Asset management can simply be defined as the coordinated activity of an organisation to realise the value from its assets. That is according to the Institute of Asset Management’s Julian Schwarzenbach, a data evangelist with decades of experience on the subject. In reality, however, the process is far from straightforward.

Unlike maintenance, which is concerned with preserving an asset’s condition, asset management relates to a number of assets, built to different standards with different conditions, histories and demands. It necessitates trade-offs with the available resources to balance performance, risk and costs. Significantly, asset management is big business.

On 28 February, delegates battled the sub-zero and blizzard-like conditions from the ‘Beast from the East’ to attend the inaugural Rail Asset Management Summit at Addleshaw Goddard, London.

Holding back the economy

Despite the adverse weather, the high turnout showed the guests’ resilience but, as speaker Patrick Bossert, infrastructure intelligence advisor at EY, explained, the same cannot be said for the country’s construction output.

While manufacturing output per hour has risen 60 per cent in the last 25 years, and services output 30 per cent over the same period, construction output has only risen five per cent. That is according to Patrick, who is part of the Digital Built Britain programme to improve the construction industry’s productivity. He has also helped deliver savings of £100 million a year for Network Rail through digitising asset information and driving out costs as part of its Offering Rail Better Information Services (ORBIS) programme.

Patrick set the tone for how much of an impact asset management can have with his exploration of how constraints on the country’s infrastructure are acting as a brake on economic growth. It is not just how things are built but how it is used, he explained, noting that train delays cost the economy £1 billion a year (though not as significant as the £31 billion blow as a result of traffic congestion) and that delayed and cancelled electrification in 2015/16 cost the UK economy £6 billion.

“Infrastructure in the UK is putting a brake on the economy,” said Patrick, in a joint presentation with Professional Construction Strategies Group (PCSG) chair Mark Bew. “If we use information, BIM and asset management to change the dials the returns are significant.”

Virgin’s Voyagers

Following a presentation on integrating BIM and asset management from WSP technical director Matthew Justin, PCSG associate director and event host Olly Thomas guided the audience through the day’s talks.

Bombardier’s Eric Holmes, head of bids engineering, provided one of the most revealing presentations; a case study on the maintenance programme of Virgin CrossCountry’s (VCC) Voyager fleet between 2001-2014, which carried one of the day’s key themes – that people are a company’s most valuable asset.

The new family of diesel-electric multiple units entered service in 2001. Following the signing of a contract with VCC in 1998, Bombardier was responsible for maintenance – including overnight servicing – of 352 coaches configured into 78 units. To fulfil the work, a dedicated €45 million (around £40 million) maintenance facility was built in Central Rivers, Staffordshire.

Eric explained that, initially, things didn’t go to plan. Based on contracted availability requirements, 70 out of the 78 units had to be delivered each day to VCC. On average, however, 68 units were available each day. This record was not helped by the trains’ poor reliability. VCC needed the units to operate around 28,000 miles between service affected failures but this figure was closer to 8,000 – 28 per cent of the required target.

In addition, there was a poor safety culture with workers getting injured trying to maintain the trains. Eric revealed that, between 2004 and 2006, five person-years were lost with an average of 24 days off per accident.

The turnaround

Unsurprisingly, there was a happy ending to Eric’s tale. One key step to turning the facility’s performance around included the balancing of maintenance regimes by switching planned and preventative maintenance regimes to the night shifts, which freed capacity for reactive maintenance on the day shifts. This meant that the number of failures dropped because staff had the time to get it right the first time.

It also meant that staff were not ‘firefighting’, as Eric described it, and putting themselves at risk, to ensure the trains were out on time. It was not an overnight success but, between 2007 and 2008, accident rates decreased and, from 2008 to 2014 – there was a spike during 2008 – the facility went 2,278 days without a lost-time accident because of fundamental safety process changes.

Reliability also improved by 468 per cent and Bombardier consistently met VCC’s train availability requirements.

Lessons learnt from this experience have been developed into what Bombardier describes as its business improvement cycle. This begins with a diagnostic review of all of the fundamental processes to operate the business measured against best practice to assess where they are.

Standardising workdays is a key element for some members of staff. A production manager, for example, would have a standard number of meetings and the day is planned, almost out to the minute, with standard activities. Eric explained that, in an asset management environment, with many complex roles and responsibilities, there is a need to coordinate them into something that works effectively and efficiently.

All of this needed a big cultural change. But, once people started to see that it worked, they bought into the process.

Eric added that the Central Rivers case study has put Bombardier in the shop window for fleet maintenance work in the UK and globally. Indeed, global customers now visit the site to see its work at first hand.

Are Thunderbirds go?

Looking ahead, Crossrail’s long-awaited opening will take place, at least in part, in December. Route asset manager Jon Jarrett explained how good asset management practices have been embedded throughout due to starting from scratch.

For example, Jon explained why he is “driving Crossrail mad” by tagging all of its assets (well almost all, he had to compromise on tagging every one in ten sleepers). As a result, if a particular type of fastening or bolt fails, an engineer can look at the population, find out where they are and then look at the inventory of what has been done to maintain or replace them, all of which feeds back into its asset management system.

Jon also explained how Crossrail has installed maintenance pods at every station, shaft and portal.

He said: “When has Thunderbird 2 ever taken off, landed, opened the door and thought ‘oh dear, we’ve got the wrong kit’, or ‘we’re in the wrong place, we’re not meant to be here’? It hasn’t. So why do we accept that in the railway?”

Inside all of the pods are the spares and equipment that’s relevant for the piece of railway that’s adjacent to that pod, with tags on them. This tagged equipment is monitored by a live system that automatically sends a replacement once it has been used.

Ultimately, Jon said, the goal is for the infrastructure to manage itself, for it to be intelligent, autonomous, predictive and require minimal human intervention through good asset design and the integration of high performing maintenance equipment, systems and techniques.

Summarising, he added: “The message is, don’t take the people out of the system, put them into the system and help them improve by providing information and asset information in intelligent forms that make their work easier and safer.”

Packed line-up

In total, there were 11 presentations at the conference – the weather got the better of only one speaker.

Mark Bew, PCSG chair who jointly presented alongside Patrick Bossert, stressed the need to treat data – much like people – as assets. Just like a real asset, data costs money to construct, it degrades and needs maintaining by recollecting it. It should be someone’s job to maintain it, Mark added, and for someone to correct it when it goes wrong.

Innovation consultant Stephen Collicott touched on Pauley’s work managing and building digital assets for the National Training Academy for Rail, as well as the National College for High-Speed Rail, to enhance the institutions’ learning through interactive and immersive virtual reality tools. Stephen also demonstrated how augmented reality is helping to support smart engineers of the future through using augmented reality to provide asset information at the point of need.

Network Rail was represented by Tim Flower, professional head of maintenance, as well as Eliane Algaard, Anglia route director for safety and asset management. Both touched on CP6 plans. Tim spoke of Network Rail’s intelligent infrastructure programme to expand its monitoring capabilities and move further away from reactive towards predict and prevent maintenance.

Eliane, meanwhile, touched on Anglia’s plans, where the money is being spent (mostly on signalling) and how it approaches its asset management plans by assessing projected passenger and freight growth and asset condition to identify renewals, refurbishments and maintenance.

Perpetuum commercial director Justin Southcombe explained the company’s deployment of intelligent bogie technology worldwide, Thales business development director John Raymond discussed predictive maintenance and Atkins’ technical director Richard Arrowsmith called on the delegates – and the industry – to work towards sharing asset information for the benefit of all by joined up and integrated data.

International presence

Building on the success of its predecessor the Rail BIM Summit, the Rail Asset Management Summit attracted guests from around the world. Akasyah Sabri, head of asset management at Mass Rapid Transit Corporation, flew in from Malaysia, Andres Lindemann, Rail Baltica planning specialist, arrived from Estonia and there were two delegates who travelled from Lithuania. The latter three probably wondered why the weather was causing any problems at all!

The next Rail Summits event, the Rail Technology Summit, takes place on 26 April 2018.

Thanks to the Rail Asset Management Summit hosts, Addleshaw Goddard, and event sponsors Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Harris Geospatial Solutions, Thales, Traka, Unipart Rail and WSP, as well as all of the expert industry speakers.


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