"…for me as an engineer, the rail environment is incredibly interesting because public transport is vitally important for our society."
Televic Rail is a technology company that designs and manufactures communication systems for rolling stock, including passenger information systems and bogie monitoring systems. Fitted onto trains and trams in markets across the world, including New Zealand, Canada, China and the US, the company installed its technology systems on the latter's Brightline trains in Florida. In some of the company's most recent news, Televic Rail released details about its involvement in research designed to learn how to collect transport data that would present insightful information about train fleets that can inform and enable predictive maintenance.
For this week’s 5 Minutes With… Televic Rail’s director of R&D and product management, Dirk Van Den Wouwer, talks to Dave Songer about that news, along with the changes he’s seen in the rail industry, why he thinks transport is important to society as a whole and, of course, what's been his favourite rail journey.
Over the past nine years, I have seen rail catching up with the latest technologies in a spectacular way, a situation mainly driven by the challenges of all actors involved. Be they the train operating companies or the train builders, all are focused on improving the customer experience, lowering costs, reducing ecological footprints and improving capacity. The key to these challenges is innovation, which is one of the core values of Televic Rail. Hence, for me as an engineer, the rail environment is incredibly interesting because public transport is vitally important for our society. In addition, I like working in different parts of the world, which my job requires me to do; people and cultures intrigue me.
Together with our portfolio we have grown a team that build new products, deploy them in different markets around the world and then get to see the positive results, which is great because I find witnessing people growing and being enthusiastic about their accomplishments so rewarding.
What does your position of head of R&D and product management entail?
Televic Rail’s service is being built by the three pillars of our R&D team. The research team is continuously investing in new solutions that sometimes use technologies containing rather low, so-called, technology readiness levels, which means there is a risk that ideas won’t make it to market. However, in most cases, the outcomes of these projects result in successful rail products.
We execute these projects in close cooperation with universities, research institutes and other companies. Then the product teams build the roadmaps of our products and develop our products with the concepts developed by the research team and valorised. And last but not least, new solutions are being built by our project teams, delivering bespoke solutions for customers worldwide.
My position at Televic requires me to ensure that the pace of innovation is continuously accelerating and with the right people in the right places all being challenged to master the right skills and to cooperate in strong teams. Equally important to the technical side of things, I see it as my responsibility to ensure that products are answering customer needs at all times – so that means making sure that business meets technology to allow for long-term company growth and sustainability.
I think that’s been coping with change and making sure the company remains agile. However, balancing that change with sometimes limited resources should never endanger quality standards. This – as most companies will find – is a complex puzzle.
Last year Televic announced plans to collect and present data about train fleets to enable predictive maintenance. What more can you tell us about that?
28,000 rail vehicles have been equipped with Televic Rail products worldwide, systems that include passenger information systems and mechatronics. Over the years the company has equipped train bogies and car bodies with sensors and has designed a substantial number of rail-specific sensors that measure different parameters representing the status of tracks, bearings, stability and ‘bogie health’, some of which are mounted on trains that can reach speeds of nearly 250mph (400kmh) in often harsh environments. Televic Rail recently finalised Cosamira, which is an interdisciplinary research project together with IBCN, a research department at Belgium’s largest university, Ghent University. Cosamira resulted in a new future-proof hardware and software platform that addresses specific requirements for different sensor applications. In a new research project, Dyversify, Televic’s rail research team used its knowledge of data mining and machine learning to add value, developing solutions higher in the value chain from sensor to meaningful data on which operational decisions can be made. The latest technologies have now found their way into working rail applications.
What’s been your favourite rail journey and why?
Probably not the most comfortable, but a few years ago I backpacked with my wife and three children through China for four weeks traveling from the north to the south of the country. We travelled a lot by train while we were there and one really amazing route journey was from Yichang to Wulingyuan. Just Google Wulingyuan and you will understand!
(DS): I just did, Dirk, and it looks pretty incredible. Thanks for taking part in SmartRail World's 5 Minutes With…
Last week's 5 minutes with… Lies Alderlieste-de Wit, CISO of Nederlandse Spoorwegen.
Would you like to get involved in 5 minutes with…? This fun, informative feature gives our readership the chance to get to know more about the personalities behind the industry, what it is that inspires them, where they see the industry heading and of course their own favourite rail journey! Get in touch with Dave Songer: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.