AMRC sets up demonstrations of digital rail maintenance technologies 24 November 2020

A powerful suite of smart technologies applied to rail maintenance innovations is being demonstrated at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).

The Maintenance 4.0 cell is being developed by engineers at its Factory 2050 facility to shine a light on the range of growing Industry 4.0 technology solutions that can unlock productivity, quality and sustainability improvements for maintenance activities in rail.

AMRC knowledge and expertise learned from aerospace and automotive is being applied to rail. The goal is to inspire visitors and to demonstrate how these technologies can deliver operational gains across rail MRO.

Digital technologies including augmented reality, vision inspection and data insights can be employed in safety critical maintenance operations, adding value to paper-based technical information.

Augmented reality (AR), which overlays digital information on a camera view of real objects, is one of the stars of the smart-assisted maintenance demonstrator. Other features include optical projection, S1000D technical document management, a user-friendly but data-packed digital MRO dashboard, camera inspection and verification and asset management tracking systems.

Maintenance 4.0 is funded by the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult and developed with support from technology company PTC, complex critical content experts GPSL, global freight and rail provider Wabtec Corporation, rail fastenings manufacturer Pandrol, rail logistics company VTG and digital visualisation content creators, Bloc Digital.

Gordon Innes, of Wabtec, said: “As a leader of a team of remotely deployed field service operatives it’s important to me that we look to harness the power of technology to provide best possible support to the operatives in the field ensuring standards are being met and safety is assured. I have a keen interest in the overlap between maintenance standards and the platforms for enhanced maintenance service delivery; incorporating technology such as AR into maintenance documentation is a key area of interest especially as we look to introduce new and modified products into the rail market.

“Tracking material usage automatically as well as machine vision systems for inspection are key areas of interest. The MRO technology demonstrator cell at the AMRC represents an opportunity for Wabtec to continue to explore these technologies while supporting the industry, understanding the art of the possible as well as any practical limitations.”

The art of the possible was premiered to a captive audience of global leaders in aerospace, defence and space at the TDW-Live show on November 18, and the cell is expected to be up and running at the Factory 2050 facility by early next year.

Arthur Kershaw, senior project engineer at the AMRC, says the technologies powering the demonstrator have potential to unlock big benefits for both smaller businesses and OEMs looking to advance their MRO capabilities and improve operational efficiencies.

“A key feature is the operator guidance, empowering those carrying out a task with up-to-date, in-situ information. The live digital dashboard that will take data from various sources and present it in a way that enables supervisors and managers to capture and solve problems before they become an issue.

“An asset tracking system enables businesses to benefit from seeing the movement of high value items - detecting who has taken or replaced a component, what component, and when. This allows the management of unsecured materials that may have previously been difficult to quantify.

“It will also have camera verification of certain processes, projected in-situ. We’ve refined it to just highlight the manual brake state for this demonstrator, but the methodology developed could be rolled out to any component with a detectable state, through optical recognition or other sensor output.”

PTC’s Vuforia software technology will underpin the AR experiences that will be seen in the demonstrator. Paul Haimes, vice president for field engineering at PTC, said the immersive technology is already being used to address manufacturing challenges with measurable value, including remote worker assistance, knowledge capture for training and digitised standardised operating procedures.

“That’s the focus of the project at the AMRC for us - the ability to augment the users’ view with CAD data and information that then shows how to assemble, disassemble or change over equipment, whatever it might be; those types of activities lend themselves very neatly to the augmented reality space,” said Paul.

“With remote assistance we’re seeing 40% fewer physical visits which has a huge impact on a company’s costs for maintaining products; for digital standard operating procedures we’re seeing individuals work faster and more consistently with training times reduced between 20% to 40% and up to a 20% reduction in errors that individuals are making.

“Five years ago a lot of companies were exploring whether AR works and how it adds value. Today, we see bigger companies move from a more general level of assessing technologies, such as proof of technology and proof of value, to scaling AR to suit their requirements.”

Operations Engineer

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