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Instrumentel: Adapting for Rail

5 min

c. SouthEastern Star, Flickr
After another SPOTLIGHT: Midlands event, Quadrant Transport rail sits down with Sam Bussey, Sales and Business Development Manager at Instrumentel, to look more closely at the business’ history, discuss the services they offer different industries and what success looks like in the future. 

Instrumentel was founded in 2001 and expanded from a Leeds University PhD research group. The group worked on piston telemetry and extreme sensors, providing solutions on how to capture data in extreme environments and make sense of that data.

Sam Bussey explained to Quadrant Transport: “You can imagine inside an engine with lots of moving parts is a very hot environment, so it isn’t ideal for electronics. So, the specialists were very much researching how to capture data inside an engine and transmit it remotely.”

Sam Bussey, Instrumentel

The way Instrumentel solved this issue is through inductively coupled telemetry. You cannot put batteries in the engine, and you can’t run a wire when it is running at 10,000 RPM. The telemetry utilises the movement of the engine to power the circuitry and to create an inductive link for the data to be transferred.

Sam explained that it “could be at the epicentre of an explosion or inside an engine or on a turbine while it is spinning. So, a lot of our expertise has come from working in a number of different industries all focussed on capturing data in extreme environments.”

Skills for success

Moving forwards, in 2008 Instrumentel transferred their skills learned from other industries into the rail industry. They developed and released their first generation of door diagnostic units.

Quadrant Transport was told that these door diagnostic units “utilise a similar concept [used previously] to monitor the position of the door. So, you are getting a much more detailed view of how that door works rather than just open and closed.”

Through the success of that, there are over 2000 door diagnostic units installed on fleets around the world. Instrumentel then created their diagnostic hub which took their engine telemetry knowledge that was built up from working in a number of industries including formula 1.

While there are different approaches across Formula 1 and the rail industry, the similarity is in the use of data to make informed decisions.

That is where we saw a lot of uptake on the rail side of things

“That is where we saw a lot of uptake on the rail side of things, transferring the knowledge and understanding when an engine is running optimally, how to make sure the asset is effective so you’re not wasting time trying to fix something when you don’t need to,” added Sam.

Over the years Instrumentel has also developed its hardware to monitor things such as electrical signals. So, on the trains, they are sampling at a million times a second in some instances to pick out faults in batteries or electrical systems.

In the last few years, Instrumentel has moved away from doing smaller projects of this nature to monitoring full fleets both on the passenger rolling stock and the freight side.

This is helping them improve train reliability and train availability so that customers can get the most out of their asset. That culminated in the launch of Paradigm Insight, a web portal in 2018 and the partnership agreement they signed with Porterbrook last year.

Working in rail

Looking more specifically at successful projects, Sam spoke about the recent work Instrumentel have been doing with Cross Country Trains and Porterbrook.

He explained: “The project started in 2018 and the aim was to develop the solutions to fuel and engine monitoring for cross country. In 2019 we installed that solution that monitors the fuel usage at granular detail and pulls the data out of the existing engine controller.”

“You can do quite a lot of that with one unit’s work of data and identify where fuel efficiency savings can be implemented, but later that year it was picked up by Porterbrook that this is a really great solution that they can roll out to their entire fleet and the wanted to add a few extra systems such as the gearbox and the hydrostatic system, so we now in the process of installing this extended offering to the entire fleet,” added Sam.

Another project Instrumentel had with West Midland Trains was in monitoring the new sanding units on breaking. Quadrant Transport was told: “As part of that project we instrumented a number of trains to see whether the new sanding unit was improving the traction during the times of the year where leaves fall onto the track. What we quickly found is that this data is useful not just for the West Midlands, but also to Network Rail and where there are hotspots of trains wheel slip activity.”

What we quickly found is that this data is useful not just for the West Midlands, but also to Network Rail and where there are hotspots of trains wheel slip activity

Rounding up the interview by discussing the ways in which the sensors allow for companies to be more proactive Sam said: “It is a balance. The sensors allow you to be better at being reactive, that is what condition monitoring is. Yes, you can use the data to predict and prevent failures, but the biggest saving is about those maintenance practices being more efficient.”

Sam and his team are always interested to hear from existing and new sectors where people think that sensors might be useful, but they don’t know where to start. Sam can be contacted on +44 7824 547281 or at samuel.bussey@instrumentel.com

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