Keywords: Remote Monitoring, Industrial Internet, Rail Signaling, Signaling-as-a-Service.
General Electric Corporation (GE) has been at the forefront of the Industrial Internet initiative. The company projects a $15 trillion compound increase in global income by 2030 through a 1 percent increase in Industrial Internet-driven productivity. To date, the company's large jet engine business has been the lead example of the potential productivity improvements. Now, the Rail Signaling business within GE Transportation is piloting solutions differentiated on the basis of their remote monitoring capabilities, coupled with a common platform shared across signaling types. These solutions promise to lower lifecycle costs through improved asset health monitoring and easier software maintenance.
GE Transportation is known more for locomotives than for signaling. However, the company's established offerings include the RailEdge Operations Control Center and interlocking equipment. The 2012 introduction of the Tempo Railway Solutions system leapfrogged the company into the important mainline and mass transit wayside and onboard segments as well as computer-based interlocking. Tempo solutions are geared for metros (Communication Based Train Control, or CBTC), mainlines (ETCS Levels 1 and 2), and Electronic Interlocking. While Tempo's use of remote monitoring capabilities and other aspects of the Industrial Internet enable numerous operational benefits, it can also provide an enabling platform for the increasingly important "rail signaling-as-a-service."
Migration toward Rail Signaling-as-a-Service
Increasing standardization and integration of rail signaling architectures are two of the most important trends impacting the rail industry today. Standardizing these systems allows suppliers to develop core, standards-based global architectures that both enable the interoperability necessary to meet local safety requirements and provide a common, reliable platform for building local solutions.
Interoperability is a core concept behind safety initiatives like the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and Positive Train Control (PTC), both designed to allow trains with different vendors' equipment to communicate with each other when traveling on tracks operated by other railroads. While safety and collision avoidance are paramount and often legislated, there is a parallel need to integrate disparate elements of the rail operation to improve operational performance, asset utilization, capacity utilization, and other metrics.
Efforts to improve communication within and between train systems toward these ends are at the forefront of the rail transportation industry today. Analytical capabilities, a core concept inherent in the Industrial Internet, are paramount given the large amounts of data generated by both on-board and wayside systems. Combined with the move toward standard, often ETCS-based platforms across signaling types; rail signaling solutions are a prime candidate for Industrial Internet-type solutions. This includes the ability for rail signaling suppliers with the appropriate platforms and remote capabilities to offer signaling-as-a-service.
Tempo Architecture Enables Remote or Local Monitoring
GE's new Tempo Railway Solutions system, first introduced in 2012, is an ETCS-compliant portfolio of wayside and onboard signaling and interlocking solutions for either metros (CBTC) or mainlines (ETCS). Tempo solutions are designed around a common, failsafe, scalable, hardware and software platform and an integrated suite of engineering tools.
Tempo is a product of GE Transportation's new ITS Centers of Excellence, located in Florence, Italy, and Paris, France. The solutions these CoEs develop are designed with Intelligent Internet capability inside.
Applying the most recent IT design practices to vital railway applications, all subsystems of the signaling solution (onboard controllers, trackside controllers and track object controllers) leverage a common Tempo Vital platform. For remote monitoring purposes the system includes advanced hardware diagnostics and asset management capabilities down to the board level, with each controller rack having its own diagnostic board that monitors temperature, current, and other operating characteristics.
The data communication subsystem includes broadband fixed and radio network elements located at central, wayside, and on board trains to support secure wayside-to-wayside and wireless wayside-to-train data communication and reduce installed cost. Data links between other subsystems support secure bi-directional data transfer.
Continuous sending and receiving of control and status data via wireless communications between the onboard and wayside systems allows the train to be aware of its exact position, which improves safety and operational efficiency. Use of wireless communications also decreases the trackside hardware footprint and enables remote monitoring.
Tools for configuration, real-time asset management, and other tasks are deployed in the field, while the analytics and software updates can be deployed either locally or remotely. This is one area that directly enables signaling-as-a-service, since either the customer or GE can manage the analytics and remote software updates/maintenance.
A Significant Step toward the Industrial Internet
The Tempo Rail Signaling solution embodies aspects of the Industrial Internet in areas such as board-level diagnostics, broadband communications, analytics, and standardized platforms; and reflects the movement toward use of these enablers to solve customers' operational issues. The system does not rely on the Internet itself, however, and is primarily focused on providing concrete incremental business value via features such as remote software upgrades and transmission of sensitive data. Its capabilities in areas such as remote diagnostics and analytics do position it as a value-added platform from which to provide signaling-as-a-service.
Business Value Is at the Heart of the Industrial Internet
It is important to remember that the primary impetus behind the Industrial Internet, or "Internet of Things," is improved business value and not technology. Both suppliers and customers alike must stay focused on the business value inherent in the Industrial Internet or Internet of Things rather than its technological components.
The GE Tempo solution provides an example of where parts of the Industrial Internet are employed to deliver customer value in areas such as lower lifecycle costs, improved equipment health monitoring, and better software maintenance strategies. It also demonstrates how the Industrial Internet can enable systems- or solutions-as-a-service to further customer benefit and ability to focus on core competencies.
Readers who would like to learn more about GE's vision for the Internet of Things are encourage to explore the recent ARC View on the topic (December 13, 2012) or search arcweb.com for further information. We've also recently completed an Intelligent Railway Signaling and Train Control market outlook study.
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