The future of rolling stock engineering
Source: RTM Feb/Mar 17
Perpetuum’s Justin Southcombe explains why filling the skills gap that exists in the rail industry must be addressed, especially when it comes to remote condition (RCM) technology.
These are exciting times for the rail industry. Vast infrastructure investment is taking place: £38bn injected into Network Rail’s track and stations, the completion of Crossrail, the billions going into the Underground network, and the Crossrail 2 and HS2 projects.
Not only that, RCM technology is driving the industry towards the era of the ‘intelligent’ train and a level of connectivity never seen before and which will transform rail operations around the world.
This level of development is unprecedented and we need a workforce with the necessary skills and qualifications to meet the demand. However, there is a skills shortage. The National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) identified almost 35% of the industry’s traction and rolling stock (TRS) employees are due to retire in the next five years – that’s over 4,500 of the 13,500-strong workforce. Not only will the industry need to replace skills lost through retirement, but upskilling of the current workforce is also required to meet and maintain next-generation rail technology. Perpetuum is working with NSAR by providing the new apprentices and students with the latest RCM equipment to support the new wave of training that is being developed with the IMechE and the Academy.
Today’s apprentices, for instance, should be trained not only in the traditional skills but in the technologies such as RCM too. No longer only an aspiration, it is being applied by rail operators around the world. One example of this condition-based maintenance are the Southeastern depots in Kent and London. Southeastern asked Perpetuum to develop such a system for rail that would be easy to use (providing reliable, concise information) and easy to fit (using vibration energy harvesters for a fully wireless solution).
To date, Southeastern has fitted the Perpetuum system on hundreds of cars, with all the LSER-maintained fleets now Perpetuum-equipped or undergoing trials. In this information-focused approach to asset management, technicians often need to pick up a smartphone rather than a toolbox. If we consider the tech-savvy Y-Generation that will deliver for us in the future, it makes sense to have tools and ways of working in place that will best suit their instinctive capabilities.
The impact of condition-based thinking will be felt across the business – not only at the bottom line in direct cost savings from extended overhauls, but also on strategic issues like training and resource deployment. For example, with more traditional scheduled maintenance plans, 20% of workforce hours can be dedicated to underframe inspections, a task that more often than not returns no new information and, therefore, provides no value except peace of mind.
With the automation of condition assessment and diagnostics, there can be a reduction in inspections and the resources required for traditional maintenance can be reassigned to more valuable tasks – or to manage the growth in the vehicles over the next five years.
Dedicated RCM specialists, like Perpetuum, provide more than a wireless telecoms backbone: they provide the engineering expertise in the subsystem alongside software engineering to create bespoke algorithms that produce knowledge-enriching information – not data. With robust information and a condition-based approach, working on a vehicle is the exception, not the norm, and safety is improved as the actual status of the asset can be known in real time.
The transformative nature of RCM technology and the new way of managing assets it brings to the rail industry means we need to rethink what skills will be needed in the future. Appealing to the technologically savvy young may be the answer to filling the skills gap in our industry while saving significant costs at the same time.
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