How digital twins are revolutionising rail infrastructure

In rail, digital twin technology has the potential to be a game-changing solution for managing and optimising complex infrastructure systems. But more than being just a buzzword with ambiguous meaning here is where digital twins could have the largest impact in revolutionising the sector over the coming months and years.

What does a digital twin mean for Rail?

Digital twins are up-to-date virtual replicas of physical assets, and often they can enable monitoring, analysis, and simulation of performance data. We are already seeing this technology transform various industries, including manufacturing, and healthcare and today it is Civil Infrastructure’s turn. In the rail industry, digital twins are revolutionising civil engineering by providing engineers with valuable insights helping teams to monitor rail infrastructure performance and better plan works. Most importantly they are fuelling teams with information in an understandable format unlocking better, data-driven decision-making.

Rail’s top 3 use cases for digital twins

1. Optimise maintenance and repair schedules

One of the main benefits of digital twins in rail infrastructure is that they can help engineers to optimise maintenance and repair schedules. By continuously monitoring performance data, digital twins are getting better at identifying patterns and trends that indicate potential issues with rail infrastructure. For example, if a section of a track is experiencing increased wear and tear, the digital twin can alert engineers to the need for maintenance before the issue becomes more severe.

2. Simulate the impact of different scenarios

Engineers can use digital twins to simulate the impact of different scenarios on performance. For instance, if a new train line is planned, engineers can use a digital twin to model the impact of increased traffic on rail infrastructure. By doing so, they can identify potential issues and plan for necessary upgrades to prevent disruptions to service.

3. Reduce the cost and time required for inspections

Digital twins can also help to reduce the cost and time required for inspections. Traditional inspections often require sending engineers to walk the track and physically inspect the rail infrastructure, which is both time-consuming and costly. With digital twins, engineers can access the physical asset virtually to undertake site inspections from their desktops to identify issues more quickly and accurately. This reduces the need for physical inspections, minimises disruption to the wider public, and allows teams to streamline their efforts towards finding solutions.

Digital twin of rail asset visualised in Sensat

The challenges of implementing digital twins in Rail

In Civil Infrastructure we are creating more information than ever before. Sensors and drones can capture vast amounts of data, and processing this data into usable insights can be a significant challenge. Teams need to translate complex insights into an understandable format to make better use of the information collected.

This is where data visualisation comes in. By using data visualisation tools, engineers can quickly and easily interpret performance data and identify patterns and trends that might not be apparent otherwise. For example, Sensat's platform includes advanced data visualisation capabilities that enable engineers to view their site data in 2D and 3D within the context of the real-world environment. By using data visualisation tools, engineers can identify these issues more quickly and accurately, allowing them to address them before they become more significant problems.

In addition to making the sheer quantity of information understandable, teams need to ensure that the data being used is accurate and up-to-date. This requires a regular intake of real-world information from sensors and drones to ensure that the data being used for decision-making is up-to-date and reflective of the real world. For example on a rapidly changing site at the peak of construction, teams might require bi-weekly updates whereas a site in the optioneering phase might need bi-monthly updates.

The future of what digital twins could mean for Rail’s future

Looking to the near future, digital twins have the potential to transform the rail industry even further. As technology continues to evolve, we will likely see even more sophisticated digital twins that incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. This could enable digital twins to identify patterns and trends that are not immediately apparent to human engineers and even suggest solutions based on their analysis.

Although for some, the idea of implementing new technology can be a daunting prospect, those not using and embracing digital twin technology may soon fall behind in efficiency, savings and safety.

In conclusion, digital twins are revolutionising civil engineering in the rail industry by providing engineers with valuable insights into rail infrastructure. This technology has the potential to transform rail infrastructure management by optimising planning, maintenance and repair schedules, reducing inspection costs and time, and enabling engineers to simulate the impact of different scenarios on performance. By using data visualisation tools, civil infrastructure teams can unlock more from the data they already have and identify issues more quickly and accurately.

If you want to explore how teams are using data visualisation platforms, check out how teams at LM JV transformed HS2 working practices using Sensat.

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