“Rail is amazing and definitely the future for Europe. The EU has made huge efforts to shift traffic from road to rail and research and innovation for railways is supporting those policies.”
The way that rolling stock and rail infrastructure is being maintained is changing. There are a huge amount of resources being dedicated to developing next-generation techniques which can help with labour-intensive tasks being done in a quicker, more efficient and safer way. The key behind that is data and knowing how best to use it. One of the men working hard to do just that and help drive rail industry innovation forward is the subject of this week’s 5 Minutes With…, Diego Galar, professor of condition monitoring at Luleå University of Technology in Sweden.
Diego explains to SmartRail World’s Dave Songer about the work he and his team is doing to make the process of maintenance more precise, what he likes most about the “amazing” rail industry and why it’s Spain’s south that provides the best rail journey in the world.
Dave Songer (DS): Hi Diego. In a nutshell, what does your role at Luleå University of Technology (LTU) involve?
Diego Galar (DG): My role at LTU is on the subjects of condition monitoring and data analytics for transport. It is actually something which has evolved over the last 10 years, from traditional engineering disciplines in a siloed way of thinking to multidisciplinary approaches where data science and system engineering link all technologies.
DS: What is it about working in the transport industry that you most enjoy?
DG: Rail is amazing and definitely the future for Europe. The EU has made huge efforts to shift traffic from road to rail and research and innovation (R&I) for railways is supporting those policies. We have the anomaly in Europe where passengers are moved by train and the vast majority of freight is done so by road. This doesn’t happen in other countries, such as the USA. So, to be environmentally friendly and to reduce undesired carbon emissions we need to move goods by train and increase the capacity of our existing infrastructure. Many actions taken by the EU commission are good examples of these policies like Shift2Rail, one of the leading research programmes in the world that’s fully focused on this matter.
DS: What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
DG: I would have to say that the biggest challenge during this data science era is incomplete and bad quality data sets. Everybody struggling with industry 4.0 and related sectors like transportation are facing the same issue: poor data, and therefore nothing to be extracted. The main problem with this is that one can’t predict if these events ever happened before, so in our data sets we must be aware of the limitations and lack of data when we perform predictions. If we take our operations and maintenance (O&M) decisions based on incomplete data consequences may lead to catastrophic events due to unknown failures. This concept is called black swan.
For those unfamiliar with Industry 4.0, it’s the fourth-generation of industrial activity enabled by connected entities and systems, which brings new business enabled by smart systems and Internet-based solutions. Railway 4.0 is the adoption of these technologies and methodologies in order to get positive effects on organisation and operations from a systems perspective.
DS: What would say is the rail industry’s greatest challenge?
DG: Well, that is also about data. Lack of harmonisation; bad quality data sets; massive data harvesting with no structure; and data analytics without specific goals. The tools are there but people are not mature enough yet to get the benefit out of them. In terms of operational maintenance and condition monitoring, what has changed most over the past decade? Now we have – to some extent – technologies and methodologies for maintenance-free systems, or which can perform maintenance actions when absolutely necessary due to asset condition. Preventive maintenance is no longer an option.
DS: Where do you think the next big changes will come?
DG: We will see self-healing systems which will get repaired by themselves, trains going to depots based on decision support systems, without human intervention and, of course, using robotics in maintenance. In brief: less maintenance and fewer humans.
As to whether I would like to see things done differently, I believe all disruptive changes bring traumatic behaviours and maintenance is very conservative. We’re doing our best but it’s fair to say that the industry is still trying to digest these transitions.
DS: You spoke at SmartMetro in Paris in October – what did think about the show?
DG: I think it was a great forum for exhibition and dissemination of trending technologies and mature products which are part of this revolution. It is crucial to have these forums, as they enable the whole industry to share innovation and make the transition smoother.
DS: Finally, we like to ask our interviewees where in the world their favourite rail journey is. Where is yours, and why?
DG: Ah, that has to be the Al Andalus train in the south of Spain – like the Orient Express, but it connects the most beautiful cities in the south of Spain, including Cádiz, Granada and Sevilla. It is pure luxury and is staffed by extremely friendly and helpful employees. It is a dream.
DS: Thanks very much, Diego!
If you enjoyed this interview with Diego, why not check out River Tamoor Baig's, the founder of Hack Partners.