Digitisation of railway maintenance

The digital revolution is transforming all sectors, including the railway industry. The digitisation of maintenance tools makes it possible to collect incredible amounts of data.
These changes will allow maintenance processes to be redesigned to optimize operations and meet the challenges of the sector.
What is the impact of this digitisation on railway maintenance?

A necessary modernization

Initially, maintenance operations were organized in a reactive manner, when necessary. This was referred to as curative maintenance when intervening in the event of a failure, a weather incident or the need to modernize structures when safety was engaged. However, this method is very expensive since it results in train stops, implying delays and significant staff mobilization.
And yet, when maintenance operations are strategically organized and managed, they create value.

The digitisation process

The digitisation of railway maintenance provides a better way of predicting future risks and malfunctions thanks to new digital tools. It helps to better manage the rail network and its infrastructure to reduce costs and breakdowns.

The first step is to be able to monitor the equipements by installing connected sensors in different railway sectors. Data can be retrieved from infrastructures, stations, electrical systems, etc. The aim is to know the condition of the assets and to be able to identify variations in their performance.

Then, the collected data from the field needs to become ” smart “. It should allow the detection of issues or damage that could not be identified beforehand or that were not constantly monitored. The data will be sent to web platforms that will process it and thus identify malfunctions and send alerts.

The information obtained will serve to support future maintenance decisions. They make it possible to better organize intervention planning, anticipate new failures and prevent asset obsolescence. In all these cases, digitisation improves the efficiency in planning both daily and long-term actions.

While many companies have already passed the milestone, some obstacles may still be a challenge.

The barriers of digitisation

Digitizing the tools dedicated to maintenance represents a long-term investment. It is necessary to know what information to collect, and above all, to know how to use it later. It is necessary to understand these new technologies and train teams so that they can make the most of this data.

Digitisation does not replace the current maintenance professions but leads to their transformation. These tools will provide new information, and therefore data that will have to be interpreted. On the other hand, it is necessary to collect enough data to be able to switch to preventive maintenance first, before considering an evolution towards predictive maintenance. The relevance of the information reported will be greatly enhanced thanks to the teams’ knowledge of the business and will thus constitute an important aid to the decision-making of these people.

Long-term benefits

The digitisation of maintenance will have many benefits in different areas of maintenance application.

Thanks to predictive maintenance, we will be able to target assets that requires maintenance at the most appropriate time. This leads to better management of agents and teams in the field, limiting wasted time. In addition, real data collected remotely and in real time can also improve the safety of field workers. They can reduce their travel to high-risk locations such as track edges or proximity to high voltage lines.

The optimization of maintenance operations also results in a reduction in rolling stock downtime and therefore a significant cost reduction. This leads to an improvement in train regularity thanks to real-time information collected. These improvements will be of immediate benefit to passengers and users.

The digitisation of maintenance is therefore an advantage in the competitiveness of companies thanks to the savings generated on digitised processes. It has become a necessary need in the modernisation of the railway industry. To ensure the successful implementation of these digital tools in companies, it is necessary to combine ambition and pragmatism by advancing step by step in these transformations with the support of the teams concerned.