The Rail Sector’s Journey toward IoT-Based Predictive Maintenance

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4Q 2023 | IN-7162

As demand for passenger and freight transport increases, so does the need to reduce failures that lead to service delays. Technology companies are offering Internet of Things (IoT)-based solutions that use sensor technology to measure various parameters to detect failures before they occur, enabling more efficient rail operations.

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Worldsensing and Trimble Partner to Improve Rail Monitoring Capabilities


The greenhouse effect of gas emissions per kilometer on rail transport is 80% less than cars, making it one of the most sustainable modes of transport. With transportation making up 20% of global greenhouse emissions, addressing challenges in the rail sector is vital in the transition to a green economy. Demand for rail transport is expected to more than double in 20 years. This increase in demand alongside rail forming the backbone of a modern and green public transport system means addressing one of the most significant pain points in the industry, maintenance challenges, is crucial. Companies are offering innovative Internet of Things (IoT)-based solutions for various parts of the rail infrastructure, including the track bed, switches, crossings, tunnels, bridges, slopes, and embankments. Sensor technology can provide real-time data on various parameters such as temperature, acceleration, vibration, crack movement (in bridges and tunnels), load, and strain. This helps rail operators achieve the following:

  • Moving from “Maintenance after Failure” to “Predictive Maintenance” Strategies: With an increase in both passenger and freight travel, rail operators are looking to minimize unexpected failures leading to service delays. By getting immediate alerts when anomalies are detected, maintenance activities take less time, resulting in fewer delays.
  • Keeping Boots off the Ballast: Remote monitoring significantly reduces the number of man-hours in contact with the asset, helping rail operators minimize safety risks and achieve cost-savings in the long run.

Spain-based Worldsensing, is a leading hardware manufacturer for civil infrastructure monitoring projects. Worldsensing has just announced a partnership with U.S.-based Trimble, providing hardware and software services across multiple industries, including construction, geospatial, infrastructure, and transportation. The partnership will upgrade Trimble’s T4D rail monitoring software by integrating Worldsensing’s wireless tiltmeters to remotely monitor changes in track geometry. The value of integrating Worldsensing’s tiltmeters lies in the ease of their deployment as the wireless sensors can be installed fairly quickly, and eliminates the need for manual data collection on the track in the long run on one of the most crucial rail parameters, twist.

How the IoT Can Revolutionize Rail Maintenance


Switches are one of the most critical parts of the rail infrastructure, as they are responsible for about 20% to 30% of infrastructure-related delay minutes. Germany-based KONUX offers an End-to-End (E2E) predictive maintenance system for rail switches. The wireless sensors can be deployed on the track in under 10 minutes and have a battery life of 4 years on busy rail networks and up to 8 to 10 years on less dense networks. The device monitors parameters such as acceleration and temperature, and sends the data to the cloud once a day via a 4G connection. Alongside being able to predict when failures are going to occur, remote monitoring also eliminates the need for in-person inspection schedules. On a rail network in Belgium, adopting remote switch monitoring revealed that 66% of maintenance costs can be reduced.

U.K.-based Senceive offers a range of wireless remote monitoring solutions for the rail sector, including track, bridge, tunnel, and slope monitoring. Its slope monitoring solution includes tilt sensors connected to solar-powered 4G gateways. The sensors detect rotational movements that can trigger automated alarms and increased sampling when thresholds are breached. Senceive also offers 4G mesh cameras that can take high resolution pictures of the site when triggered by movements detected by nearby sensors. This gives maintenance teams a good idea of what they’re dealing with before they even reach the site.

Other companies offering IoT solutions for rail monitoring include Bentley Systems, Encardio Rite, Move Solutions, GEO-Instruments, GKM Consultants, Dewesoft, Sixense, Worldsensing, Campbell Scientific, Hottinger Brüel and Kjær (HBK), GEOKON, AVEVA, DEKRA, Hitachi, Trimble, HYDAC, and Siemens. Most vendors in this market offer bundled solutions that include hardware and software, with companies prioritizing investment in their software as they move toward offering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) that’s compatible with other third-party sensors as well. Worldsensing and Campbell Scientific lead the hardware segment, as they manufacture the majority of the data loggers used in the market, whereas Bentley Systems is an example of a purely software vendor.

Moving Forward: Turning Data into Actionable Insights


ABI Research forecasts 4.02 million wireless retrofitted sensors in the rail sector by 2030, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 19%. Increased demand, more frequent and extreme weather events, and constrained budgets are forcing governments and infrastructure managers to re-examine their maintenance operations as they try to enhance capacity and increase reliability.

As one of the fastest growing segments in the Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) market, technology vendors should take advantage of new technology opportunities to position themselves for success. Hardware innovation that leads to smaller, smarter, and more powerful “fix-and-forget” devices is important for the growth of this market. However, there is much greater interest on the software side with companies investing in software and looking to improve the predictive capabilities of their analytics platforms. Moving forward, companies need to focus on improving Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities to position themselves for success. The true value of the IoT predictive maintenance solution lies in the analytics that converts mountains of data into actionable insights. Strategic partnerships will be important in this space, particularly for smaller companies looking to scale. Bentley System’s acquisition of Blyncsy, an AI data collection company, earlier this year to expand its AI capabilities is an example of a step in the right direction in this space.


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