Innovation • 8 May 2018

The road ahead @ Infrabel

How smart assets create smart railways

Infrabel is the infrastructure manager and operator of the Belgian railways. The company builds, maintains and modernizes the infrastructure on the Belgian railway network. It also controls all of the trains running on its network. Infrabel is an innovative company with vision. They believe in converting their current assets into smart assets. The goal? To build great railroads, where trains ride safe and on time, all the time. By implementing modern technology into existing everyday systems, the railroad network grows smarter.

Infrabel and Amista partnered up in the development of the smart part of the company. One of the latest developed smart assets is the annotation tool, an extension that plugs into an existing Infrabel application and their SAP backbone. In brief, the annotation tool is a very straightforward application to make notifications on existing railway schemes and documents.

The tool combines document management and mobility to create a mobile, user-friendly application allowing technicians to document and store their inspections digitally.

annotationtoolReal world challenge

Until today, Infrabel’s technicians made paper reports of their inspections. Not always easy, knowing that they needed to carry around documents while inspecting railway tracks under all (weather) circumstances. Valuable information or drawings were sometimes hard to trace and report. The decision was taken to digitalize the entire process. A decision that will lead to accident prevention by making the inspections easier and more accurate.

The advantages will be numerous. Not only will the technicians’ administration be simplified and more precise, all information will be tracked, gathered centrally in one system and overall summaries will be within reach.  Communication with the back office will be taken to the next level and collaboration will be taken to unprecedented heights. Planners and technicians really get to work together, as one team.

And above all: the technicians’ job becomes much safer since they need to spend less time between the tracks and correct symbols are applied automatically. Which in turn leads to safer railroads and more punctual trains. The idea of the annotation tool is born.

Threefold objectives

Safety is a top priority for Infrabel. Steps forward, no matter how innovative, are only made when it’s safer. Not just safe, it should be better. The most important goal is the improvement of efficiency and innovation. Since the annotation tool will take reporting to a digital level, all inspections are stored in the existing system and ready for collaboration. In everyday business, this means technicians have previous inspection reports at hand as a reference when doing re-inspections. A huge leap in business process innovation.

Making it easier to report more correctly, the technical inspection of the railroad environment will not only be much faster but also more accurate.

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SAP as the solution

As many government-owned public companies, Infrabel already carries an enormous backbone. New developments need to plugin into this backbone, everything should be connected to the central system. One of the major benefits of SAP is the ability to create so-called extensions. Small tools that provide an (mobile) interface to send information to the back office. Concretely and in day-to-day business, this often means “an app”. A mobile application on smartphones or tablets, which can be used to connect the backbone to the real world, without hassle, with very little room for mistakes.
 

The road ahead

Amista’s responsibilities in this project were to create a functional analysis and description of all the requirements, to set up the architecture of the application and to develop the tool.

Infrabel has a good cooperation with Amista for several years now. "We like to work with Amista because of their say-do mentality, they really carry out what they promise," says Carel Jonckheere, Smart Railway Program Director at Infrabel. "Their proof of concept for this project covered all the requirements and because of their expertise and driven, qualitative consultants, I knew we could rely on them."

With the application, technicians work with digital schemes, make notes on it using standardized symbols and colours. They can work in a very structured way and reports are sent immediately to the back office. Repairs are carried out faster and there is a better (management) follow up. The entire process is automated and digitized. It has a serious impact on the organization, it improves safety directly and as an indirect consequence, it benefits the punctuality.
 

Showcase of the annotation tool

The tool will be used on a day-to-day basis by the technical inspectors, but also by the planners in the office. The interactive drawing part will be used on the Panasonic Toughbooks, the planners get access to the annotations through saved PDFs. A small remark: the tool is not a stand-alone tool. It’s a plugin, which can be seamlessly accessed through the existing UI5 application, where all interventions can be found.

In order to make a new annotation, the technician simply pulls out a planned intervention and can annotate his remarks onto the plan or the image. For convenience sake, they also can make notes on a blank document. The technician has the choice to use free drawings or text or, preferably, make use of the standardized icon library.

The goal of using tools always should be to simplify situations. This tool does exactly that. Changing the world, one tool at a time.

An improved workflow

  1. The planner plans an intervention
  2. The technician gets his planning
  3. An intervention and inspection take place (see picture below)
  4. Annotations are made 
  5. Report of inspection is saved and sent to the planner, so he/she can check notes 
  6. The planner plans the next steps
     

Technical prerequisites

The technical landscape required to support the application mainly includes the integration with the existing mobile application (UI5) and with the back-office SAP application. The tool is a custom Cordova plugin (wrapper), built for a Windows 8.1 operating system. Compatibility with Windows 10 was a prerequisite.

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Overall satisfaction

Carel Jonckheere, Smart Railway Program Director at Infrabel, is wildly enthusiastic:

"By creating a mobile and touch-friendly application with clear features, Amista brought the technical inspections to a next level. This tool has a great user interface and is easy to use on the terrain, in all weather conditions." - Carel Jonckheere

"Technically, Amista developed a higher standard for our tools", he says. "Integrating the new interface within the existing UI5 application will definitely improve efficiency, collaboration and communication drastically, for both the technicians and the back-offices. Our boots on the ground now have a very efficient way to communicate their findings to the rest of the organizations."

Carel has a clear idea about the next steps. "This first release should be thoroughly tested, used and evaluated before we think of a second release, eventually covering additional features. There is always room for improvement of course and I count on Amista to accomplish it and expand our partnership."

Infrabel’s view on innovation

In a short interview, we asked Carel Jonckheere about his vision on the future. Where will Infrabel go in the next years?

"Infrabel aims to be a high-tech innovative company, we work hard to move towards a digital revolution. Referring to our Smart Railways project, we believe innovation is key. One of our targets is to reduce the time our people spend near the railroads. Smart trains will measure data using video inspections and sensors. Of course, we will always need people near the railroads for checks and repairs, using the annotation tool for example, but we aim to achieve a digital workplace. For example, we are using virtual reality already to train and educate people who need to monitor the railways while maintenance works are in progress."

"The digital revolution is here and innovative companies like Amista will help us achieve our goals." - Carel Jonckheere

Contact us for more information about extensions on SAP, Plant Maintenance, development of innovative assets and mobile applications,... Within Amista, we have a development team that can design powerful, yet simple user interfaces. We bring expertise in integrating various platforms and developing apps. Our applications provide users easy and fast access to relevant information, enabling them to carry out activities that were not possible before. From checking leads to performing maintenance activities, business systems should provide the information anytime anywhere. 

Read more about Infrabel.