Sunday, November 28, 2010

Automated asset management

Written by  Tom Judge, former Engineering Editor
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Sophisticated data collection methods, along with high-tech systems to read and interpret the data, help railroads maximize their assets.

Railroads are both asset-intensive and capital intensive. Knowing where and in what conditions those assets are, from rolling stock to sticks of rail or stacks of ties, is a big job, but new systems help with that immense task to help plan short- and long-term operations and maintenance.


Lat-Lon sells three GPS products to the rail industry as well as providing fleet management software solutions. These include: 1. Solar powered GPS tracking and monitoring units for railcars (STU); 74-volt GPS monitoring unit for locomotives( LMU); 3. 12-24-volt GPS tracking and monitoring units for equipment (EMU). This equipment includes hi-rail, MOW and company vehicles.

Features/benefits for each of the above are:

STU: Renewable solar power; more energy available compared to battery systems; more up-to-date information; low life-time cost; no battery replacement cost; robust sensing capability; three-axis accelerometer; know how, where when damage occurs; camera w/infrared capability; inform first responders with visual information; temperature; easy installation for wireless sensors; pressure; loaded/unloaded; hand brake open/closedswitch.

LMU: 74-volt isolated power; no add-on equipment needed; impact detection; monitor train crew overspeed couplings; four analog inputs; collect valuable status information; battery voltage; fuel level; coolant temperature; 12 digital inputs; flexibility to monitor inputs; engine run; throttle position; two control relays; emergency shutoff; real-time reporting and real-time data.

EMU: 12-24 volt power. Same features as LMU. Fleet Management Solutions: Mobile device support; view data in the field; alarms; get real notification of problems; dispatch; visual display of assets; export data; import into other programs; map displays; quickly locate equipment or problems.

“Our latest deployment was the STU camera system that provides a security role for Olin Corp.,” said David Baker, president. “The system provides real-time location reports as well as alerts shippers that the tank car has entered or exited a HTUA (high-threat urban area). The system monitors security and the condition of the tank car with an onboard camera that can capture visual evidence of the railcar. Pictures are captured when the hatch is opened or if an impact beyond a certain threshold is detected.

“The information provides increased security and safety by allowing the customer to act on a visual picture,” Baker said. “For example, in the case of chlorine derailment, knowledge of the car’s orientation could be valuable to first responders. If the car is being tampered with, then visual evidence will show the unauthorized intruders. Images can be taken during the day as well as night. The camera has infrared capability and can capture a photo in complete darkness without intruders knowing that a picture was taken.”

Baker continued: “Currently, the information provided by these GPS systems benefits many departments including operations by utilizing the fleet more efficiently; maintenance by monitoring car health data and mileage; safety/security by sending immediate alarm messages; and marketing/sales by providing location and ETAs.”


“At Mincom, Australia’s largest independent software company, our software focus is on asset-intensive industries,” said John Benders, vice president of asset intensive industry solutions. “Now in our 31st year of operation, we started out with the mining industry in Australia, which involves very remote and complex operations. As we supported leading mining companies with our software, managing the large asset infrastructures they maintain, we learned that mining companies also had water and electricity assets, as well as large rail infrastructures, so we grew to support those industries all over the world. Significant for rail organizations, Mincom supports both fixed and linear assets as well as rolling stock.”

Benders continued: “With our flagship product, Mincom Ellipse, we deliver enterprise asset management, such as managing maintenance of assets, making sure they’re up and running and utilized and available to meet production targets with the least cost and highest profit margin.”

“Workers must be out in the field, where the assets are, or in the workshop,” he said. “We work to provide enterprise information to these workers through mobile devices. This allows workers to get critical information remotely and plan work while they’re in the field.

“For example, some of our solutions allow workers with mobile devices to be out say, inspecting a track or a switch. While out there, they could see other things that need to be done, and begin planning that work and pass along the information through their mobile devices back into the system to be acted upon. If what they notice is a matter of safety or critical in another way, information immediately goes into the system and automation can take over to dispatch a crew at once. Mincom is involved in a paradigm where we deliver or design business solutions in which mobile devices are a big part of the delivery of the system to allow the people in the field to be more productive.”

Mincom recently signed a new contract with the transit system in Melbourne to manage both track and rolling stock. Other customers include London Underground, Amtrak, BNSF Railway, and RailCorp.


Wi-Tronix LLC offers its Wi-PU wireless processing unit, which is the hardware platform, the onboard computer. The event recorder interface provides all data wirelessly.

“Everything being recorded by the onboard event recorder is captured, then sent to the back office via the cellular connection,” said Fred Cozzi, vice president of sales and marketing.

The company has its own ultrasonic fuel sensor.

“When locomotives take on fuel along the way from DTL trucks, etc., some railroads use this system to see if they’re getting the fuel they paid for,” Cozzi said. “Some have caught people shortchanging them on fuel. The LDVR is Wabtec’s; we just provide the interface to it. We monitor the health of the system and provide video and snapshot downloads.”

The company can supply a locomotive digital video recorder offering snapshots and video downloads. This system helps in crossing incidents. We monitor for when the emergency brake is triggered. We send an alert to the back office, which allows the railroad to investigate and see exactly how the incident took place. Then the railroad can review the video to see what actually took place. Investigators can check the video before they go on-site at the scene of the accident.

The LSS (locomotive security system) could involve a fingerprint plus an ID card. An engineer would have to provide both forms of ID before starting the locomotive. This information is sent to the back office, which verifies and allows the individual to use the locomotive. This system also helps for crew reporting.

One Class I is using Wi-Tronix systems for emission reporting, with 2,000 systems on their locomotives, Cozzi said.

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