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How freight cars are connected to the internet

waggons transport track traffic freight train connected Source: fotolia/Marco2811

Car, heating, oven – step by step everything becomes part of the internet. Bosch Engineering is now also making freight cars intelligent and connecting them to the internet. The key is a condition monitoring system for rail freight transportation. The hardware attached to the railcars as part of the system is from large-scale automotive series production. Additionally, sensors supply data such as the precise position of a railcar, or the temperature in the storage area. This data is transferred to a server and evaluated. In the following I will explain the reason why freight cars need to be connected, how digital functions create value for the users, and how the system is set up.

Why do freight cars have to be connected?

As an example in our home market Germany, there’s almost 40,000 kilometers of railway track moved about 365 million metric tons in 2014, mostly heavy freight such as steel, gravel, and coal. And these figures are going up all the time. Freight trains are also the means of choice for transporting cars to major seaports. However, today’s freight cars do not have their own energy supply or their own sensors. This is because any technology used on trains has to be particularly robust and simple, due to the high demands placed on it in terms of vibration, temperature, dirt, and moisture. To make the freight cars part of a connected logistics chain, we will equip them with an intelligent condition monitoring system. This is how we can help to increase the transparency of the logistics chains linking rails, roads, and waterways and make the increased volume of freight transportation easier to manage.

Infographic showing how condition monitoring works in regard to a freight train. Source: Bosch
With the new condition monitoring system, a freight train becomes a digital and intelligent mode of transportation. New functions are now possible: precisely locating the railcar, gathering information about the freight’s conditions during transport, recognizing vibrations during shunting, and recording how many kilometers a railcar travels for distance- and condition-based maintenance.

How do digital functions add value?

The system gathers a considerable amount of information while the train is in motion and transmits it to a server. With this system, we create digital functions that add value. Thanks to the transmitted GPS position of each railcar, the customers like train and fleet operators always know where their goods are. They can use the data to determine their location more precisely, for example. Temperature sensors provide valuable information about conditions during transport, such as maintaining the cold chain. Networked freight cars recognize vibrations, like those incurred by shunting, which can damage the railcar, the freight, or both. Once the digital information is integrated into the customers’ IT systems to control logistics processes, dispatchers can better schedule freight cars and use their capacity more efficiently. What’s more, train information is produced automatically and business processes are automated. Another benefit for train and fleet operators is that the system also records how many kilometers the railcar has traveled in order to better predict and carry out maintenance, depending on distance traveled and the railcar’s condition.

How is the system set up?

Weighing just 700 grams, our system consists of compact hardware from large-scale automotive series production. It features numerous integrated and attached sensors for temperature, vibrations, and more. As a development partner for the rail industry, Bosch does not only provide hardware but also an integrated data transmission that connects the system to the internet. Data is transmitted to to be evaluated, presented in a data portal, and integrated into the customer’s business processes. Because it was developed as a retrofit solution for existing freight railcar fleets, the system has its own autonomous energy supply in the form of an integrated battery with a lifetime of up to six years. However, it can also be installed as original equipment while the freight car is still in production.

Infographic showing how information location and conditions during transport is connected over the internet. Source: Bosch
Using large-scale series production hardware, information about the railcar’s location and conditions during transport is connected over the internet. The data is evaluated on a server and integrated into the customer’s IT systems. This makes it possible to, say, schedule freight cars more efficiently and make the best use of their capacity.

The first freight cars – for example, those at SBB Cargo in Switzerland (German only) – had already been equipped with the system in February 2015, and now its diverse functions are being tested and refined in fleet operations. We can use the data collected to perfect the system as it heads into series production at the end of 2015. I am convinced with our condition monitoring system, a freight train becomes a digital and intelligent mode of transportation. In this way, we help trains get to their destinations faster and more efficiently, and we also cut transportation costs.

Making freight cars intelligent is another step to a completely connected world!

More on connected freight trains

Bernhard Bihr provides an update on how the digitalization of freight trains advances and explains how they increase quality and safety in transport chains.

Device management facilitates the interaction among diverse devices. Connected freight trains are just one example where it comes in handy.