New technology Innovation Centre for worldwide rail industry
A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed – by the UK business, research development and innovation company, Prometheus Connect Ltd, who is also representing the Korean rail industry manufacturing, materials and maintenance pioneer, Asia-Tech Co., Ltd and the world-leading, engineering research and technology organisation TWI Ltd – that will see the establishment of a new, international Innovation Centre dedicated to transforming how railway wheelsets and tracks are approached, developed and managed in the rail industry.
Two of the most challenging issues faced by rail operators currently are tightening budgets and increasing lifecycle costs – arising from the working capital required to enable the day-to-day operation and maintenance of railway services – in combination with significant capital investment to finance projects in the pipeline such as modernising fleets and infrastructure, achieving decarbonisation toward Net-Zero 2050; the new initiative of the European Climate Foundation, and digital transformation through artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.
In tandem with this is the increasing dissatisfaction levels of railway customers. Looked at from the perspective of the UK, Great Britain’s Network Rail and rail service operators are currently spending billions of pounds to improve the passenger experience (Ref: Network Rail’s campaign for organisation change: Putting Passengers First). The rail industry also uses a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) including safety, punctuality, connectivity, access, modernisation, and electrification for Carbon Net-Zero. Nevertheless, the gap between perceived passenger values and the rail industry’s offerings is widening, such that a recent announcement of a 2.7% increase in season ticket prices enraged unsatisfied passengers, as well as consumer groups who are raising their voices against only passengers being burdened with increased costs, which the supply-side doesn’t share.
To tackle the above issues, the new Innovation Centre will enable a collaborative approach to determining how to mitigate lifecycle cost increases in the rail industry, as well as potentially reducing them through optimised maintenance intervention, and redesigning the production process to apply additive manufacturing (AM) technology to rail wheelsets and tracks. This is intended to ease the financial burden for rail operators, who currently spend more than 30% of their lifecycle operating costs on wheelsets and tracks, while simultaneously contributing to the industry’s overall achievement of Carbon Net-Zero 2050 in the railway industry.
Areas that the Innovation centre will collaborate on include:
- AM for rail wheelsets and tracks, on which: Asia-Tech Co., Ltd will provide its proprietary technology and expertise; TWI will lead the validation process through testing, inspection and identifying improvements that can take technological developments to the next level; and Prometheus Connect Ltd will validate the applicability, deliverability and manufacturability of these developments against achieving a targeted performance that will satisfy industry standards.
The articulation point for this new technology will be when homogeneous AM can be applied to the surfaces of railway wheelsets and tracks, resulting in significantly reduced wheel track rolling, contact fatigue.
- Addressing the circular economy for additively manufactured rail wheelsets and tracks, thereby quantifying the economic and social impacts of AM through lifecycle costs, including extending the lifetime of wheelsets and tracks, and making adjustments to new parts procurement recycling and scrap processes.
This will include a carbon footprint assessment using an ‘as-is versus to-be’ model, applied to the AM process in phased deployments including maintenance intervention and redesigning the manufacturing processes of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This will serve to illustrate the positive the impact of standardisation in the rail industry, first in the UK and EU, then in Korea and subsequently the rest of the world.
- Digital transformation in order to maximise the economic and social impacts of using AM to produce rail wheelsets and tracks, for example, by tracking these assets with analytical models that can generate high quality datasets for machine learning, and thus create a solid foundation on which to build an AI engine for railway asset operation and maintenance. Over time, this will lead to better control of operating costs and an improved customer experience through better performing rail services.
This future-proof approach will play a pivotal role as an innovation engine with which to drive further enhancements in AM of rail wheelsets and tracks, for the benefit of rail industry operators and players.
- Creation of a key performance index, as the most significant and influential project for the new Innovation Centre, providing augmented railway industry-specific KPIs that will provide the ways and means with which to inform and measure, industry-wide continuous improvement.
Setting the KPIs appropriately will help and support railway companies and rail safety operators to manage the future performance of their AM rail wheelsets and track while contributing to the circular economy and maximising the benefits of digital transformation.
Tat-Hean Gan, TWI Director for Innovation and Skills said “We are excited to be partnering with Prometheus Connect Ltd to deliver this dedicated new Innovation Centre for the rail industry.” “Our objectives are to: develop a masterplan for the establishment of the Innovation Centre, ensuring that it will meet the needs and expectations of rail operators and their passengers; build a creative, innovative team of multidisciplinary experts that can lead a transformative approach to the manufacturing and maintenance of railway wheelsets and tracks; and identify and prioritise the strategic areas for research development and innovation, and AM standardisation” he explained.
Chinui Kim, Managing Director of Prometheus Connect Ltd said “I am delighted to be partnered with TWI to accelerate the development and adoption of key enabling technologies for realising the Wheels & Tracks-as-a-Service (WTaaS) business.” “WTaaS will support the UK and global rail industries’ efforts to improve the passenger experience by increasing the efficiencies of constrained resources, and leading the digital transformation of comprehensive maintenance with a condition-based and predictive approach, thus ensuring the crucial role of rail transportation in delivering seamless mobility.”
Image shows the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by, from left, Youngjin Lee, Asia-Tech Co., Ltd, Chinui Kim, Prometheus Connect Ltd and Tat-Hean Gan, TWI.