© Deutsche Bahn AG (Claus Weber)

Digital measurement of infrastructure

More quality and efficiency in maintenance

03/2017 – Even in conventional maintenance of the railway network, there's great potential for digitisation: in the IDZ project, current measurements are being combined with historical data. This is ensuring greater quality – and even allowing a glance into the future.

The sphere of responsibility of DB Netz also includes regular inspection and maintenance of rails, sleepers and points. Maintenance of this railway infrastructure, however, has traditionally been a very paper-based process. If a measuring train records a suspected fault on a particular section of track, for example, the person responsible is given a corresponding inspection slip. Although this information is also transferred to an IT system, it’s far from digitalisation.

To replace paper-based records, DB Netz AG has initiated a project for integrating and digitising condition information – IDZ for short. It focuses on the entire chain of information – from preparing the inspection and entering inspection data, through to audit-proof storage. This is followed by an integrated analysis with order data, report data and infrastructure data.

But IDZ is much more than just a way of automatically recording track measurement data. It even allows a glance into the future by way of predicting damage that has not even occurred yet. The basis of historical infrastructure master data combined with current and historical data from track recording vehicles is allowing future changes in the condition of infrastructure to be predicted. This will provide effective support for programme planning and enable cost-optimised preventive actions to be identified.

Consolidated line and condition data

In an agile preliminary project, DB Netz and DB Systel are working together in close cooperation with the software company SAP. The primary aim of this preliminary project is to determine whether the technology – the innovative products of SAP – can be used to model and optimise the required process effectively. The reason being that there are challenges to be overcome. This means the system must be able to simulate the railway infrastructure exactly and visualise the route master data from different source systems in the linear representation of the track. For example, it must be possible to identify whether the line is single or double track, whether it is electrified and where the stations are exactly located.

In addition, the results of ongoing measurement runs are fed in, including results from employees who are performing manual measurements at points and thus recording intermittent data. These measurements are then being combined with the existing master data and historical data. So in future, IDZ is to unite, as a standardised tool, the diverse railway information collected from different measuring points.

New possibilities

At present, all available information is stored in different systems, some of which are more than 20 years old. The technologies that are ready for the market today simply did not exist at that time. IDZ is now creating ways to compare all relevant data directly with one another and consolidate the various systems. One essential lever is the integration of condition recording with the system for order, report and infrastructure data. “If we have everything in one digital solution, we can detect any symptoms of wear at a much earlier stage, before the problem actually takes effect, and by doing so, we’ve taken a further step towards digital infrastructure”, says Christian Burghardt from DB Netz. On the basis of all this retrievable information, necessary measures can be better planned.

“It’s like being at the dentist”, says Burghardt. “The measured values describe the finding, such as a tooth cavity. For us, that could perhaps be a crack in the rail surface.” This finding then helps in making the decision about planning and executing the repairs at the ideal time. Needless to say, the question of the application’s usability becomes more and more important. For this reason, DB Systel has built prototypes simply in order to visualise how the system could appear to users, how to navigate therein and how both current as well as historical and master data can be displayed.

Of condition recording with the system for order, report and infrastructure data and thus enables the comparison of all relevant data directly with one another and consolidate the various systems.

© DB Systel (thinkpen)

DB Systel therefore fully supports the project, from the selection of tools and project planning, to its implementation and operation. This involves working in collaboration with SAP to provide optimal support, particularly in innovative subject areas such as predictive maintenance – from process and data expertise in terms of building prognosis models, to preparing results for specific target groups. “For us, it was relatively easy to say that we want to strengthen this collaboration. As a customer, we’ve seen in the past that DB Systel and SAP collaborate well”, says Burghardt.

The preliminary project for this topic of the future will be completed by the end of March. The steering committee will then decide whether the solution approach with SAP will be implemented in the main project. The IDZ project is then to be completed by the end of 2020. Some functionalities of the ISS legacy system will already be available in the new system. For Christian Burghardt, the effort is already proving worthwhile: “It’s the first time that we’ve wanted to implement such a large project on an agile basis and we’re already learning many exciting things in the preliminary project.” Above all, the project offers new opportunities that go beyond the IDZ approach.