System Assurance and RAMS Management in Railways
According to UIC Safety Report 2018, there were 1,785 railway accidents in Europe in 2017 alone. While external factors caused the majority of these accidents, more than 5% were related to infrastructure and rolling stock. Precisely, there were 103 accidents that were directly related to railway systems.
Considering that railways are a major mode of transport on all five continents, a lot, therefore, needs to done to make it safer for the passengers, staff, and the public. That is why reliability, availability, maintainability, and safety (RAMS) management is utmost critical in this industry.
The RAMS Model
RAMS emphasizes on “freedom from unacceptable risks, danger, and injury from a technical failure in railways”. Its implementation ensures timely identification of the instances of possible failure that can jeopardize safety, and its subsequent resolution. An adoption of RAMS framework also helps in minimizing potential impact of residual risk pertaining to the failure.
A RAMS framework comprises of three modules — safety risk analysis, trial or demonstration, and operational maintenance. Before discussing the strategy and how it can be enhanced, a brief description of all the stages is important to establish the distinction between each module. Safety risk analysis involves:
- Conceptualization: At this stage, RAMS performance of previous similar projects is studied, RAMS implications for the current project are identified, and RAMS targets are set and reviewed.
- Systems Definition: It involves conducting preliminary analyses of RAMS using historic data to create a RAMS policy.
- Risk Analysis: As evident, this stage encompasses exhaustive assessment of risk potentials and its accurate documentation.
- Requirement Specification: It involves specifying the RAMS requirement and defining the functional concept.
- Architecture: This is the stage where the requirement specification is mapped to relevant components and subsystems and the acceptance criteria are defined.
- Designing: In this phase, the implementation of RAMS takes place. It involves designing of railway systems per the requirement specification.
Trial or demonstration module comprises of:
- Manufacturing: The first step is to develop the systems as designed according to RAMS specification.
- Deployment: Once developed, the subsystems and components are integrated to make a complete system.
- Verification and Validation: When a specific system is complete and ready, its functionality is checked for its alignment with the RAMS specifications.
- Real Demonstration: At this stage, the functionality of the tested units are practically demonstrated to identify and eliminate loopholes and blind spots.
The final module is where the RAMS model exhibits its cyclic nature. The information collected as a result of constant monitoring is used to recommend modifications to refine the systems. The recommended modifications go through all the stages from conceptualization to trial, and the process continues. The operational maintenance module includes:
- Support and Monitoring: The RAMS scope does not end with a demonstration. It also encompasses the execution of operations per RAMS specification and continuous monitoring and maintenance in compliance with the specification.
- Disposal: Quite notably, RAMS management also encompasses decommissioning of the railway systems. It requires analyses of risk and hazards pertaining to the decommissioning and setting up a plan to mitigate the same.
Implementing RAMS: The Strategic Framework
RAMS strategy provides a streamlined process for systems delivery, management, and refinement. It exhaustively defines tasks and the stakeholders who shall be responsible for the execution of those tasks. As a result of effective RAMS strategy and management, quality, safety, and sustainability become an integral factor of the entire railway system rather than being limited to just the development phase.
Globally, outsourcing RAMS is the industry trend, engaging specialists to ensure safety and business success. The decision on the degree of outsourcing is made based on the availability of specialists, with the responsibility of executing RAMS resting with the partner from the designing stage to demonstration.
Leveraging IoT: Bringing the ‘Predictive’ Edge to RAMS
IoT is already being ambitiously deployed at the end-user-level by household and lifestyle equipment manufacturers. But it is not limited to just that; the interest of automobile companies in this technology is also setting the trend for railways. There has already been demonstrations of driverless cars and trains. However, IoT has the potential to serve railways beyond that as well since it has all the elements required to enhance the RAMS practice.
Sensors installed into railway systems will generate granular data continuously. Using advanced analytics, the collected data can be used to generate insights into the health of each physical and digital component, giving railway authorities the power to pre-empt failure rather than learn from it and then upgrade the systems and components.
IoT will also help in streamlining the maintenance practice as the railway operators will be able to schedule service without affecting operations. This will not only reduce the Opex, but also prevent revenue loss due to unforeseen failure or inappropriately scheduled maintenance.
It is estimated that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, with transportation vehicles being the third-fastest growing category. Technology vendors are investing aggressively on IoT innovations. The situation is favorable from all aspects for railways to harness a disruptive force and revolutionize the RAMS practice.
Considering that the effectiveness of RAMS as a strategy is already established, what it needs to deliver even better, is predictive capabilities. By fusing operational technology (OT) with IT and IoT, railways, the world over, will have the perfect recipe to usher in a new era of safety and business success.