In our last article on the topic of wheelset management and its challenges, we looked at the details surrounding DIN EN 15313:2016. We focused on how well extensive documentation requirements can be managed with the help of digitalization. Now, this article highlights various details regarding the maintenance process of a wheelset and, above all, the challenges at the interface between the RU and the partner commissioned with the task of maintenance.
At the already 2nd RailVoice webinar on 16.09.2021, an international expert panel from the field of wheelset management will discuss innovations and approaches on how to increase the service life and reduce the life cycle costs of wheelsets.
“Reliable wheel profile measurement data are the key to predictive maintenance.” – Peter Lehofer, NEXTSENSE GmbH.
When it comes to wheelset maintenance, a rail transport company essentially has three options: The first – and almost completely out of fashion – option is in-house maintenance. Here, the RU is required to operate a fully certified maintenance facility. This is a very complex and costly undertaking. Primarily because of the cost, maintenance tasks are usually contracted out to certified external entities. In addition, the utility has no fixed costs for internal maintenance and can calculate entirely according to demand. This is where the third option comes in – renting mobile maintenance machines. In many cases, it can be a great advantage if the wagon material does not have to be brought to the maintenance provider first. A modern approach of mobile reprofiling machines makes on-site reprofiling possible.
When deciding on the fundamental maintenance strategy, the operator must make informed decisions. Various framework conditions must be evaluated. The question is where the data for this evaluation comes from and – even more important – when the necessary data will be available. At present, each operator or maintenance manager must answer this question for himself. Nevertheless, the sooner data is available, the better for all stakeholders. Often, data and reports have to be requested manually, availabilities of workshops have to be requested according to the pull principle, and also measurement reports have to be compared manually. In 2021, all of this could be done in a much more resource-efficient manner – and in only a fraction of the time.
Let’s take another look at the maintenance activities in the workshop. Especially in reprofiling, different parameters are determined by the extent of wear. Which cutting depth must be selected? What drive power of the processing machine is available and what types of processing machines are available? All these questions must be clarified before starting the maintenance process. Here, data from the operation of the wheelset can provide a decisive advantage – especially when it comes to work planning in the workshop. If the data is provided in advance, the processes here can be streamlined significantly. That would be a clear step in the right direction.
In short, it would be a great advantage having operating data of the wheelset – more or less a live wear inspection – ready at any time. Although detailed inspections in the workshop would still be necessary, it would enable workshops to have a kind of foresight of the measures that need to be carried out. Furthermore, this data is also crucial for demand planning.
Assuming the comprehensive collection of wear data, it would be possible to learn from historical data by combining various parameters. As an operator, you could put together your own model that helps you predict your own need for wheelsets with high accuracy. For example, if one knows that in the coming quarter a large proportion of one’s own trains will be running along a rail corridor with tough gradients – and also with maximum loads at all times and surrounded by very high humidity in line with the season – an experienced demand planner can certainly conclude that the demand for wheelsets will be slightly higher than perhaps in the same quarter of the previous year. But how much is “slightly higher”? The answer to this question can only be found with well-founded data analysis.
Long delivery times of wheelsets, capacity bottlenecks in workshops and excessive life cycle costs can be controlled by analyzing operating data. It is therefore important to understand the interrelationships. Often, small details can make the difference. If the wheelset is heavily worn, maintenance machines with high drive powers are needed to ensure an acceptable turnaround time in the reprofiling process. If the wear is light and it would be convenient for the operator not to have to transport the wagon material to the maintenance provider, a mobile reprofiling machine can be used. In the end, everything depends on information that must be available long before a legally required maintenance date or even a defect would occur. This is the only way to achieve the next level of efficiency in tomorrow’s maintenance.
At present, the requirements for rolling stock and internal processes are enormous. Therefore, a step-by-step adaptation and the early definition of interfaces are required in order to approach the goal of “smart” maintenance step by step. On the occasion of these challenges, wheelset and maintenance experts will discuss together with process and software experts what needs to be done now to be prepared for tomorrow.
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