Mike Ayling has trains in his blood; both his grandfathers were train drivers and told stories about the old steam train days when bacon and egg breakfasts could be cooked on a coal shovel.
'If my grandfathers could see what we're doing now, I think they'd be blown away in terms of the phenomenal advancement in technology,' he says.
'The improved safety aspects alone align to the real focus that we have on zero harm and making sure our employees get home safely,' says Ayling who is the General Manager of Digital Technology and Innovation at Downer which in 2011 commenced a 30-year contract with the NSW Government to manage and maintain the fleet of 78 Waratah trains.
In December 2016 the NSW Government ordered 24 Waratah Series 2 trains under its Sydney Growth Trains Project and in February 2019, announced its decision to order an additional 17 Waratah Series 2 trains and providing more passengers with improved safety and comfort due to enhanced air-conditioning systems, more CCTV cameras and improved accessibility.
Building on the success of the original Waratah trains which continue to show exceptional performance in terms of reliability and availability, Waratah Series 2 represents a new opportunity to leverage additional sensor data from the fleet.
As each Waratah train pulls in and out of a Sydney station, more than 300 Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and almost 90 cameras are silently capturing data and recording video.
Every ten minutes 30,000 signals are sent from the train to Downer. Those 30,000 signals represent the train's digital DNA.
Ayling says; 'We pretty much check everything on the train, from the bottom up, from the wheels - obviously the wheels are the most important thing in terms of the train, because that's the thing that keeps them on the tracks. We're very conscious of making sure the wheels are always safe, and then the bogies and traction systems, the interiors as well, making sure the CCTV cameras are always working and operational. Then at the top of the train the pantographs are making sure it gets electricity to the train.
'Essentially these are trains with brains. We're getting 30,000 signals from each train every 10 minutes. You extrapolate that out, we now have billions of data points since the inception of the fleet.
'We're using those sensors to tell us about the health of the train - it's almost like having a blood pressure reading,' which, Ayling says, provides Downer with the insights it and its engineers need to ensure trains continue to operate safely and reliably.
It's helping to automate inspections, and also the opportunity to optimise operations and introduce predictive maintenance, saving time and money. The platform puts the information directly into the hands of engineers, streamlining process and reducing the risks of miscommunication or delay.
Ayling explains that in the past although the company had the raw data, it struggled to make sense of it or get it to the people who needed it, when they needed it. That means that; 'we can't take advantage of all the raw data coming off the train to optimise our decision making.'
He knew that the right technology platform would be able to turn the raw data into actionable insights. There have been a number of attempts over the years - however it's taken a Microsoft Azure based solution, developed by Downer, to deliver real change.
Downer entered into a strategic alliance with Microsoft in 2017 to co-operatively develop and market cloud-based solutions and services for specific industry sectors. The alliance, which sees both parties bring their technology and sector specific know-how to the table, was designed to help accelerate the rate at which transformational value could be unlocked for business.
Jason Pearce, General Manager Technology for Downer Digital Data Services, says that the rollingstock services business of Downer was one of the early adopters of its Azure based data platform, used as a backend for their TrainDNA solution. The platform has been deployed to capture and store all Downer's IoT data, along with other important data feeds, overlaid with data analytics and visualisation tools to make sense of the information and allow Downer engineers to act on it.