Know-how, experience and innovation – maintenance activity simplification

The improvement of the rail infrastructure-related activities is strictly linked to the infrastructure maintenance activity and the railway industry is challenged by different problems, such as the intensification of specific requirements, traffic boost and the need to improve safety, bottlenecks, improvement of sustainability and cost efficiency.

Maintenance implies the optimisation of the life expectancy of fixed goods and improvement of the  conditions and capacity of the existing infrastructure through inspections, measurements, prevention of damages, repairs (but not replacements) or renewal activities.
Present at the Railway Days 2011 Summit, Nicolas Furio, Infrastructure and Electrification Manager, UNIFE, talked about “the improvement of the railway network capacity through a more efficient maintenance and in a shorter time span” as the new challenge that the rail industry is facing.
The Association of the European Rail Industry (UNIFE) is involved in two such research projects aimed at emphasizing the methods to boost the infrastructure capacity. The first project is called Predictive Maintenance employing Non-intrusive Inspection & Data Analysis (PM’n’IDEA) and the second, Augmented Usage of Track by Optimisation of Maintenance, Allocation and Inspection of railway Networks (AUTOMAIN).
The first research project, Predictive Maintenance employing Non-intrusive Inspection & Data Analysis (PM’n’IDEA), coordinated by UNIFE, has a EUR 4.9 Million budget. Representatives from the operators, industry and the academic environment have also joined the project whose technical coordinator is TATA STEEL. The project development began in 2009 and is due in May 2012.
The project objectives consist in increasing the use of infrastructure, expanding the life-cycle and reducing costs on the entire life-cycle of components and providing better safety services for both users and workers. The innovations of this research project include the intelligent collected data analysis system, laser sensors for on-board diagnosis dimension measurement, as well as control technologies for line quality evaluation.
The benefits of the PM’n’IDEA project resume to an improved visibility of the condition of key infrastructure components facilitating the right moment for maintenance intervention, the objective monitoring of the different damage levels and the visibility on the current condition of fixed goods, as well as setting future requirements for the maintenance budget. The image processing technique has proved its efficiency as related to extracting the features relevant for analysis and characterisation. Replacing traditional inspection, the “on site” inspection, with an automated visual analysis system, is a realistic objective proved by the results obtained so far through the PM’n’IDEA research project.
The second project, Augmented Usage of Track by Optimisation of Maintenance, Allocation and Inspection of railway Networks (AUTOMAIN), is led by PRORAIL, with the implication of representatives from the operators, the industry, the academic environment and having Deutsche Bahn as technical coordinator. The development project, estimated at EUR 4.5 Million, began in February 2011 and is due in January 2014.
The project objectives consist in the deve-lopment of new methods for infrastructure inspection, both on freight-dedicated routes, as well as on mixed traffic routes, improvement of the maintenance process efficiency and development of a new maintenance systematization and planning instrument.
The key innovations proposed by the deve-lopers of the AUTOMAIN research project include methods with increased infrastructure inspection and maintenance speed, development of new infrastructure components and improvement of the automated systematization and planning systems.
The benefits of this research will include reducing the maintenance preparation time, increasing the speed of the specific activity, programming maintenance only when useful and necessary, but also less routes to inspect.
The AUTOMAIN project proposes to adopt the best practices from other industries for the optimisation of inspection and maintenance activities (for example, motorways or the airspace industry). The project will prove the way in which the reference time allocated for key maintenance tasks where all activity on that specific infrastructure is stopped, can be reduced by up to 50%.
The AUTOMAIN project aims at increasing the maintenance of infrastructure under operating conditions. This can be accomplished by reducing the time taken to install and maintain infrastructure, which is achie-vable by identifying tasks that lend themselves to automation and then developing and introducing appropriate technology.
The clear objective of the AUTOMAIN is to transform railway freight transport into a much more reliable transport than currently through availability and safety by generating new capacities on the existing network.

[ by Elena Ilie ]