As the process of digitalization in North American rail freight gathers pace, we discover how connecting freight railcar air brake data to cloud analytics can change the industry. Here’s an example of how it will drive efficiency and deliver rail and cargo applications that industry participants need.
Transport providers and supply chain stakeholders require visibility and accountability. Cargo owners and shippers want guaranteed delivery of their goods “on-time and in-full.” Rail fleet operators, repair workshops and transport hubs need accurate data to manage operations, optimize maintenance, service availability and product lifecycles. All this requires better data.
RailPulse is a coalition of forward-thinking railcar owners who have joined together to facilitate the adoption of GPS and other telematics technology across the North American railcar network to increase visibility, efficiency and safety. Nexxiot is an established IoT and analytics provider that’s working with North American rail operators and RailPulse to digitalize transport assets.
What Are Connected Brakes?
A typical U.S. railcar has a GRL (gross rail load) of 286,000 pounds (fully loaded) and weighs around 40,000 pounds pounds when empty. A unit train can consist of more than 100 railcars. With each loaded car weighing up to 143 tons, the entire train can weigh more than 14,000 tons and yet travels at speeds up to 50 mph. This needs some serious stopping power. The low rolling resistance of rail wheels, the weight of the rolling assets, plus the need to safeguard the public and civil infrastructure, means this is a topic of vital importance.
New York Air Brake (NYAB) is a world leading manufacturer of rail freight braking systems. As part of the Knorr-Bremse group, NYAB ranks among the global forces that are driving the shift to sustainable transportation and next-generation mobility. Megacities are expanding and efficient freight transport is desperately needed.
Properly functioning air brakes are essential to safe railroad operations and need proper maintenance to ensure a successful mission every time a train departs for a destination. Currently, aside from analog pressure gauges in the locomotive cab, brake systems on freight cars don’t provide much data to support critical decision making to optimize their lifecycle. But with connected brakes that send data for processing in the cloud, all kinds of improvements are possible. The new cooperative agreement between global transportation digitalization company Nexxiot and NYAB is now making this happen.
The deployment of IoT sensors, data connectivity and Big Data analytics creates opportunities to transform working practices, redefine business models and automate essential processes. By connecting NYAB’s air brakes with Nexxiot’s digital ecosystem, NYAB’s customers will benefit from increased vehicle reliability, higher availability, optimized lifecycle costs and greater operational efficiency.
Most freight railcars have no native power source, but all have a pneumatic braking system. The digitalization of brakes is essential for automated brake tests and predictive maintenance. If a railcar air brake system fails in the field, it is very expensive to recover the asset and repair it. In the case that it needs to be repaired by a third-party shop, the costs can be prohibitively expensive. If a brakefails to release and the train departs, related equipment can be damaged, which means costly bills for repairs of wheels, bearings, couplers and other components, and rail infrastructure.
What it Means for the Industry
- Fleet availability and operational efficiency: One important metric that determines success and profitability in North American rail freight is the fleet “up-time” and the ability to keep tose transport assets in service and running smoothly. Brake maintenance, when done well, can improve the maintenance cycle of many related components and the general health of the asset. This means it can be serving customers rather than sitting in a shop. The advanced technology increases reliability and availability.
- Maintenance cost control: Brakes by nature are always wearing out. The rate of wear is dependent on many factors like the amount of stopping and starting, the weight of the asset and cargo, the miles travelled, the accumulative elevation, train handling practices and the components being used. To optimize parts repair or replacement, accurate brake data is required at a sufficient resolution to have enough context for advanced decision making.
- Workforce deployment: As it becomes increasing difficult to find and train practical “hands-on” railroaders and mechanical professionals to walk tracks in all weather conditions to perform inspections and identify defects, in remote places the need for new digital tools is of paramount importance. With remote asset monitoring, it’s possible to keep eyes on critical parameters like automatic brake testing from anywhere, and only deploy human experts when exact needs are understood. With the right information and tools in hand, a railroader’s work becomes more efficient and safer.
- Cargo received “on time and in-full”: The supply chain is under pressure with rising expectations from cargo owners and shippers. Stakeholders require maximum transport visibility and availability, and the knowledge that things can be fixed when they go wrong. With real-time brake and subsystem health reporting, fleet availability and predictability reach the levels required to make rail the preferred option.
- Sustainabilty: Rail has lost ground as a transport modality to road. Trucks offer predictable and reliable transportation of cargo across North America. In many cases, road works better for the first mile and last mile as roads go nearly everywhere compared to limited rail infrastructure. However, rail transport is between five and seven times more sustainable than road, using less energy and creating less emissions. To make this happen, trucks needs to be seamlessly aligned with well maintained, available rail assets. IoT sensor technology makes this a realistic and attractive option for shippers. Not only is it more sustainable, but it brings transportation costs down, making it better for everyone involved.
- Future decisions: Decisions about which components to select for maximum asset availability, minimal unscheduled maintenance and better Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) are possible with access to the right data. By connecting brakes and understanding their usage, it’s possible to improve the maintenance of wheels, bearings and much more.
“Digitalization of freight trains is critical for the North American railroad industry’s competitiveness and delivering exceptional customer service over the longer term. NYAB and Nexxiot, through their advanced technology and integrated system solutions, are perfectly poised to support this vision” says Ulisses Camillo, President and CEO of NYAB.
- Industry Thinking: Railroad industry professionals and shippers will understand that rail is surging in value as digitalization is deployed and new working practices are adopted.
- Methods and Capabilities: Resource allocation becomes empirical. Engineers with domain expertise will work with technology providers to optimize processes and make sure to get the most out of assets, components and resources. New digital services create value for all participants in the value network. Workshops, regulators, partners and customers need a stake in the data to improve their own operations and processes. Rail becomes more predictable as a mode and more attractive to customers, as it will offer performance and quality standards others can’t match.
- Partnerships: Infrastructure providers, subsystem manufacturers, technology service providers and supply chain participants will create new value by sharing data and offering better visibility. A new era of trust and innovation begins.
- Industry Culture: A more progressive mindset takes root. If there is a chance to improve things, to make them safer and more sustainable, the industry attracts new talent and creates more value for cargo owners, terminals, workshops and the supply chain beyond the rail sector itself.
- All Participants Benefit
By connecting air brakes with data, a unique live view of the real situation in the field is extracted from the information. Experienced partners like RailPulse, NYAB and Nexxiot can make sense of this data and use it to improve customer service. Experienced railroaders are especially important in this process. They get better tools, which make their lives easier and more productive. Railroaders bring their experience of the physical world to the technology, to identify new use cases and drive process improvement. This is essential to create wealth in the economy as it drives efficiency that benefits all stakeholders.
Daniel MacGregor is Co-founder of Nexxiot AG. He created and built this multi-million-dollar, digital supply-chain technology company from scratch. The company, he says “has a clear focus on digitizing mobile assets like rail freight and containers to create services for smoother operations in an integrated solution.” Daniel is a leading voice in the drive for sustainability and supports the creation of standards and applications. From hardware to information distribution and business-process innovation, Nexxiot’s clients deploy these solutions to differentiate their services and monetize digital insights. The company recently established a U.S. presence.