How Onboard Monitoring Increases the Availability of Railroads and Infrastructure

Achieving the European climate protection targets in the transport sector requires a strong European railway. The EU is therefore planning to double passenger traffic and significantly expand rail freight transport by 2030. In addition to alternative drive concepts and the expansion of rail infrastructure, digitization of the rail system for more efficient use of resources is one of the prerequisites for meeting the political framework conditions.

Digitization Could Increase Capacities on the Railways

Train cancellations, delays and overcrowded trains – even minor disruptions in rail operations cause far-reaching delays in operations and strained nerves among passengers. Unfortunately, these disruptions are not uncommon. The German rail network is slowly but surely reaching the limits of its capacity. This is also noticeable in freight traffic. The fact is: In order to be able to achieve the EU targets, the performance of the rail system must be significantly increased.

Digitization can make an important contribution here. According to Deutsche Bahn AG, the capacities of the rail network could be increased by around 20 percent in this way without having to lay a single kilometer of new rail track. One of the reasons: thanks to digital monitoring, trains can run at closer intervals (see Handelsblatt). But that’s not all.

Schunk | Digital Condition Monitoring
Digitization in the rail sector could make a major contribution to achieving the European climate protection targets

Rail Operators Lack Condition Data on Pantographs and Infrastructure

Digital monitoring solutions can also help to increase the basic availability of vehicles and avoid expensive downtimes. This is precisely where we at Schunk see great potential for proactively helping to shape digitization in the rail sector and contribute to achieving climate protection goals.

In order to ensure and increase the safety and efficiency of infrastructure and vehicles, players in the rail market need information about the condition of overhead lines and pantographs. If irregularities or failures occur at these points, expensive vehicle downtimes are inevitable. The problem, however, is that this information is currently available to neither infrastructure nor rail operators in sufficient quality and quantity. Modern pantographs from Schunk could provide this data on a daily basis, but to date they do not have the necessary intelligence. However, that could change soon.

Schunk | Digital Condition Monitoring
We want to use the Schunk OnTrack Monitoring process solution to upgrade our in-house power transmission systems and make them smart

Digital Condition Data as the Basis for Predictive Maintenance

Schunk Transit Systems has developed a retrofittable monitoring system that uses sensors to collect data on the condition of pantographs and overhead lines during operation. By evaluating the data, irregularities in the overhead line can be detected, for example, before they lead to serious damage. Clearly processed for our customers, the data collected thus forms the basis for predictive maintenance and increased availability of vehicle fleets and infrastructure.

How Transport and Infrastructure Operators Benefit from Ontrack Monitoring

The advantages of Schunk OnTrack Monitoring are obvious: fewer unplanned repairs and significant time and cost savings – for both transport and infrastructure operators. Our products should offer our customers the best life-cycle costs. To achieve this, we need to know, on the one hand, how our pantographs perform. On the other hand, maintenance intervals and cycles have to be optimized. This can only be achieved by leaving the established routine and by only acting when it is really necessary. Keyword: condition-based maintenance. Information about what needs to be done and when is provided by the data determined with Schunk OnTrack Monitoring, which we process in such a way that the traffic or infrastructure operator can use it optimally.

Watch this video to see how the onboard monitoring system works.

We are certain that, over time, digital monitoring systems will also enable us to provide valuable data and analyses as a basis for predictive maintenance. That would make a transport operator’s life easier, because through them they can understand, for example, what is going on at which point in the network. And that’s without having to have someone on site to check and monitor. The data will get better over time – as more pantographs travel with the system.

Digital Measurement System Checks Different Parameters on Pantographs and Overhead Lines

When the system is used for the first projects in 2023, our customers will have various parameters relating to the interaction between the pantograph and the overhead line that can be analyzed using OnTrack Monitoring:

  • Contact force between contact strip and contact wire
  • Wear condition of the contact strips
  • Checking the zigzag geometry
  • Localization of irregularities on the overhead contact line (hard spots)

The selection of these parameters reflects the needs of our customers. It is important for us to understand which data are of interest to them and offer real added value. We have therefore conducted a study with various OEMs, rail and infrastructure operators. The results are valuable input for product development.

Schunk | Digital Condition Monitoring
With the help of the onboard monitoring system, defects in the overhead line can be reliably located, quantified and monitored

Ontrack Monitoring for Pantographs Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Currently, Schunk OnTrack Monitoring is in the critical phase of development, in which Schunk has proven its technical functionality. The next step will be to achieve series production readiness and to certify the system according to railroad standards. Another important aspect is the question of how the data must be prepared from our side so that it really is of use to our customers. This includes preparing the data in an attractive and user-friendly way, for example in the form of a browser-based dashboard. We are also trying to perfect the algorithm, in other words, to feed it with data so that it learns and gets better. That’s why we’re running extensive field tests this year. In 2023, we will take the next step and are waiting in the wings for the first customer projects.

And a Look into the Future?

Schunk is a specialist for power transmission systems – not just for pantographs. Accordingly, OnTrack Monitoring for pantographs is just the tip of the iceberg of what we have planned in terms of digitization and condition monitoring in the rail sector. One thing is certain: From now on, monitoring will play a major role in our day-to-day business.

This article was originally published by Schunk.


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