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Optimizing asset utilization: The data-driven future of rail and freight

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Business and Technology Writer

Here's the scenario: Your rail company has a corporate initiative focused on your asset utilization strategy. Your aging vehicles and tracks need constant attention. The costs are adding up quickly, significantly impacting the company's bottom line. Your attempts to keep it all running efficiently amid breakdowns adds up, too, contributing to what Mass Transit pegs as a nearly $86 billion industry backlog of damaged or time-worn assets. Is there a more efficient and predictive way to manage wear and tear on your trains? How do you mitigate all these eventualities?

Across the rail and freight logistics industries, traditional approaches to reinvestment costs are being replaced by data-driven solutions. If you're ready to empower your company with a proactive and predictive approach to managing assets, read on and learn how the story unfolds when data-driven tools are put to optimal use.

Rail takes an analytics-driven track

The modern rail system is an environment where a predictive analytics-based approach can aggregate massive quantities of structured and unstructured data that help minimize downtime. Insights from this data offer tangible benefits that keep rail companies moving forward.

In the Netherlands, engineers and analysts are keying into new ways to optimize rail and passenger traffic by using big data to map mobile device and smart-card usage, Procedia Computer Science explains. This strategy is helping to drive greater returns on investment while eliminating process and system inefficiencies.

In Sweden, data on track availability, use of track time, track condition, performance history and maintenance history is collected across the country's entire rail network. Once scrubbed and standardized, this information, through enhanced data insights leveraging analytics tools, gives rail leadership the ability to optimize maintenance, capital spending and improvement plans.

By plugging in asset performance management (APM) programs and leveraging sensor-based data, rail companies can empower their experts to identify and address upcoming problems as well. Systems such as HVAC and automated doors may fail, but by predicting breakage ahead of time and having a data-driven asset registry with visibility into the parts inventory and supply chain, you can remove problematic vehicles for maintenance before they create delays.

On the road to better operations

In the freight industry, the same struggle likely applies. Companies need to stay ahead of maintenance problems, and the best way to do so is through better insights. Your competitors are likely catching on to this trend — the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association reports that big data analytics in the trucking industry will likely generate $1.6 billion in revenue by 2022. Companies can reap their share of that sum by benefiting from new efficiencies, innovations and best practices.

For instance, analytics can help you understand engine life cycle patterns. FleetOwner explains that many companies are moving to downsized engines, and with these, drivers are likely to shift more often. All that increased wear and tear on the transmission drives higher maintenance and fuel costs. However, an APM program can highlight this potential problem, and predictive analytics can help maintenance and fleet operations proactively respond to breakdowns and inefficiencies, offer driver training or switch to automatic engines.

Partners in data: Finding the Bonnie to your Clyde

One challenge for companies that are trying to make the switch to data-driven solutions is infrastructure buildout. What will it cost in money and time to bring in a data analytics platform, expertise and training? Is it an internal project, or as Inbound Logistics suggests, should your company combine resources with third-party partners?

Collaboration opens doors to progressive APM strategies and better asset utilization. From consolidating loads to eliminating waste and refining network designs, partnerships in the data space allow transportation companies to focus on what they do best — moving people and goods efficiently and on time. With predictive analytics and data insights in place, you're also building the best-case conditions for optimized returns.

Move to data-driven solutions to manage your rail and freight assets. Learn more on IBM's Travel and Transportation page.