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A question of intelligence


The term “big data” is an understatement, given that the data deluge it describes is not only big, but gigantic, inhomogeneous and collected via the most diverse channels.

It is both, challenge and opportunity. “We do not want to change well-proven technologies, but make them even better”, explains Dr. Florian Auer, Director of Technology, Plasser & Theurer. Increasing the reliability, efficiency and safety of rail traffic is the top priority. What does it take to achieve this? And how can big data contribute to this? 

Believe it or not, 1 kilometre of track consists of 1,667 single components. Too much technology and sensors would make costs skyrocket. The system would be more complex, fragile, and more prone to errors. This is why Plasser & Theurer collects information with high-quality, powerful tamping machines and track inspection vehicles. 

“Every action we take aims to make the machine more intelligent. Assistance systems and cloud applications for infrastructure operators help us achieve this”, explains Florian Auer at the “Digitalisation: Harnessing Big Data in Rail” conference held in Munich. “We know the patterns in the track and we understand the numbers. We supply our customers the tools that allow for works to be carried out even more easily in future. Digitisation creates a win-win situation for all parties involved.” 

In 2013, the fourth industrial revolution, “Industry 4.0”, was proclaimed in Germany, describing the interplay of tradition and the modern age. A monumental task: Turning big data into smart data, a smart source of information that ensures cost-efficient sustainability. 

Industry 4.0: Digitisation is in the fast lane and provides unprecedented opportunities. How does it change the railway industry?

DB and SBB seek innovative projects 

Together with selected mobility and logistics companies such as Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS) or Siemens, Deutsche Bahn AG founded the platform “Beyond1435”. The website states that on tracks with 1,435 mm standard gauge, DB has transported numerous people and goods to their destination. Mobility as we know it, is turned upside down by digitisation. Using start-ups and intrapreneurship, Beyond1435 aims to find innovative approaches and business ideas for the 21st century.

“It’s about strengthening the company for the future and raising it to the next level”, Marius Pigulla, New Digital Business Manager at DB, explains. Diego Galar, Professor at Luleå University of Technology and host at the event in Munich, adds, “Big data has created a whole new branch. Infrastructure operators deliberately opt for external services, which translate huge amounts of data into useful findings and enable them to optimise the core business.” 

All this aims at predicting how the behaviour and needs of passengers will change in the next five years. Which requirements must be met to ensure profitable business operations? How can punctuality be increased? Networking is indispensable to achieve this. 

Source of errors must be detected before errors occur. Jürg Balsiger, SBB, explains, “We are in the transition process from reactive to proactive maintenance and planning. Data enables us to use resources more efficiently or to monitor the network to coordinate necessary works more easily. We use digitisation to find solutions that help improve day-to-day business operations, identify risks and increase satisfaction.” 

P&T Connected creates new opportunities 

Big data provides new tools that “benefit the decision making process”. Bernhard Maier is convinced “it will make the railway systems even more competitive.” Heading P&T Connected, a subsidiary of Plasser & Theurer, he focuses on recording, processing, networking, integrating and analysing data collected by the remote diagnosis system PlasserDatamatic. The aim is to translate data into specific instructions for maintenance, away from maintenance at intervals, towards condition-based maintenance. If unexpected problems are set to occur on the machine or in the track, the information provided helps find the best possible solution. Fully dedicated to the customers’ requirements.