Smart rail thanks to sensors: VTG equips a large proportion of its European wagon fleet with digital sensor technology. As part of an innovation project, the company is specifically testing the type of sensors that enable predictive and status-based rail freight car maintenance, thus making rail freight transport more predictable and economical. The first sensors have already been attached to the freight cars and they will undergo extensive testing in the upcoming weeks and months. In addition, track-side monitoring systems for a number of safety-related wagon parts – including the braking system, wheelsets and general wagon status – are also being tested. “We are proud to be making a valuable contribution to more attractive, digital rail freight transport with this innovation project. Fitting our European fleet with cutting-edge sensor technology is pivotal to our digitalization strategy”, says Sven Wellbrock, Chief Operating Officer Europe & Chief Safety Officer at VTG.
Versatile benefits for rail applications
A total of seven different sensor model prototypes with various functions will be tested. Besides an empty-load sensor, these include vibration sensors on the wheel set, which allow wear to be detected early on. This information is a significant step away from today's time-oriented maintenance, towards condition-based or, ideally, predictive wagon maintenance. Continuous monitoring of the status of wagons enables maintenance work to be planned more efficiently. This can be carried out exactly when necessary, rather than after a certain period of time, thus considerably reducing wagon downtime and enhancing fleet availability – for high-performance rail freight transport. Scheduling will also be simplified, as it will be possible to forecast and plan wagon maintenance more precisely. This is a relevant factor, particularly in view of the limited workshop capacity in Europe. Fewer journeys to repair and maintenance facilities will boost network capacity and make rail transportation more competitive. Furthermore, predictive maintenance will make rail transportation safer by allowing the status of safety-related components to be monitored proactively at all times.
Funding from the European Union
As part of the “VTG Rail Europe Status-Oriented And Predictive Maintenance” innovation project, the European Union is promoting the use of sensors to digitalize rail freight transport – because the entire rail system would benefit from comprehensive, status-oriented and predictive wagons maintenance. The project is therefore being co-financed by the European Union’s Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) with funds amounting to EUR 13 million. The project is scheduled to run until the end of 2023.
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