-powered assets and can be combined with sensors.
The customizable sensors can detect an impact or a shift in g-force, as well as tilts and variances in temperature, humidity and pressure. “The camera sensor is often used in conjunction with the hatch sensor,” company officials said. “It enhances the safety and security of the asset it is attached to, and can help determine the repair response time needed on the asset.” Meanwhile, the bearing temperature sensor can help railroads plan maintenance and prevent damage. The company’s locomotive monitoring unit also features additional sensors designed to increase locomotive lifespan and productivity.
nVent offers an array of enclosures designed to protect sensitive equipment and systems from harsh environmental conditions, and railway shock and vibration.
The enclosure solutions are used in both onboard and trackside signaling and communication applications.
For example, nVent SCHROFF enclosures house computers that collect and transmit track measurement data. Equipment used to make these measurements is installed underneath and outside the rail maintenance vehicle.
“The nVent HOFFMAN products in rail are typically outdoor electrical cabinets and outdoor wall mounted/pole mounted enclosures — these have applications in trackside mobile WiFi,” an nVent official said. “[And] nVent SCHROFF enclosures aren’t just used to house track maintenance types of applications. They can also house train control electronics. Even with predictive maintenance types of applications, nVent SCHROFF has supplied outdoor trackside enclosure that relay data from locos (like fuel levels) back to dispatch centers.” The enclosures meet global railway standards, nVent officials said.
The company’s FullMAX software-defined radio platform is a private wireless network solution for mission-critical IoT rail applications — including wayside connectivity, mobile worker systems, and mission-critical locomotive and rail-car-centric MOTES technology.
The platform consists of Ondas Networks’ Jupiter and Venus hardware, and IEEE 802.16s software and services the company provides. Each FullMAX software-defined radio can provide up to four watts of transmit power (with a radius of up to 25 miles) and operate in frequencies ranging from 50 MHz to 6 GHz.
Built to the IEEE 802.16s standard, the FullMAX platform offers an efficient, secure and reliable private network technology solution that Ondas Networks officials say is capable of handling increased edge computing and processing capabilities in the narrow-band frequencies to which many rail operators already have access (including the 160 MHz and 900 MHz bands).
Additionally, access to multiple narrow channels allow for real-time connectivity with a larger number of connected devices, including sensors that monitor such critical conditions as heat, vibration, weight, brake integrity and more.
Progress Rail’s PR Uptime® Suite is designed to provide railroads with advanced asset monitoring by combining expertise from the company’s Locomotive Monitoring Center and Uptime Cloud for secure data distribution, storage and seamless systems integration. PR Uptime serves as a solution for the entire rail ecosystem — from locomotives and freight cars to shops and wayside communications, company officials said.
Uptime Connect allows for data collection and transmission, and Uptime Analytics creates “measurable value in the shop, in the yard and on the track,” Progress Rail officials said. Together, the suite of tools “forms a next-generation prognostic analytics platform,” they added.
The platform works seamlessly to integrate within existing day-to-day processes, offering advanced failure prediction and prescriptive repairs while processing data in an automatic, scalable way and storing it in a secure environment, company officials said.
The Wi-Tronix IoT platform designed for rail enables comprehensive data integration, real-time edge computing, dynamic connectivity to optimize communication, algorithms based on “deep rail knowledge,” and cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to drive results, company officials said. Offering more than 100 interfaces with onboard locomotive systems, Wi-Tronix offers customers access to all available data in real-time, regardless of locomotive manufacturer or third-party systems installed. Data can be “transformed into actionable insights that enable critical decisions to drive optimal results,” company officials said.
The company also offers Wi-Nostix™ — a service that provides real-time remote monitoring and alerts. When combined with advanced analytics, Wi-Nostix gives maintenance management and crews the information needed to minimize or avoid service disruptions, enable early detection, and achieve maximum availability and reliability, company officials said.
ZTR Control Systems’ Railway IoT solutions can be applied to a full fleet of locomotives, rail cars and other railway assets, “providing a holistic view of the railway,” company officials said. ZTR provides complete locomotive health and diagnostics, regardless of OEM or control system.
Consolidated data provided from Locomotive Electronic System Architecture enables railroads to develop insights that drive maintenance planning and operational efficiencies. ZTR utilizes edge analytics and aggregates data to help customers identify and understand equipment health and operational issues, while integrating the data into existing business systems, the company said.
“The predominant value of railway IoT for rail cars comes from accessing and utilizing the right feedback, which drives high-value maintenance practices,” officials said. “ZTR offers monitoring solutions that provide insight into utilization, efficiency and maintenance alerts from onboard telematics solutions that are easy to install and highlight what’s important — the availability, reliability, safety and maintainability of rail-car fleets.”
From locomotives and rail cars to maintenance of way and all on- and off-track equipment, advanced IoT services and solutions for all railroad assets are delivered through ZTR’s ONEi3 platform.
Michael Popke is a Madison, Wisconsin-based freelance writer. Email comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.