"The rail industry is a highly complex ecosystem, which is both fascinating and challenging. Digital technologies have undergone great advances, and their evolution is unstoppable and irreversible. We are facing a new revolution -- the Digital Revolution -- to create a smart and user-friendly mobility system."
Technology is a force multiplier. It shortens distances, expand horizons, and facilitates operations throughout every industry, and when applied to important and established fields like transportation, it generates advancements previously not reasonably possible.
Javier de la Cruz, rail services engineering head manager at CAF-LeadMind, is one of the most qualified people to talk about that topic, and in the latest 5 Minutes with..., we catch up with him on everything from CAF's latest train monitoring advancements to the similarities between automotive and rail industries.
Our readers will be very familiar with CAF, but could you give me a description of the organisation for those who don’t know?
CAF – or Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (“Construction & Other Railway Services", in Spanish) – is dedicated to projects involving rolling stock and its correspondent components. We have invested €150mi in research and development in the last 6 years, with an increasingly more global participation providing the required products and services.
Currently, CAF’s vision in the rail sector goes beyond international breakthrough of its railway products -- we understand it as a complex ecosystem that requires complementary services for the vehicles and subsystems. For that end, another set of companies provides highly technological railway services, from certified Cetest’s testing laboratories and Lander’s driving simulators to being a global supplier of spare parts for Rail Line. More specifically, CAF-Rail Services and CAF-Engineered Modernizations provide maintenance and fleet refurbishment services, respectively.
In summary, CAF provides maintenance services in all five continents for all types of rail vehicles, with more than 2,500 people working on the maintenance or warranty of over 9,500 vehicles, in 30 different countries.
What does your role at CAF involve?
CAF’s digital railway platform, LeadMind, has been one of my main occupations in the last three years, together with Maintenance and LCC engineering.
The LeadMind department was setup to implement all new technologies and select new profiles to incorporate as Big Data Architects, Data Scientists, Scrum Master, Telecommunications Engineers, and Data Analysts – all with the aim of improving reliability, availability, and LCC through the latest digital technologies such as IoT, Big Data, and ML. For that end, it requires continuous training, communication, internal coordination with multiple actors, and a high capacity to listen to the needs of our clients while remaining humble and positive.
What do you like the most about working in the rail industry?
The rail industry is a highly complex ecosystem, which is both fascinating and challenging. Digital technologies have undergone great advances, and their evolution is unstoppable and irreversible. We are facing a new revolution -- the Digital Revolution -- to create a smart and user-friendly mobility system.
I do enjoy being in a position where data can be transformed into actionable information to improve the business and main indicators, such as availability and LCC, all in an uncertain, ambiguous and complex environment.
You’ve been with CAF for 15 years – you must have seen a lot of changes in that time. What changes have been the most pronounced?
In the last 15 years, CAF has purchased Solaris’ bus and coaches company; developed and put in service our own traction system; and designed, developed, manufactured, supplied, and maintained multiple Rail Signalling Systems. International orders jumped from 27% to 87% during that time, and CAF now has factories in five countries outside Spain. In other words, CAF has evolved to be a global player in the collective mobility and has created a complete ecosystem of products and services.
Did your previous experience in the automotive industry aid you in your rail career? Are there any parallels between the two?
My experience in the automotive sector was focused on tests of internal combustion engines. Today, the number of diesel-powered trains put into service is very small compared to electric ones, but my experienced aided me in several diesel projects we delivered to Renfe and Saudi Arabian companies.
A train is designed to last between 30 to 40 years (3mi to 4mi kilometres), whereas the automotive industry designs cars to last around 10 to 15 years (about 300,000km).
Both industries are complex and depend on the relationships they have with suppliers, and must respect demanding regulations while remaining innovative. Both are also working within the same “mobility” framework, with increasing needs of automation, user experience, and sustainability.
What is the single biggest challenge facing rail as you see it?
I think the biggest challenge in the high railway competitive market is the consolidation of technology and companies, which aims to provide a new generation of trains and more competitive services throughout its value chain, from the concept development phase to the operation and maintenance of the rail system.
The current challenge is intermodality; it aims to manage and guarantee journey fluidity in transitions between the multiple modes of transport, be these transitions physical and/or digital. The new technologies are enabling a never-ending range of new possibilities in terms of "first/last mile", which is reconfiguring the urban mobility system. We need to understand the evolution of transportation (“MaaS”, AV, etc) in order to stay relevant to the mobility market.
And what has been your biggest career challenge?
Probably the LeadMind digital train platform, and the need to stay up-to-date and trained while deploying a technological solution that has to do with digital transformation and what it entails. It requires a lot of work with people with different soft and hard skills alongside cooperation with strategic partners with issues regarding data (cleaning, governance, etc), technology (cloud, IoT, Big Data, ML without losing the ROI focus) and trust (cybersecurity, transparency, etc).
To what extent does technology influence your role as a rail services engineer head manager?
Technology is an everyday support tool, and during the last years we have developed several solutions that will help us remove no added value tasks, avoid repetitive ones, automate others, and train people more efficiently. We have integrated management tools to improve customer support in our headquarters in Beasain, we have developed CAF Rail Services Academy which is an online training platform, and we are currently working with a computer maintenance management system running on tablets in two different projects to became paperless and improve data quality.
We have also deployed an app with bar code readers to improve inventory management and we will have our Digital Train platform, LeadMind, up and running in 22 different projects by 2021 monitoring a total of 774 trains / 2938 cars. On a more technical level, we have decreased diagnosis time by up to 15% and improved LCC figures between 5–10 %, and are able to monitor safety related issues closely through monitoring the precursors of safety problems such as the quality of flange lubrication, driving modes and types of braking, together with drivers’ behaviours.
SmartMetro will be holding its November event this year in Madrid, and the congress will be a meeting place for senior metro, tram, and light rail technology experts looking at the major urbanisation and congestion challenges facing the urban mobility landscape. What topic(s) do you think should top the agenda?
In the next SmartMetro in Madrid, we would like to share the latest assets, digitalization initiatives and use cases (and their return of investment), and how Digital Transformation can help improve different mobility solutions, user experience, and solve existing operational needs by improving overall passenger service.
Finally, we like to ask interviewees what their favourite rail journey is. It can be anywhere in the world – where is yours and why?
My favourite rail journey was a trip I made from Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima, via Japan Railways. It was an amazing experience for me, and the information they offer to the passenger is accompanied by great punctuality, reliability and a seamless service. It was an excellent and comfortable trip – I thoroughly recommend it!
To meet Javier and many other industry experts and decision makers, make sure to join us at SmartMetro Madrid on November 25-27th, 2019.