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ANYbotics and Stadler Service AG Explore the Future of Train Maintenance

With more than 50 service locations across Europe, Stadler Service is focused on increasing train availability, reliability, and safety. ANYbotics is partnering with Stadler Service to explore the potential of mobile robots to increase the efficiency and quality of routine inspection and maintenance of rolling stock. Climb aboard for an exciting journey into the future of robotics and transportation.

Data Quality & Efficiency is the Destination, Innovation is the Engine

The partnership between ANYbotics and Stadler Service AG explores the potential of autonomous mobile robots to transform the rail industry through digitization and automation. Together with experts from Stadler’s engineering, maintenance, and digital teams, ANYbotics kicked off the partnership with a workshop identifying the range of relevant use-cases and matching those with ANYmal’s current and planned capabilities. The teams created business models capturing the ROI potential through efficiency increases and decreased train turn-around time. The workshop with the ANYbotics team of robotics and  industrial inspection experts not only set the stage for implementation against priority maintenance scenarios, but helped Stadler assess the potential of their future robotic teammates. Rolf Claude, Head Engineering Services – RAM/LCC, who led the Stadler team is optimistic: “Without a doubt, the workshop got my team thinking differently about maintenance and inspection. We see significant potential for an autonomous mobile robot to standardize our protocols, improve the quality of the data we’re collecting, and reduce the amount of time the train needs to spend at a depot.” To uncover the opportunities of robotic inspection, ANYbotics worked with Stadler to understand the challenges associated with rolling stock maintenance and inspection. 

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ANYmal robot climbs underneath a train increasing inspection efficiency, standardizing protocols, and improving data quality, putting Stadler on track to implement predictive maintenance.

Current Train Inspection Methods Leave Room for Improvement

Simply put, when trains don’t run on time—or don’t run at all—economies suffer. Trains require complex mechanical and electrical systems to work together in harmony for consistent and safe operation. As such, effective maintenance and inspections are essential.  ”A train’s main mission”, says Jonas Walti, Head Maintenance Systems & Technology at Stadler Services, “is to transport people safely from A to B. Train maintenance is performed to ensure safe operation and to make sure that the train arrives at the station on time. In order to achieve that, train inspection needs to be performed pretty much everywhere.” Current inspection methods rely on repetitive and partially labor-intensive tasks which might even misidentify potential asset failure due to unexpectedly rapid deterioration. According to Jonas Walti, “The benefit of using ANYmal is that it can repeatedly perform the same task over and over again, while still being precise and ensuring inspection quality.”

Built-in sensors currently installed on Stadler’s trains detect for instance temperature and vibration, yet the sensors themselves can lead to an additional reliability issue. Advances in technology have provided solutions to ease the scope of inspection efforts through wayside-mounted automatic vehicle inspection systems capable of analysing the mechanical integrity of the trains passing by. However, these scanning gates are only capable of detecting exterior deficiencies. ANYmal has the capability to provide Stadler with a 360 degree internal and external visual inspection and maintenance data gatherer with less capital investment than required for fixed scanning gates or sensors. “Commercially, we cannot rebuild all our depots in order to integrate all necessary sensors”, mentioned Claude Rolf. “ANYmal gives us the perfect platform on which we can mount the required sensors to deploy wherever we need them”, he added.

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With the ability to navigate difficult terrain, ANYmal has no trouble inspecting the underframe of a train outside the facility track—an exciting development with the potential to allow maintenance and inspection to occur anywhere and anytime.

Better Data Collection Means Better Maintenance

Current data collection processes for routine visual inspections vary among Stadler’s service facilities. Most depots use dedicated software accessible by operators via tablets, and some use physical job boards to collect and display inspection data. Operators spend between two and three hours performing routine visual inspections and then additional time reporting the collected data. While the process is consistent, the reports often are not.  Today, operators record inspection data manually, sometimes accompanied by a photo, but oftentimes using descriptions only. By deploying ANYmal, we could record all inspections in a consistent format across all our facilities. This helps us to further improve maintenance, or, in the long-term, even the train’s design and engineering in our product improvement process,” notes Jonas Walti.

Analyzing high-quality and consistent data received from robotized inspections allows Stadler to shift their corrective maintenance activities towards a data-driven or “condition-based” approach. Consistent data gathered through consistent inspection creates a deeper and more accurate understanding of an asset’s health status and lifecycle. In the future, this type of data-collection rigor has the potential to support a movement away from fixed to need-based maintenance schedules. With data collection and processing from ANYmal’s onboard sensors during autonomous inspection missions, Stadler could perform a more effective and efficient maintenance procedure, shortening timelines, demanding less effort and intervention, and resulting in increased train availability.

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ANYmal gathers consistent data from the train’s interior to create a deeper understanding of an asset’s health status and lifecycle.

The Promise of Inspection Anywhere and Anytime

ANYmal’s ability to inspect trains wherever they are has the power to bring significant value-added efficiency for Stadler Service AG. Currently, depots adopt differing inspection and maintenance schedules based on customer demands and facility and fleet sizes. Stadler’s team performs train inspection and maintenance in multiple shifts, often day and night, yet only inside dedicated maintenance facilities. “Our main goal is to increase train availability and the ANYmal robot gives us the possibility to completely think outside of the box and develop novel solutions to today’s problem,” says Walti.  For example, utilizing ANYmal would allow Stadler Services to obtain important asset data before trains even enter the depot due to ANYmal’s ability to inspect anywhere, anytime. This type of real-time data would help maintenance crews to more effectively prepare the proper personnel with the proper equipment. Not only that, but commissioning the robot to perform routine inspection would also free up highly-skilled maintenance technicians to perform more qualified tasks. And finally, a partnership between humans and robots at Stadler Service AG has the potential to extend customized solutions to meet their customers’ strict requirements. According to Walti, “some customers order exactly as many trains as they need for the operation so there are no spare trains to be maintained during the peak travel times.”

The ANYmal heads out of the maintenance facilities to continue its inspection tasks, extending the potential reach of Stadler Service AG’s maintenance team.

From the forward-thinking and collaborative spirit of ANYbotics’ partnership with Stadler Service AG, it is clear that the future of train maintenance and inspection is on the right track.

Are you interested in exploring the ANYmal’s potential to transform your business or operations? ANYbotics provides proof-of-concept and pilot installations worldwide. For any questions or inquiries, please contact ANYbotics. 
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