Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Bosch asset intelligence for connected freight trains

William Payne
January 20, 2016
Bosch has announced that it is working on a connected asset intelligence system to enable intelligent logistics support for rail-borne freight. The new system will enable accurate localisation, goods monitoring and cold chain surveillance, vibration monitoring, accurate mileage and geofencing.

According to Bosch, a reason why connectivity technology has been unable to find its way into rail freight transport is that freight carriages have neither their own power supply nor their own sensors. Bosch Engineering's connected asset intelligence system for rail freight is designed to close this gap.  

“We use intelligent, connected sensors to capture real-time data from freight cars and process it online. This means the cars themselves can determine whether or not the cold chain has been maintained, predict when a delivery will arrive, and provide information about when they will next require maintenance,” says Bernhard Bihr, president of Bosch Engineering.

The rail freight asset intelligence system builds on the company’s existing technologies and components in large-scale
automotive production.

“Our automotive technology can also be applied in other sectors, including rail transport. This new system allows us to make the logistics chains across rail, road, and sea transparent, and manage the increase in freight transport more efficiently,” says Bihr.

More than 300 freight carriages have already been equipped with the new Bosch system and are being used to put the technology through its paces on railways in Europe, North America, and Australia. The system is scheduled to enter production in mid-2016.

Being able to track deliveries continuously and know if they will arrive on time is standard for road shipments. But when it comes to rail, this has typically been the exception rather than the rule according to Bosch, since freight carriages have been unable to supply the required information. Getting the timing right – especially when relying on a combination of rail, road, and sea transport – is essential to ensuring the efficiency of logistics processes.

With the new asset intelligence system, connectivity hardware installed in freight carriages provides the necessary information instantly, thus making it possible to pinpoint the location of each car. As a result, rail shipments can be tracked and monitored from start to finish, which in turn saves money, improves logistics planning, and helps ensure more reliable scheduling and increased delivery punctuality.

The asset intelligence can also monitor goods to ensure that the cold chain is maintained. Sensors monitor factors such as temperature and air humidity and connectivity hardware inside the carriages sends the information gathered to a server and makes it available through an online portal. Should the temperature inside the car pass a critical threshold, the system immediately raises the alarm and notifies the control centre. In this way, transport conditions can be monitored at all times along the entire route, and the system ensures that food always arrives fresh at its destination.

Manoeuvring and loading goods for transport can result in abrupt movements and vibrations strong enough to damage freight carriages and the goods they carry. The connectivity hardware features a triaxial acceleration sensor that measures how strongly, how often, and exactly where freight carriages are buffeted and analyses the data. This makes it possible to determine the cause of any potential damage to the carriages or their loads and verify the conditions of transport.

The Bosch system fits freight carriages with an odometer that shows how many miles have been driven and when to schedule the carriage’s next service. Freight operators can track the GPS position of a given car on a map of the rail network and determine how far it travels. Using this information, they can then schedule servicing intervals based on mileage and condition and make necessary repairs predictively.

Operators frequently require information on when a particular freight carriage enters a station grounds or if it has made an unplanned departure from the expected route. After a virtual zone has been defined online, each freight car automatically sends an e-mail or text message once it reaches the zone boundary. The arrival notification feature makes it possible to generate electronic delivery notes automatically and optimise logistics processes. And by using information on if and when a car’s doors have been opened, the system also increases the security of goods in transit.