Nilgiri Mountain Railway, India

View from India: Mixed tech makes IR journey memorable

Image credit: Len Williams

Indian Railways, Asia’s largest rail network, is working on next-gen designs through AI-ML and AR-VR applications.

With around 24 million passengers commuting a day, Indian Railways (IR) is described as the lifeline of the nation. With 5G, the number of trains that run on the existing tracks can increase and efficiency levels are expected to improve. Trains may communicate with each other through the 5G network; smart ticketing and smart coaches are other hallmarks.

The next-gen designs in locomotives are being implemented through multiple software and a fusion of technologies such as AI-ML (artificial intelligence and machine learning) and AR-VR (augmented reality and virtual reality). “We have partnered with Indian Railways for making 14,000 coaches, 3,500 metro coaches and over 3,000 IR locomotives. In 2018, we did locomotive broad gauge, which was a Make in India product as it was manufactured in the country,” said Yogesh Kumar, vice president of Technology & India Engineering, Wabtec Corporation, India, speaking at the India Altair Technology Conference 2022. Wabtec Corporation is a global provider of equipment, systems, digital solutions and value-added services for the freight and transit rail industries. This year, the rail technology company has received a predictive maintenance contract from IR’s Central Organisation for Modernisation of Workshops. The contract is for the Online Monitoring of Rolling Stock (OMRS) project, a new automated OMRS system under Indian Railways’ ‘SMART Yard’ initiative. The idea is to reduce down time in the yard as locomotives tend to get displaced here.

When we look at locomotive software, the focus may be on making machines more productive. Deep domain experts, system integration and mixed technology help in predictive maintenance, while real-time updates help train the locomotive for predictive time. The locomotive usually has terabytes of validation data. This, coupled with data and analytical tools, can help in making real-time decisions. “Indian railways is leveraging analytics and AI-enabled field solutions. Each locomotive is tracked 24/7. Data is collected, monitoring analytics is applied to minimise down time and maximise asset productivity,” explained Kumar.

Coming to next-gen tools, a combination of AI-ML, data analytics and engineering may help in making various parts of the locomotive environment friendly. The aim is to minimise the impact on the planet. Along with that, a sustainable rail cargo may be worthwhile, as there could be fewer parts to assemble and the locomotive weight is reduced. Freight too can work on decarbonisation measures, as can the railway stations. For instance, it is proposed to make the new Patna Metro rail stations green buildings. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation is the nodal agency for the green project; as per the recent news, the goal is to conserve energy and rainwater.

Worldwide there’s a concern to use hydrogen in transport to move closer towards a circular economy. Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Union Minister for Railways, has indicated to the media that the country is in the process of developing hydrogen-powered trains, which could be ready in 2023. The railways continue to chug along the route of sustainability. Newer possibilities are being explored.

The Covid-19 pandemic has opened up a world with probabilities of developing products remotely. This is a revelation. The fact that products can be developed from anywhere seems to have given a boost to start-ups; they have upped their scale of innovation. The thrust generally is on agility and flexibility. This has put pressure on conventional industries to reposition themselves in the contemporary market, which has resulted in an explosion in the pace of development and resultant data. As well, there have been various acquisitions and partnerships to remain afloat in the competitive world. “We began our technology conference in 2004 and have grown with time. Despite the pandemic, our company has made 16 tech acquisitions since 2019 and added around 200 customers to our portfolio,” highlighted Vishwanath Rao, managing director at Altair India.

Regardless of the pandemic, the concern is on sustainability and lowering the carbon footprint across industries. The first trend to look out for is sustainability, whose initiatives could be a move towards achieving a circular economy. This may involve new engineering solutions and products. “Digitisation, the second one, is a commitment to invest in digital solutions that connect to the value chain. Climate protection, the third trend, may unleash opportunities to explore fresh materials and their impact on the environment. These three aspects are both a challenge and an opportunity,” added Dr Kamila Flidr, director of Material Information, Altair.

It’s then important for verticals to use the right material to derive solutions to minimise carbon emissions. AI-ML can be leveraged to monitor material behaviour for predictive maintenance. On the other hand, the data emerging from the carbon footprint may help in making informed choices for selecting the right material. Then the right design is also required. There’s no one formula as such for the right material or the right design. The material should be environmentally friendly, while the design should be pocket friendly and conducive for performance. “Our simulation platform is an open architecture platform under one license, one environment and one team. The intent is to enable the material to be sustainable and lightweight,” explained Dr Flidr.

In summary, sustainability will be at the forefront of all sectors. Besides lowering the carbon footprint, sustainability could also indicate flexible and smart designs. That’s how industries of the future will function. In some cases, the underlying idea is that perhaps less is more. 

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