The railway networks are becoming connected or turned into digital railways as operators embark on a mission to upgrade old engineering with digital technology.
The objective is to bring the industry into the 21st century dominated by sensors and Internet of Things (IoT), which create higher levels of railway operation efficiencies.
The Centurion-based Ansys, which develops technology based solutions for enterprises is with reason excited about this development.
“The railways are also, by the way, talking about digital railways. We are smiling,” Ansys boss Teddy Daka told Techfinancials in an interview.
Asked whether the company was smiling all the way to the bank, Daka chuckled and said: “Not much to the bank. It’s an investment at the moment”.
Daka said: “We have built quite a number of systems and sensors that we have put on the railways’ network for our local client and a few countries around us, Botswana”.
Africa’s Digital Railways Begins to Take Shape
The South African based company chaired by business women, Nonhlanhla Mjoli-Mncube has been quietly developing solutions for digital railways through its subsidiary Ansys Rail.
The company has developed a product, Vehicle Identifications System (VIS), which enables operators of rolling stock to have visibility of the location and movement of their fleet in the freight rail market.
The solution is now on version 2 (VIS 2).
VIS 2 is capable of monitoring up to four rail lines independently to detect the presence of Radio-Frequency (RF) identification tags located on locomotives and wagons. Once tags are detected, they are paired with vehicles using axle pattern recognition.
The vehicle number stored in the RF tag, vehicle type information, direction and speed of the movement is constructed to build a train consist.
The train consist data is transmitted to the VIS back office databases where train operators use the information to keep track of train movements in yards, sidings, and main lines.
“We use that product to help our clients, first track their trains, and secondly to know which wagon is where,” Daka said, adding that this is enabling clients to move products efficiently, safely and also to cut costs.
“We are using sensors. This is digital rail”.
Ansys Rail also monitors the health of the train through the identification of wagons solutions and a locomotive identification system.
Daka said Ansys Rail’s solutions can tell if any wheel in the wagon has a crack.
This gives the customer the opportunity to repair the cracked wheel and avoid a possible train derailment.
Ansys Rail has created a trackside image detector system that employs high-speed cameras to shoot, grab and collect digital images on the under frame and the lower part of the lateral sides of moving trains.
This system can typically detect separation of the couple, off brakes, cracks or breakages on the bogie and brake assembly.
“So, we monitor the health of the wheel and track its profile. Just like, you can get a flat in a car, a train can do so also,” he said, adding that the company also checks the bearings.
“The hot bearing is a sign that the bearing is overheating and going to crack and have the train derailed.”
The company provides operators with a trackside safety monitoring system that uses rail acoustic sensor arrays to do real-time acquisition of rolling bearing noise in operation.
This to ensure that early identification of failing bearings warns rail operators to intervene and avoid derailment.
If a train derails because of these things then a client of the railway operator gets fined millions and incurs losses due to small issues that can be prevented with a right technology.
“So, we avoid such kind of things. That’s health monitoring of railways,” said Daka.
This enables Ansys Rail to provide solutions to make rail operations safer and more efficient.