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Your Transit Infrastructure Is Talking. Are You Listening?

Jul 24, 2019
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Real-time visibility into the health of your infrastructure. Improved asset reliability. Prolonged asset life. Decreased costs from fewer component failures. Sounds pretty good, right?  Those are among the benefits to transit of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) revolution that is underway.   

What started out years ago as simply “telematics” (sensors communicating data/faults to another system) is now envisioned as a larger network of IIoT devices that monitor and analyze data to deliver powerful business insights.  For transit Maintenance divisions, IIoT is seen as a catalyst to evolve the industry from standard, fixed (time/mileage) maintenance to the new condition-based (CBM) and predictive (PdM) paradigms.  While this “holy grail” of asset management has remained elusive for most agencies, at long last, the conditions are right for this sea change to occur.    

Rolling Super-Computers and State of Good Repair 

Today, a convergence of political and technological trends is driving the IIoT revolution in transit. The conditions are ripe for change due to the timeline imposed by MAP-21/FAST Act, which mandated that agencies comply with State of Good Repair requirements by 2018. The most significant trend, however, is technological.  We are in the midst of a “smart infrastructure” revolution, with more and more sensors embedded into new transit infrastructure coming online. New fleets of vehicles (railcars, buses) have become rolling supercomputers, capable of monitoring their own health in real-time. Leading agencies are embracing this trend to the point of creating the role of Data Scientist (in function, if not in name) to turn the growing mountains of IIoT data into “actionable intelligence.” While all of that may sound good, you may be asking: on a day-to-day basis, how does all of this help us to manage our infrastructure?  

Major Systems Alerts 

Telematics provides visibility into the condition of major equipment systems.  Common bus components capable of self-monitoring include: engine, transmission, brakes, retarder, and body controllers, to name a few.  

For railcars, a multitude of systems include propulsion, HVAC, door, and braking systems. But it’s not just rolling stock. SCADA alerts are commonly generated by power substations, interlockings, and elevators. A key benefit of tracking real-time fault data on all these systems is the ability to alert maintenance that an equipment failure is about to occur (e.g. conditions have reached a user-defined min/max threshold). This notification gives operations staff time to proactively swap out the component before failure, thereby avoiding the disruption to service. In addition to fault monitoring, operational characteristic data provides information to better understand the expected useful life of a system under your local operating conditions (switches/motors, can be counted for how long they operate before failure). This information is then used to optimize your maintenance intervals which are often based upon very conservative manufacturer-recommended intervals. So, how can you fully benefit from these advancements?   

Four Actions You Should Take Right Now 

Your equipment is talking - are you listening? Engage with your equipment vendors to tap into the telematic (condition-monitoring) data that may already exist with your current infrastructure (vehicles, facilities, wayside). If none exist, explore the third-party telematic options available in the marketplace. 

Second, get connected. Explore building interfaces to send fault codes from your highest priority systems (propulsion, brakes, elevators, SCADA, etc.), to your enterprise asset management system to alert maintenance and generate work orders.   

Third, don’t be afraid of the data. Over time, the largest gains are realized through a comprehensive IIoT approach involving analyzing patterns in the data. This is typically achieved by integrating your various streams of health monitoring data into a single system such as commercially available Business Intelligence, Asset Performance Management, or Predictive Analytics tools.    

Lastly, consider evolving your maintenance regime.  With a deeper understanding of your infrastructure’s health patterns, ask yourself, “Are there ways we can optimize our maintenance program?” Real-world examples include: switching certain inspections from fixed-interval (time or meter) to condition-based, and refining the frequency of selected services (increase interval for component rebuilds, etc.).   

Vehicle telematics/IIoT is something your maintenance division should be investigating now.  Reaching this “holy grail” may feel like a lofty goal, but real-world gains are within reach if you just listen more closely to what your infrastructure is telling you. 

How can vehicle intelligence technology benefit your enterprise, not just your maintenance department? Read the second blog in our Telematics series here

Brett Koenig is the Industry Solutions Manager for the Trapeze Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solution in use by over 80 public transit organizations in North America (including Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Denver and Seattle). Brett has 17 years of experience implementing public transit and rail asset management systems. As the Solutions Manager for EAM, Brett advises customers on industry trends (e.g. State of Good Repair/MAP-21) and speaks at conferences about how a transit-focused EAM system can yield real-world efficiencies and measurable cost savings.
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