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Why Digital Threads and Twins Are the Future of Trains

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Post was originally published on GE Transportation CEO Jamie Miller’s LinkedIn.

I don’t have a twin in real life, but I’ve got a digital one. We all do. They’ve been built from data about our online lives – when we shop, what we buy – and they provide the data for the recommendation engine from shopping platforms. Now imagine how powerful that technology could be when applied to heavy-duty industrial equipment like locomotives – the kind of value we can create when we know what’s going to happen before it happens. This is at the core of the new digital life of an industrial machine.

Why is this concept of the Digital Twin so important?

For one, it allows us to manage and optimize individual assets and even entire networks. By tracking data from sensors embedded in our locomotives we can create digital models that show us how they’ll perform over time. This allows us to know when a part is going to fail – not unlike how Amazon knows that you’re going to click on a recommended item – and repair it before it breaks. The predictive powers of the Digital Twin eliminate costly downtime for our customers. We can even apply it across entire rail networks. 

But it’s not just about the Twin.

The digital lives of our assets start at birth. When you think of the manufacturing process, you probably think of the separate parts: design, prototyping, supplier management and fabrication. In most places, these processes rarely interact. That’s why we have what we call a Digital Thread running through our operations.

The Digital Thread involves digitally tracking how our locomotives are designed, configured, built, operated, and serviced. Through it we digitize and track the materials used to build assets and every step in the process—from initial drawings on an engineer’s computer, to the craftsmanship involved as we assemble and weld individual components, to the actual construction of 200-ton locomotives that roll off the assembly plant floor.

Thanks to the Digital Thread, we can track the health of each component –including history, harmonic signatures, stresses, strains, performance, emissions, operating environment, you name it.  We can see how all of these variables are changing over time and relative to the health of other components and enabling us to take targeted actions to optimize outcomes including everything from fuel efficiency to unplanned downtime. 

This digital-industrial revolution is still in its infancy and is fundamentally transforming the way we know and understand our business. It’s the next level we must master to ensure we remain relevant so that when people look at railroads they no longer see “an industry run on 100-year-old rails that hasn’t changed much over a century’s time.” Instead they will see a data-driven industry powered by 21st century technology – the digital industrial future of trains.

 

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