CMMS, Heat Waves and Railway Maintenance

Over the past years, climate change has led to a dramatic rise in temperatures and an increasing number of heat waves and extreme weather events that disrupt normal routines. Heat waves have far-reaching consequences, they affect health, productivity, transportation and more. The higher the temperature, the more difficult commuting gets: crowds, delays, traffic jams, heatstroke… The fact is that all forms of transportation can suffer from thermal stress and even in the face of extreme temperatures, it’s up to maintenance technicians to keep things running as smoothly as possible by relying on CMMS software (computerized maintenance management software), real-time data and maintenance techniques.

1. Some industries can’t take the heat

A heat wave is a lasting phenomenon characterized by abnormally high temperatures during the day with little variation for at least three days. Heat waves take their toll on people and machines, and some industries are particularly prone to their effects. The railway industry, for instance, often bears the brunt of weather conditions and popular discontent. Rising temperatures affect every type of transport and result in significant delays in travel and delivery. 

Expanding tracks

During the warmer periods of the year, railway tracks are kept under close supervision to detect even the slightest track laying or maintenance defects and take immediate remedial action. The reason for this is that railway infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to high-temperatures. Ambient temperatures above 30°C combined with the speed stress of a passing train can often provoke track buckling incidents. Intense heat and direct sunlight can make the temperature inside a rail rise up to 20°C higher than the outside air temperature which causes the rail to expand. In turn, expanding rails lead to the lateral misalignment of the tracks and train derailments. 

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All news related to ongoing interventions are available from Mobility Work mobile application's newsfeed, available on iOS and Android.

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The expansion of rails due to heat stress can also be responsible for points failure. Points are movable sections of track that allow trains to move from one line to another. If the rail expands too much the points mechanism fails meaning that trains can no longer switch tracks. The failsafe mode generally keeps points locked in one position when the mechanism fails in order to keep some lines open and trains moving.

Electrical assets

Heat can affect railway asset-types in different ways. The overhead lines that supply electricity to trains via a pantograph are susceptible to thermal expansion when exposed to higher temperatures. If the overhead lines expand, their tension reduces and the contact line sags. This can lead to the pantograph disconnecting, the high-voltage contact wire touching the roof of the train or, in some cases, the overhead lines collapsing completely. 

The increased demand for air-conditioning, fans and other electronic means to stay cool put a strain on the power grid which triggers overheating, electrical fires and power outages. Circuit systems within electronics work best at lower temperatures. In fact, temperature affects the way electricity flows through an electrical circuit by changing the speed at which the electrons travel. This is due to an increase in resistance of the circuit that results from an increase in temperature. Likewise, resistance is decreased with decreasing temperatures.

Components can overheat and fail due to heat stress triggering many other problems such as signal failure on railway tracks or broken air conditioning units within the trains.

2. Railway Maintenance using CMMS software

Every summer, railway companies face the challenges that come hand in hand with higher temperatures and develop new ways to mitigate the impact of heat on their infrastructure. In the age of climate change, railway companies seek to fight the effects of heat waves by adapting their maintenance and investing in new technology. 

Preventive maintenance

Railway companies strive to prevent heat-related incidents by relying on preventive maintenance and CMMS solutions. Every year, they undertake specific maintenance activities in preparation for the seasonal surge of heat. With a CMMS like Mobility Work, users can create annual maintenance plans to be reminded of all the seasonal maintenance tasks they must perform each year. Tasks can be scheduled on a daily, weekly or annual basis.

The main focus of pre-summer maintenance is maintaining the cooling and air generating equipment (filters, cooling circuits, compressors…) to prevent components from overheating and causing a fire. Maintenance technicians use sensors and infrared thermography to take the temperature of electrical or delicate components, gathering data that can be analyzed directly within Mobility Work. 

Anticipating mechanical and electrical strain from warm weather, railway companies stock up on pantograph bows, air conditioning units and spare parts for engine and transformer cooling systems. All on-board electronic systems are carefully inspected and tested, particularly the ventilation systems for the electrical cabinets where faulty equipment could spark a fire. Any heat-sensitive equipment is identified and duly monitored using CMMS software. 

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Use checklists to set your priorities and organize your workdays in our maintenance management platform.

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During this busy period, maintenance teams also take steps to guard against the consequences of heat exposure, particularly track buckling.Technicians inspect the stability of the tracks, pre-treat the rails and repair any weak points before the summer to lower the risk of track deformation or breaking. 

Track buckling can also be the result of old and worn ballast materials. Railway maintenance teams use checklists to examine the state of various joints, elements and materials when inspecting the tracks. Next-gen CMMS tools are mobile, allowing maintenance teams to fill out checklists, take pictures of faulty elements and complete tasks directly in the field. 

Railway standards

Inspections form a large part of maintenance practices because railway infrastructure must comply with strict quality and safety norms. Railway companies must for example, acquire the ISO/TS 22163 standard which sets out the “business management system requirements for rail organizations and particular requirements for application in the rail sector.'' The railway industry is very much a project-based business, with safety being key. This standard ensures better project management as well as higher quality standards in terms of facilities, operating equipment and services. 

Audits play a significant role in verifying a company’s compliance with existing standards. They’re very often a  source of stress, particularly when the standards are strict although a good CMMS can alleviate some of the burden by improving traceability, transparency, communication and data sharing.

Every member of a railway company should be familiar with the current standards in matters of maintenance management and safety. That’s why standards are detailed in technical documents that serve as a reference for every technicenter. Thanks to Mobility Work, every link in the production chain can access these documents once they’ve been uploaded to this community-based maintenance management platform. This software centralizes team communication in industries where loss of information and miscommunication are all too common. 

3. Mobility Work keeps things on track

With more than 30,000 km of train tracks in France, CMMS software streamlines communication to resolve maintenance problems faster. The railway maintenance industry is dynamic and mobile. Its particularity is that its assets are spread out all over the country with trains in constant movement. Maintenance technicians need a smart, mobile, real-time and collaborative solution to keep up with the equipment.

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Mobility Work is provided with an analytic tool to help you analyze all your maintenance data and adapt your strategy.

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Mobility Work CMMS, which is available in SaaS and on iOS or Android, is the first community-based maintenance management platform that helps centralize and manage all railway maintenance activities within a single application available on computers, smartphones and tablets. This tool allows maintenance employees to form a real community and chat easily with their colleagues to exchange tips and good practices even when working in different areas. Inspired by social media, Mobility Work’s newsfeed feature allows users to login at any time to make a note of all the tasks they’ve worked on as well as view the tasks completed by their colleagues. The newsfeed also regroups and keeps a record of all network information: intervention request, maintenance activities, new spare parts, etc. This traceability is essential for railway companies which tend to be spread out with many maintenance centers, depots and stations all over the country. 

The constant flow of trains means that a technician often works on unfamiliar equipment. By adding NFC chips or QR codes to assets, Mobility Work users can simply scan the code to access the equipment sheet and even view the intervention history. In a nutshell, QR code technology in combination with Mobility Work provides technicians with a quick access to information which simplifies collaboration and speeds up maintenance operations. Maintenance workers no longer waste time searching for paper records that may have already been lost or damaged.

In an industry where time is money, it’s imperative to implement ever-faster maintenance processes and avoid costly delays. Mobility Work optimizes the flow of communication between technicians and improves maintenance teams’ response times by providing a constant flow of information in real time: all the members of the network are notified as soon as a problem is detected and can react immediately to fix the issue. 

Mobility Work’s analytical tool helps maintenance managers optimize resources and figure out the best time to plan an intervention by monitoring asset data in real time. For example, railway companies can monitor asset temperature by installing sensors and connecting them to their maintenance management system. Once the sensors connect to the platform using public APIs, the analytical tool receives a constant flow of data. The data appears in graph form in the dashboard so that users can track its evolution. They may even be notified directly within their next-gen tool if the temperature rises above a certain threshold so that they can take action immediately. 

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In conclusion, heat-related faults cause delays and disruption for the tens of thousands of customers who use the railway network, and also incur notable financial cost to railway companies. As high-temperatures and heat waves become increasingly common, industry 4.0 maintenance management tools, such as Mobility Work, are powerful allies to mitigate the mechanical effect of heat waves in the railway industry.

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