Wireless rail monitoring questions: Loadsensing features and benefits

When do you get a chance to ask anything to the world’s top experts in wireless rail industry monitoring, all in one (virtual) room? Not often—which is why attendees at our Internet of Things (IoT) Wireless Monitoring in the Rail Industry webinar leapt at the chance. The session featured: 

There were so many questions during the session that we’ve had to divide them into two blog entries. This one covers general monitoring queries and the features and benefits of our Loadsensing platform. And in an upcoming blog, we’ll look at specific applications and connectivity. Also, don’t forget that if you missed the webinar then you can watch it again now. If you still have queries after reading through both blogs, then simply get in touch.  

General monitoring topics

How do you believe that artificial intelligence can help you in the asset monitoring process? Is this already a reality?

Ignasi Gómez-Belinchón: Artificial intelligence is not just a single variable or a single way of processing the data, it is a process. We need to identify the critical missions to be applied—this is crucial for being cost effective. But it can provide us with good tools for a prediction of what is going to happen. Also, it could also help us to concentrate on the client. This is much more crucial than ever. So, it is not a reality yet, but we need progress to get it for all of us.

Marco Bocci: I agree, it’s not here yet. We’re seeing the dawn of it and I believe there will be tasks that need to be completed as prerequisites for this technology to really deliver the benefits that we all hope it will. That’s why there’s such massive attention on this topic: it is really promising. It is the final piece of the puzzle to shift from reactive to proactive. 

It will just tell you that you need to go and intervene, which is what we really want. The capacity to do prediction, we have already—but the problem is that it needs highly trained and skilled geotechnical experts and a lot of modeling and ground investigations and time, which we don’t have when we have to react within a few hours to avoid slope failure. 

Juan Peset: We can use a specific webinar about this topic! I’m a true believer. It’s not here yet, but it’s going to be very, very soon, because otherwise we wouldn’t be getting all the benefit we can from our data.

Do you see a market for wireless monitoring beyond urban railroad networks?

Marco Bocci: Clearly, yes. Not maybe with the same device, but a very similar one. Maintenance these days is so costly that you need to come up with  more efficient solutions, and the answer is IoT. 

Marco di Mauro: I fully agree. In rural areas, what can help a lot is the range of the wireless and the possibility to operate without the need for a permanent power supply, which is sometimes not easy to find outside urban areas. The applications and benefits of IoT are valid in urban areas as well as in rural ones.

Which is more important: proactive identification of slope instability or reactive identification of slope failures?

Ignasi Garcia-Milà: So far, Loadsensing is providing more proactive identification of stability because it’s monitoring parameters relevant to that. It is also generating alerts itself on the sensors, on the nodes, so we can also address the reactive identification of slope failures. 

Marco Bocci: I think it is more important to have a precise, proactive identification of slope instability. 

Juan Peset: I fully agree. What we are looking forward to is predictive maintenance, so we are much more interested in proactive than reactive identification.

What settlement criteria are considered in monitoring system design?

Marco Bocci: Total and differential settlements are important in terms of damage to structures and assets. When you’re constructing, there are quite strict tolerances to progress from one phase of construction to the next. So those are the criteria we look at in design. 

Angela Lluch: We cannot monitor absolute movement with our tiltmeter right now. However, we can monitor relative movement. As Marco said, it’s one of the criteria we look at when we want to know the condition of structures.

I am curious about the level of implementation. How many bridges are instrumented in the network?

Marco di Mauro: We have more than 100,000 sensors connected in infrastructures projects worldwide. It is not simple to quantify the number of bridges but we have monitoring companies actively using our technology in all continents and on few famous bridges as well, such as Ponte Vecchio in Florence or the Tower Bridge in London. I would invite you to visit our website for more case studies.

How is structural health monitoring related to IoT?

Ignasi Garcia-Milà: IoT is a general term, and therefore it is not directly related to any specific solution. Loadsensing follows the IoT architecture and paradigm, with sensors and nodes which transfer data to gateways and gateways which send data to cloud servers. IoT solutions may be less intrusive for infrastructure, more flexible to deploy, and cost efficient.

How do you deploy an IoT-based wireless monitoring system?

Angela Lluch: Our Loadsensing IoT-based systems require a gateway or gateways that gather the data broadcast from nodes by means of LoRA technology. You only have to connect the sensors to the nodes. The data collected by the gateway can be retrieved by application programming interface calls, File Transfer Protocol or Modbus, for example.

How can IoT play a key role in comprehensive rail infrastructure management?

Marco di Mauro: Interconnectivity and the capacity to collect and analyse information are key for more efficient rail infrastructure management. IoT is the technology framework that allows this improvement, together with machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms to provide results and useful insights from the data collected.

How can you use IoT technology in infrastructure monitoring?

Angela Lluch: It depends on what you need to monitor. For example, you might have a building that shows evidence of settlement. In that case, amongst other methods of surveillance you could use tiltmeters to monitor the lateral displacement of the building, and hence the relative vertical displacement. 

What are the new approaches to rail monitoring?

Marco di Mauro: The monitoring industry is heavily impacted by advancements in telecommunications, big data, satellite-based systems, radar or fiber optics. Worldsensing is bringing IoT into railways as a new approach to monitoring, compared to traditional methodologies. 

Are the rail industry’s monitoring strategies similar to the ones used in tailing dams?

Ignasi Garcia-Milà: Loadsensing is widely used for tailings dams monitoring. Similar approaches are valid for railway infrastructure monitoring, but some specifics of rail need very tailored monitoring solutions.

What are the new ways of implementing this technology?

Ignasi Garcia-Milà: Loadsensing offers a way to easily deploy sensors along linear infrastructures, such as railways, which can benefit from long-range wireless communications and ultra-low power devices, reducing cables and improving deployment flexibility.

What IoT devices are likely to be used in the railway industry?

Angela Lluch: In Loadsensing’s case, gateways and wireless data loggers. You can refer to the infographic presented in the webinar as a typical example.

What’s the annual investment in railways around the world?

Marco di Mauro: It really differs from country to country. In the UK, for example, railways and railway-related investment represents 55% of the public transport budget. 

Loadsensing features and benefits

How does Loadsensing minimize time and cost?

Marco di Mauro: Compared to traditional manual monitoring methodologies, a fully digitized and automated system significantly reduces the cost of maintenance and site visits, along with safety hazards and time on site. In addition, risks linked to human errors are removed and information is collected at higher frequencies in most cases, allowing faster detection of possible anomalies and therefore more efficient asset management. 

Wireless capabilities make installation and deployment faster than wired solutions and this translates into less time on site and less onerous installations. The system is maintenance-free and has a power supply autonomy of years, once more allowing more efficient management, reducing costs and minimising the risk of damages. 

As a last point, the long-range connectivity of our systems does not require line of sight, allowing at least three or four times fewer gateways than 2.4 GHz wireless solutions, creating further savings on equipment and installation time.

How long does the battery last in Loadsensing devices?

Angela Lluch: The duration is different for each node, ranging from days to more than 10 years. The main parameter that will have an impact on it is the sampling rate: the higher sampling rate, the shorter the battery life. Another is the quality of the radio communication: the more noise when the node is working, the shorter the battery duration. And finally, the temperature of the area where the system is deployed: higher temperatures cause the batteries to slightly reduce their lifespan. 

Additionally, some sensors with analog inputs will require a warmup time. In those cases, the higher the warmup time, the shorter the duration of the batteries. For further details, refer to our Loadsensing node datasheets

Real-time alerts and instant warnings are a key concern in monitoring rail sections of all sizes. I’m interested to hear about these solutions with existing equipment, and on future developments.

Ignasi Garcia-Milà: We are developing trigger-based actions from Loadsensing nodes. This means that when a node detects changes that are above specified thresholds, it will send an alert.

Our Loadsensing Connectivity Management Tool, CMT, will also provide alert management, starting with network alerts and then data-based alerts. Alert management is definitely in our roadmap for CMT.

Can you comment on network standards, performance, coverage and international availability?

Angela Lluch: All Loadsensing nodes are CE certificated and have obtained electromagnetic compatibility conformity. Loadsensing is been certified to operate in the European Union, Oceania, Federal Communications Commission countries, Brazil and some countries in Africa.

Marco di Mauro: Specifically for the rail industry, all Loadsensing nodes are certified according to the EN 50125-3:2003 European norm for signalling and telecommunications in railway applications and the EN 50121-4:2016/A1:2019 standard for signaling and telecommunications apparatus emissions.

Is Worldsensing’s equipment approved for use on the UK rail network?

Marco di Mauro: Yes, it is fully Network Rail approved, and for London underground as well. It’s already been deployed on the UK network.

Does Worldsensing also do vehicle onboard sensors?

Ignasi Garcia-Milà: No, our focus is on infrastructure monitoring.