Finding IoT Opportunities Down The Track
Beyond the glitz and glamour of the connected home and wearable sensors, lies a world of infrastructure that represents a massive opportunity for IoT, and which creates a host of interesting prospects for SMEs.
In 2014 the Department of Transport signed a £5.6bn contract with Hitachi Rail Europe for the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) which will see the first IEP trains being introduced on the Great Western Main Line in 2017 and on the East Coast Main Line in 2018. The new trains will be delivered under an innovative ‘rail–as–a–service’ agreement which means that Hitachi will retain ownership of the rolling stock and be responsible for maintenance, while Network Rail will only pay Hitachi for “on time service”.
The new trains will be the most advanced rolling stock ever seen on British railway lines and IoT will play a crucial role in helping Hitachi deliver a cost efficient and reliable service. Hitachi has integrated a network of sensors into its trains that will collect a massive amount of data on both the stock and journeys, such as location, speed and power consumption. Hitachi will be able to feed this data into real-time analytics systems so it can detect emerging issues before they grow into significant problems. It can also conduct preventative maintenance to ensure the trains are in prime working order and in the right place at the right time, as well as reducing the need for duplicate stock while trains are being serviced.
While this example of the IoT in action may not have the same level of cachet that comes with connected home or smart car projects, it is applications such as this that will generate a significant proportion of the IoT related economic benefit.
IoT will help utility, transport equipment and transportation services companies deliver more reliable and cost effective solutions. In turn, this creates a host of opportunities for SMEs to play a role in supporting what many describe as “The Industrial IoT”.
Not only are there significant opportunities for companies that can develop efficient long-lasting and low-cost sensors, there are enormous opportunities for those companies that can help larger organisations make sense of the data they gather. One of the most important truths of the IoT is that all of the data gathered means nothing until it is used to provoke some action or change in behaviour.
While big rail contracts such as Hitachi’s IEP clearly represent a potentially significant opportunity, many SMEs are likely to be deterred by the limited pool of manufacturers (i.e. Hitachi, Bombardier, Alstom), the long refresh cycles, and often lengthy public sector timescales. But there are opportunities for specialists who can innovate at a faster pace than the large industrial corporations.
SMEs should look downstream for contracts, for example to the growing number of tram and light rail transit systems in the UK that would also benefit from the implementation of relatively low cost IoT services in areas such as predictive maintenance and safety. (November’s tragic tram derailment in Croydon, which led to the deaths of seven people and injuries to more than 50 others, clearly illustrates the need for the kinds of safety devices and measures commonly found on larger rolling stock.)
One specific area of opportunity involves the Community Rail routes being set up by special interest companies. SMEs may find such initiatives more accessible than the larger projects, with the added advantage of providing the testbed experience that would help them move on to bigger and more lucrative contracts in future.
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