The growing rolling stock market constantly requires new technologies for more passengers. Manufacturers are put under high time pressure. Yet planning rail vehicles is a demanding task that is not only difficult due to the complexity of the product itself but also because of many external factors. The conditions are not comparable, neither to those of the automotive industry, nor to those of plant construction. A process digitalised throughout, from planning a vehicle to optimising and operating it, can facilitate things a great deal.
The rail vehicle industry is rather exceptional compared to other areas of technology. Other than in the automotive sector, vehicles need to match the rail network and suit the individual requirements of the customers. This does not only concern the gauge or the line voltage but also refers to other aspects, like the systems of track control that are in use or the question of whether and how the track is electrified. Manufacturers must heavily customise their products according to the demands of the respective market.
Optimised lifecycle costs and environment gain importance
Environmental aspects also become increasingly significant. Diesel locomotives are under fire because of their exhaust emissions. However, so far not all railroad networks have been electrified. Trains are moreover expected to become quieter and cause less coarse dust. Due to these demands, new vehicles need to be purchased or the ones present have to be retrofitted and modernised with high expenditure. Making changes within an existing train system is not only challenging from a technical perspective but also regarding certification, since this process can take longer than construction itself. Additionally, evermore passengers want convenient extras like Wi-Fi on the train. In this respect train manufacturers and operators need to upgrade the systems while facing problems of certification, too.
Connecting the cables: lots of effort and risk
Even when leaving aside the time-consuming certification process that differs from country to country, the construction of a train is still highly complex. In particular, planning the cabling with conventional methods is extremely intricate. Manufacturers traditionally have to build a train prototype, thread the required cables into it and measure the lengths of the cables manually. This process is not only very labour-intensive but it also poses a serious danger to the entire planning schedule as errors within the cabling might come to light right on the prototype. For manufacturers in the rail vehicle industry, delays and long planning processes pose a great problem on account of the way the orders are assigned. Aucotec’s Key Account Director Patrick Gansauge reveals, “The need to react extremely quickly to highly diverse calls for tenders is a challenge for train manufacturers.”
More complex engineering with fewer resources
An interdisciplinary planning software based on a central data model saves resources and simultaneously allows for a considerably higher amount of complexity in engineering. With such software, processes can be arranged perfectly, spanning from development to individualised manufacturing to delivery on time. The software wholly represents the entire train including all systems and it serves as the only source of information (Single Source of Truth). Thanks to the digital twin and a bidirectional data exchange with mechanical construction systems, it is possible for manufacturers to plan without manual measurements on the physical prototype.
Modularity enables faster planning
There is even more to completely digitalised planning. Manufacturers can assemble a train quickly from already existing modular elements. This is a decisive competitive advantage against the backdrop of sudden calls for tenders along with gradually more complex rail systems. The digital representation additionally enables producers to plan later modifications. Since the twin is a complete reflection of the real rail vehicle containing all the alterations made, it can easily be used for purposes of documentation. As a result, lengthy processes of certification can be shortened considerably.
Still a long way off: Predictive Maintenance
Theoretically, continuous digitalisation could make it possible to use Predictive Maintenance systems in rail traffic, too. Yet currently, this is merely pie in the sky. For maintenance to work predictively, data about a vehicle’s state would have to be collected and transported to a central spot. “This would have to include many sensors and very powerful radio networks meeting a 5G standard to be able to transmit big amounts of data,” says Patrick Gansauge.