In my last blog post, I reported on the digitalization of freight trains plus the condition monitoring system for rail freight traffic that was tested on the Swiss railway network. Today, a couple months later, we have put the system into production and have already installed it in 300 freight cars. These freight cars are now operating all throughout Europe, as well as in North America and Australia, where they are being used in field tests to validate and further develop the technology. With this in mind, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss how connected freight trains can increase quality and safety in transport chains.
Railway logistics become transparent
Exact location positioning, freight monitoring, and geofencing – these are often commonplace on the road, but thus far they have been introduced on the rails in a relatively clumsy fashion. Previously, freight trains have had neither their own power supply nor their own sensors, but now it is possible to close this gap. We have outfitted freight cars with sensors that transmit various types of data about the cars, and also link them to the internet. The connectivity technology has its origins in automotive mass production, and we have specially adapted it to the needs of this new application. That means it must be especially robust, and meet demanding railway technology requirements with respect to vibration as well as temperature and moisture fluctuations. The result is an intelligent freight train, which will revolutionize existing rail logistics. The system generates and analyzes a large quantity of valuable real-time data, which can be accessed by fleet operators and freight recipients on an online portal. From there, they can view the status of the railway cars and their freight.
Keeping track of intermodal transport
Precise timing of transport events is essential for efficient logistics processes, and this is particularly true for intermodal transport scenarios involving rail, ship, and road. Via connectivity hardware installed on the freight car, the condition monitoring system now provides the data necessary to determine each freight car’s location to within a meter. This makes it possible to seamlessly track and monitor rail transport activities. Furthermore, the sensors located inside the freight car provide data on variables such as temperature and air humidity. Because of this, transport conditions can be monitored at each and every point along the route, ensuring that items such as foodstuffs in refrigerated wagons always arrive fresh at their destination. If critical temperature limits are exceeded, the system will immediately sound an alarm and notify the control center.
In addition to wanting to know where a particular freight car is, operators frequently require information on when it enters the station grounds or if it has made an unplanned departure from the expected route. This is where geofencing comes in. After a virtual zone has been defined online, each freight car automatically sends an e-mail or text message once it reaches the zone boundary. The arrival notification feature makes it possible to generate electronic delivery notes automatically and optimize logistics processes. And by using information on if and when a car’s doors have been opened, the system also increases the security of goods in transit. In addition, shock monitoring functionality has been added for monitoring heavy shocks during maneuvering, or during transfer of freight onto railway cars. This makes it possible to properly assess the causes of damage to freight cars and freight in addition to analyzing transport conditions. And finally, the mileage of their railcars is a matter of great importance to fleet operators. Using our technology, operators can determine the precise mileage for each car, and then use this information in the planning of repair and maintenance work.
Partnership for the connected freight train
Thanks to the partnership between Bosch Engineering and Switzerland’s SBB Cargo railway, as of early 2015 there are already 150 freight cars using this system on the rail network in and around Switzerland. An additional 150 freight cars are currently testing the system throughout all of Europe, as well as in North America and Australia. We will continue to develop the technology in the future in order to add new functionality such as automatic brake testing and wheelset diagnosis.