Project Manager: Katharina Moitzi
Katharina Moitzi

Next level wheelset management – driven by experience, powered by software.

Post from 30. August 2021

In 2020, the global market for wheelsets and axles was estimated at around $3.1 billion. However, the maintenance costs for bogies and their wheelsets are many times higher than the purchase price. Thus, for the vehicle owner, the life cycle costs of a rail vehicle are an important decision criterion when placing new orders. Therefore, the focus is on the development and maintenance of wheelsets in order to extend the service life of wheelsets on the one hand and to reduce the costs for the RUs on the other hand. Of course with full availability of the fleet as well as increase of safety on the rail.

Let’s talk Rail! was the motto on September 16, 2021, when our RailVoice webinar took place for the second time – this time with a focus on modern wheelset management. The speakers provided exciting insights into the life cycle – from demand planning to development and maintenance – of a wheelset. The audience had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of international experts. A summary of the event is available here: RailVoice

“The prolongation of the lifecycle of wheelsets (and bogies) offers huge potential for savings in maintenance. It is rather complex, requiring innovation in design and materials used, and joint effort of manufacturers and operators.”Marcel Ujfaluši, Head of Business Development and Marketing bei Bonatrans Group a.s.


Enormous load for wheelsets

In rail transport, much is determined at the contact surface between the wheel and the rail. A wheelset has to bear a weight of up to 22.5 tons, with a contact surface the size of less than a 50-cent euro coin. In addition, the wheelset is also responsible for transmitting the lateral track guiding forces. The requirements placed on the material are enormous. The smallest changes in environmental influences can have a major impact. Whether the elevation profile of the routing, the loading or the air humidity – all this can lead to major differences with regard to the service life, and thus also with regard to the life cycle costs of a wheelset. It should also be noted that wheelsets are classified as safety-critical components according to ECM regulations.

Not surprisingly, the DIN standard responsible for wheelset maintenance (EN 15313:2016) defines a very comprehensive framework of what the maintenance process should look like. The focus is on the maintenance and documentation requirements over the entire life cycle of the wheelset. At this point at the latest, one should take a look at the IT landscape and the system interruptions between processes and systems of the companies involved.


The main components of the maintenance requirements

To clarify this, we will discuss the five main components of the maintenance requirement below:

  1. Maintenance plan The maintenance plan defines the general maintenance intervals as well as special measures to be carried out.
  2. Traceability: This is where railroad companies and maintenance managers often encounter major challenges with regard to their IT system environment. First of all, the wheelset and its components must be clearly identified – in some cases retroactively – and documented in the long term. Based on this, a complete history of all maintenance and safety-relevant measures must be kept in accordance with the normative requirements. In addition, details of storage and transport must be logged and stored in a database. Normative and informative differences between wheelsets for passenger vehicles and locomotives, as well as freight cars, must also be taken into account here.
  3. Equipment and systems: All measuring equipment and tools must be approved under the requirements specified by EN 15313:2016. This official release document is also stored. In addition, measuring equipment must be calibrated at regular intervals and the results recorded and stored.
  4. Employee qualification: Employees who perform welding work on wheelsets must be just as qualified as employees in the area of non-destructive testing. Here, too, it is invaluable to have all the qualifications of the various employees available at a glance by means of modern IT systems, and thus to be able to plan more efficiently as a workshop. You can read more about it in this article.
  5. Operational experience: The last component of the maintenance plan requires a bit more of our attention. Behind the buzzword “operational experience” lies a significant challenge regarding the acquisition and preparation of a variety of sensor data. Once this data is processed and available, important questions regarding the wheelset’s life cycle can be answered and a forecast of potential additional maintenance measures in the future can be made. At this point, we at Boom Software hook in.

Our declared goal:

Boom’s software solutions enable safe, reliable, and user-friendly integration of a control loop that not only ensures the feedback of operational experience, but also enriches it with additional information using state-of-the-art statistical models, in order to provide early warning when there are peaks in demand for a rail vehicle’s wheelset.


The pressure on rail increases

Perhaps this may seem like a convenience feature to some operators, but here we have to disagree. The pressure – and here operators and maintenance staff agree with us – on rail is rising. Transport services on all major rail routes are showing increasing trends. Growing privatization, as well as increased cost pressure on (partially) state-owned railway undertakings, require all entities of the ECM structure to be cost-conscious. In the case of wheelsets, two cost drivers in particular need to be kept in mind: firstly, life cycle costs (LCC) and secondly, demand assessment.


Data as a key to cost savings

With regard to the life cycle costs of a wheelset, wheelset manufacturers have been striving for over 100 years to extend the service life of a wheelset – above all through the use of modern materials and manufacturing processes. Boom also contributes to this with its software solutions: By skilfully processing the operating data of a wheelset, the maintenance plan is adapted to the actual operating conditions. This way, the wheelset is kept in operation for a longer period of time.

However, the life cycle costs of the wheelset are only one side of the coin. With regard to wheelsets, the assessment of demand must also be mastered. Just think that a sudden shortage of available wheelsets can lead to a standstill of the rolling stock. Even if the need for wagon material is covered by leasing, the resulting costs are still considerable.

In all this, it must not be forgotten that wheelsets are always manufactured to order. Since the production capacities of most manufacturers are almost exhausted, waiting times of up to several months occur here – from order intake to delivery.

By now at the latest, it should be clear that it is not possible to take rapid countermeasures in the event of sudden bottlenecks in wheelset management. To avoid the risk of losing both capacity and money, a large amount of data must be collected and analyzed for good demand planning. Thanks to years of experience and know-how, Boom Software is able to model reliable forecasting mechanisms and thus establish modern demand planning in your company.

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