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IoT Automates Rail Brake Testing for Logistics Firm

CFL Multimodal is piloting a 20-freight-car system that uses a mesh radio network system from Traxens to capture and transmit data about the functionality of car brakes, thereby preventing potential accidents and making testing more efficient for vehicles traveling across Europe or into China.
By Claire Swedberg

This process takes about 45 minutes to complete for a 700-meter (2,300-foot) train, Delalande says, whereas the Traxens system requires only 15 minutes. It leverages the Traxens Box on each car, she says, connected to multiple sensors attached to the brake system in a non-intrusive way. Those sensors are designed to detect when brakes connect and release; however, the company has declined to share which specific sensors are being used. The boxes come with GPS data, as well as numerous sensors.

The wireless mesh system utilizes a proprietary RF network known as Traxens Net, which employs short radio transmissions using a proprietary frequency and an air-interface protocol. Companies in the maritime shipping industry utilize Traxens Net to create a mesh network of containers on ships, and to transmit that data via cellular or satellite communications.

During the CFL pilot, the brakes are tested by the engineer at each station, by simply having workers pressing the brake controls and viewing the data captured from the system on an app. At the same time, the results are captured in the cloud for access by CFL management.

However, Valette reports, the long-term goal goes far beyond brake testing. The company hopes to create a network that can be shared with the full community of stakeholders, including railcar owners, cargo owners, car manufacturers and rail-line owners. That could help companies to manage not only safety data, but fleet location for scheduling purposes, and to provide door-to-door visibility for cargo owners. "All the people share common data in a structured and secured environment," Delalande says. In the future, the system could be used for predictive maintenance, and to monitor when cars are sent for repair at specific portions of the rail station. The system aims to make train preparation more efficient and accurate, Delalande says.

By using the system, Delalande says, CLF has found to date that it saved 30 minutes on each testing process, and that it has been able to continuously monitor the brake system after the train departs from the point of origin. The solution also allows testing to be conducted by the driver, as opposed to two agents, thereby further reducing labor expense and safety risk.

During the coming months, Valette says he expects the technology to improve the transparency and traceability of the train control operations, and to prevent errors that could take place with the manual brake-testing method. Equally as important, he says, is the potential to increase worker safety "and to improve working conditions of our workers," as well as providing "preventive support by detecting issues with brakes automatically."

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