Embedded Historian, Cell Phone Data Transfers Enable SCADA for Train-Rail Grinding

When the steel of train wheels meets the steel of railroad tracks, damage occurs, especially to the tracks. To repair that track damage, owners use rail grinders.

These massive machines—a diesel locomotive pulling separate platforms, several of which have multiple motor-driven grinding stones—smooth tracks as they travel over them at low-to-moderate speeds. 

One rail-maintenance provider needed more information from its grinder machines, explains Mike Pantaleano, business manager for information software, Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com), Mayfield Heights, Ohio. On-board systems generate data by checking temperatures, grinding speed and depth of grind. Combined, there are tens of thousands of controller and human machine interface (HMI) tags. Those include data collected historically for reporting purposes.

The maintenance company faced gathering field information through a global-positioning satellite (GPS) and the on-board remote systems, and then transmitting those data to headquarters. “Instead of putting a full mobile control room on the machine, though, we used the historian in the ControlLogix systems [on the machine’s grinding platforms],” Pantaleano recalls. Those historians—Factory Talk Historian Machine Edition Version 2.2—connect to a headquarters-located master historian, FactoryTalk Historian Site Edition. That connects to a FactoryTalk VantagePoint server.

“The rail-grinder end-user went from the clipboard method of gathering data to having information at its fingertips,” Pantaleano says. Cell-phone data transfers send information back to headquarters, for use by several different business units. Real-time component mean-time-to-failure analysis now occurs. Key performance indicator (KPI) data storage rose to 137 days, from 30. Electronic historical data logs now remotely provide KPI information. Operators can look across the geography of the railroad systems being served to locate the rail-grinders.

Also, the new SCADA system—FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI business intelligence software for manufacturing—provides staff access to remote visualization with GPS and trends, via the historians. “In fact, visualization ended up driving the solution,” Pantaleano says.

As of early January 2013, the new technologies have been online about a year, Pantaleano says. The company has only one rail-grinders so equipped, but it is working to install the new technologies on five more. Plans call for eventual implementation for the entire fleet.

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