Industrial IoT Partners: The Rail Advantage By Aaron Allsbrook

October 11, 2021

Internet of Things (IoT) providers are pervasive in today’s connected world, though few have the experience and industry knowledge required to enable critical infrastructure such as rail transportation.  These industries are savvy to the hype of one-stop-shop IoT companies claiming to do it all and recognize the need to find proven partners that understand the critical nature of their safety requirements.  ClearBlade and WINSYSTEMS are two such partner companies that have a proven track record of success in rail.  Whether it’s highly flexible wayside computers at Transits, hardened low power IO for rail crossing and switch monitoring at Freights, or incredibly rugged technology inside of Automatic Equipment Identification (AEI) readers for railcar tracking, ClearBlade and WINSYSTEMS offer the in-depth domain experience to deliver highly reliable rail solutions.


For transits and local commuter lines looking to improve their field capabilities, the situation is unique.  Often these entities have existing brownfield infrastructure located in small but densely populated areas. This population has resulted in high-value services being readily available like networking, but comes with challenges like heavy vehicle traffic at crossings.  This forces the unique opportunity for transits to leverage networks while also finding huge value in new solutions that keep the public and their workers away from busy crossing activations.  Solutions that provide real-time information insights into rail crossing behaviors like train approach time or gate downtimes gathered from existing infrastructure allow for dependable and reliable operations.  Solutions that process camera feeds in transit terminals understand the public movements to ensure the efficient flow of people in the most efficient way possible.  Lastly, these transits understand that technology is changing rapidly, so decisions they make today can lock them or enable them for years to come.  


ClearBlade and WINSYSTEMS offer the hardware and software solutions with the support for legacy interfaces while providing the flexibility to serve future updates.  The hardened remote gateways with powerful industrial embedded computers allow for transits to roll out a single box capable of many activities for today and tomorrow.  Edge-based software that can ingress any protocol from the brownfield Modbus and OPC-UA, or new wireless protocols like UWB or BLE allows for all data to be converted from confusing proprietary streams into business-critical readings that make it simple for transits to alert, correct, and resolve issues that may appear in the network.  ClearBlade software and WINSYSTEMS hardware provide a flexible combination that allows transits to implement solutions today and solve more problems in the future.


As railcars move along the tracks in North America data is gathered.  These railcars, whether boxcars with goods, tank cars carrying chemicals, or gondolas carrying stone, are vital to the movement  of our national supply chain.  Despite having service lives of more than 50 years, these railcars still generate data that is dropped into our businesses for optimization and processing.  As cars run along the track their wheels hit sensors that measure vertical and horizontal pressure.  Temperatures of axles and brakes are measured with infrared sensors to ensure that friction is not building up to a point that will ultimately cause a catastrophic failure.  AEI readers identify each car by RFID and then immediately combine it with information about the owners, lessees, and cargo commodity type that is in transit.  All of this data requires extremely hardened wayside computers equipped to perform endless days of sensor reading in heat and cold.  All this computing infrastructure must have software capable of understanding these different feeds and sending it to the railway back offices so they can be used for maintenance scheduling and predictions along with asset tracking.  ClearBlade and WINSYSTEMS provide this experience and capability that allows for rails to get the right hardware and software they need to deliver solutions that last for years.


Unlike transits in cities, large freight lines have much different requirements for their emerging IoT networks.  These networks must extend across the country and into cellular dead zones or across high mountain elevations.  The equipment in these locations lack the basics of infrastructure and must be ready to run in isolation through power outages, lightning strikes, and temperature extremes.  Because of the vast number of crossings and miles of tracks,  technology must be at optimal price points to prove viability.  WINSYSTEMS and ClearBlade yet again understand these constraints and deliver a shared solution capable of leveraging highly cost-efficient microprocessors that can backhaul data over a variety of networks.  Thousands of low-cost gateways hardened for frigid cold and blistering heat can continue to run without issue.  ClearBlade Edge allows for gathering of data and processing it down to critical values before transmitting over any number of backhaul methods.  This flexibility keeps network costs down across cellular, satellite or other private methods.  Together ClearBlade and WINSYSTEMS deliver a shared solution ideal for railroad freights with many thousands of square miles of assets to track, monitor, and maintain.


When rail operators need to build out solutions that run on the Industrial Internet of Things, they have unique requirements.  Solutions must be highly reliable and hardened to withstand weather extremes and the harsh presence in heavy railyards.  They must be flexible enough to get data from any sensor and leverage networks that are secure and can span the entire globe.  Finally, they must be open enough to move data between systems so that railways own their data and put it where they want.  ClearBlade and WINSYSTEMS together provide the common solution that can be used across transits, short-lines and freights in a cost-efficient and future-proof manner.

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