From the Gautrain to new pan-national freight corridors, rail in South Africa is a prime area of investment which will open up economic opportunities for the future. But just as more tracks and rolling stock will modernise logistics for other industries, so rail itself, is at a critical moment of change too.
Rail is often seen as one of the last of the great heavy industries, but the truth is that digital toolkits are as essential today as railway welders and rivet hammers. Rail is a key benefactor of the “internet of things”, the explosion of small, low-cost data gathering devices and the cloud-based computing power to process and analyse large volumes of data at a time.
At the moment, the key areas of focus for digital rail developments are around safety, productivity and maintenance. Sensors that monitor the wheel and rail interface can relay data which can detect issues like overheated bearings early, before they break and do damage to other rail components. As more data about operating conditions is gathered, even more efficient ways of maintaining a fleet will become possible.
“We believe that we can use this data to provide condition-based maintenance solutions,” says Ansys Rail’s Wietz Joubert, “So we want to be able to measure the performance of the asset and then start looking at how we can prevent a failure ahead of time.”
Being able to model the real-time state of equipment presents other possibilities too. Just as engineers use augmented and virtual reality to design industrial components today, Joubert believes that in the near future these techniques will be used to diagnose problems with locomotives and wagons before they’re even brought into the yard.
With digitilisation, however, comes increased risks around cybersecurity and the integrity of data, which is just one more reason why Ansys group is investing heavily in this area.