In today’s world, as cities grow larger and the scope of business continues to expand across countries and even continents, the role of public transport has become extremely important for day-to-day life in contemporary society. This increased demand has confronted transportation companies with many new challenges. In an attempt to provide the utmost levels of safety and reliability to customers, these companies are now adopting a range of state-of-the-art technologies to service and maintain their fleets. One such technology is Big Data enabling Predictive Maintenance (PM).
In a purely technical sense, predictive maintenance is the regular monitoring of the mechanical condition of each piece of equipment in order to obtain the quantitative data necessary to guide further maintenance decisions. This data is used to generate solutions to typical problems, such as reducing breakdowns and unscheduled outages, optimizing vehicle availability and maximizing intervals between repairs.
In a broader sense, PM management uses the available data on the operating condition of a company’s fleet to optimize its overall business operations. Equipped with the power of today’s technologies, enabling companies to gather and analyze data from all possible systems and transform it into useful technical knowledge, the PM approach allows companies to enhance the working life of fleet components, improve their operational reliability, reduce costs and ultimately increase customer satisfaction.
Although initially employed by the aerospace industry, PM is now being considered as a solution for all other branches of the public transportation sector. Based on the adoption of the latest sensor technology advancements in vehicle manufacturing, PM allows companies to easily monitor the mechanical condition of each vehicle, whether that vehicle is a train, a bus or a ferry, and implement optimized maintenance schedules. In fact, PM can be used to establish pre-emptive overall maintenance programs.
“Data” is the key to implementing PM. It is already standard practice to equip every vehicle with a computer system and a variety of sensors. PM goes further, establishing a two-way data flow and enabling technicians to determine when a repair is necessary, even before an actual breakdown has occurred, or to plan diagnostic checks for specific pieces of equipment. Moreover, taking into account information gathered from drivers, train conductors and other field staff, PM organizes all of the collected data into a structured database, which considerably supplements the information available from on-board computers. The data is constantly updated, allowing maintenance personnel to track all defect notifications in real-time.
The ability to measure even the slight deviations from normal operating parameters enables managers and technical staff to anticipate the occurrence of potential problems. Once a PM program has been launched, maintenance personnel have at their disposal the means to prevent equipment degradation through the planning and scheduling of minor adjustments. This eliminates the necessity for major repairs and vehicle downtime. Measuring equipment efficiency is comprehensive—PM takes all issues related to the performance of a fleet into account. This means that not only is the availability of vehicles and their uptime is being considered, but also the quality of the company’s operation, performance rates and other related factors.
The major incentive for implementing a PM program in public transport is the ability to avoid sudden breakdowns and downtime of fleet items that may cause prolonged or unscheduled service outages. The cost of these kinds of events may be enormous, and the effect on sales and customer satisfaction beyond measure.
Besides, as a piece of equipment approaches its service date, its consumption of fuel and spare parts normally increases. While it is possible to precisely quantify the cost of servicing a vehicle based on previous statistics, the potential damaging effects are less easy to quantify. This is where PM becomes particularly useful—regular prevention is much less costly than servicing serious breakdowns or performing extensive repairs. Therefore, considerable savings can be realized in terms of spare parts and fuel consumption. In addition, PM also enables the optimal allocation of maintenance personnel, which leads to substantial savings in terms of labor requirements, overtime and maintenance facility needs.
PM solutions have already proven successful in many areas of industry, providing a range of benefits to both companies and their customers. It’s time to recognize the potential benefits of PM in the public transportation sector. With PM’s capacity to identify incipient faults, optimally schedule maintenance periods, predict potential barriers to service and circumvent them before they happen, public transportation companies can ensure improved safety and better quality services, thereby gaining more loyal and satisfied customers.