The design and installation of railway signaling systems for European Train Control Systems (ETCS) is one important area of responsibility for Siemens Mobility GmbH. As part of the overall digitization initiative, Siemens Mobility set its goal to develop new solutions for their main workflows.
This article provides an overview of one workflow Siemens developed, from digital track capturing using laser scanning to the creation of an infrastructure 3D model containing all relevant signaling assets. The solution shows how automated data preparation processes and interfaces help to combine different data sets in a way that helps cross-project teams understand and make use of the information easier and quicker. We’ll also look at processes supporting the different required use cases: digital track capturing, 3D visualization of the rail track with all assets, documentation, and train driver simulation. These processes make use of AutoCAD Civil 3D, InfraWorks, BIM 360 Field, BIM 360 Document Management, Forge, Maya, and Unity.
European Train Control Systems
To operate a highly secure and reliable signaling system like ETCS with Automatic Train Operation (ATO), a precise design is needed. It is absolutely necessary to install all the assets with a very small installation tolerance.
Traditional Way of Working
At the beginning of the project, two main areas of focus had been identified: the geographical representation of the rail track with the signaling design and the on-site work along the track. In the rail industry, plans about the rail network design are most commonly based on schematic plans, working with mileage. The signaling design is based on clear rules; for example, constraints define how far each object needs to be placed at maximum.
Designing on a schematic plan is very accurate but needs verification before being built on-site, to make sure that the desired location allows installation of the object exactly at the designed position.
For the installation tasks along the rail track, there are clearly defined processes, based on regulations and guidelines. Traditionally, many of those tasks are paper-based—filling out spreadsheets and forms—which in consequence need a subsequent task of transferring the input data into another system.
Along the track, the installation and maintenance personnel depend on having the right information at hand when executing the work. Storing data in many different systems requires high levels of organization to ensure that all relevant data necessary for efficient execution is gathered. Storing information in different systems makes it a more time-consuming task to collect all relevant information.
The transfer of information is difficult and slow, caused by the large distances between office and work location, and by working in areas with no “net connection.”
For reporting, the classic approach is to work a week on-site and to start the official reporting the week after when every team is back in the office. In consequence, the results—and maybe the information that some assets could not be installed because of collisions—is available in the design office a few days later. After that, the next cycle of design, engineering, and installation begins.
Start of the New Journey
The start of the new journey looked quite neat, with two clear goals stated:
1) Create a 3D model of the existing rail track.
2) Replace the existing paper-based workflows for on-site activities with a digital workflow.
As soon as we started to work on those two work packages, it became clear that there is much more to it—that was not obvious in the first place.
Some of the new topics we had to address when developing and working on the new workflows were related to unforeseen challenges that came up when applying the new way of working. Also, as soon the first prototypes became concrete, it was clear that other areas should be part of the whole solution right from the beginning.
Autodesk InfraWorks as a visual 3D design and communication platform has been chosen for the 3D rail track model creation. It enables building large models covering a wide area of the rail track with near-realistic visualization.
An InfraWorks model is generated by loading different data sets (terrain, aerials, road, rail network, land use, etc.) to build the existing condition model as a first step. Next, the actual project or design data is imported into the model, to view it in context.
The model is just as good as the quality of the imported data allows is a simple but important fact.
Questions and follow-up tasks that arose include:
- Where to get better quality data for the existing condition model creation (especially terrain and aerials)?
- How to place signaling data and the rail track, with real-world coordinates?
- How to create content to enrich the model with additional project-related data (signal box, station building, etc.)?
BIM 360 Field
For the digitization of the paper-based on-site activities, we decided to implement BIM 360 Field. The possibility of creating customized checklists to include all relevant questions and tasks that need to be executed when doing the installation along the rail track, helps to capture all information in a standardized way. A big plus is the possibility to take pictures for documentation, used for information as well as for proofing a task.
In using the BIM 360 platform, the question of providing all necessary documentation and guidelines for the execution on-site, has been addressed with BIM 360 Document Management. Setting up a folder structure with permissions allowing only the relevant team members to access the right information helps the on-site team to have exactly the necessary information at hand when it’s needed.
Questions and follow-up tasks that arose include:
- How to automate the creation of checklists?
- How to connect data captured in the field with other in-house systems?
When developing the solution, two overall requirements were stated:
1) Introduction of BIM to avoid creating data silos and reduce rework of already existing data and information.
2) Implementing data automation processes to avoid manual and error-prone steps.
BIM at Mobility Management
A main driver to create an existing condition model, representing the actual environment, is to reduce the number of on-site trips that are necessary to verify the on-site conditions. By scanning the rail track, a point cloud and images are generated representing the current situation along the track. Not just the teams who are responsible for the installation of the signaling, but also other teams now benefit from this data, as they can access it and in the same way reduce the number of on-site trips by checking the most important environmental information already in-house. This is one of the many examples that came up during the project showing how shared data can help multiple teams to improve their workflows as well.
Working on Large Infrastructure Projects
The type of projects the mainline team usually work on are spanning parts or even a whole rail network of many thousands of kilometers. This leads to very large data sets that need to be well structured and organized. The importance of data storage as well as bandwidth are not to be underestimated. One part of our solution is the creation of point cloud data, and we need to make sure that not just data storage but also providing the data within the extended project team is covered.
Right from beginning, all tasks had been investigated under the stipulation of automation. Of course, there are always manual steps necessary, but where possible and rational, tools to facilitate automated processes have been created.
As stated above, the crucial part for the generation of a 3D InfraWorks model is to have good quality of input data. This is combined by a custom tool based on Autodesk Civil 3D that makes sure this data is synchronized efficiently in a standard way. The tool leverages data from different sources, including the engineering database, the rail track scan, and other input data to create a standardized basis for the 3D model creation.
Having a 3D model of the existing track including the signaling design, instantly raised the question whether this could be used for train driver simulation processes. As a 3D model for visualization and a 3D model for a driver simulation are based on different requirements regarding model generation, a separate workflow has been implemented. Still, the same source data gets fed into the process. Content has been modeled with Autodesk Maya and the gamification has been generated with Unity.
Autodesk Forge is a set of web service APIs that enable the integration of Autodesk products into your workflows, to build interfaces with other systems. Forge takes components from Autodesk’s powerful library of software and delivers them as cloud-based building blocks for companies to create their own new solutions. Forge helps implement automation processes and build combined applications, gathering data from different systems.
To go one step further, after having all data on one platform, we created an application—The Project Information Viewer—that combines data from the 3D InfraWorks model and the on-site field data (BIM 360 Field) into one dashboard. This enables the user to see the most relevant information at a glance. With the help of Forge, a viewer has been developed that allows highlighting signaling objects based on the BIM 360 Field status, within the InfraWorks model, so that it can be viewed in context.
This shows that sharing and reusing data, connecting multiple systems, and creating interfaces driven by standardized data automation processes help to leverage data in a more efficient way and reduce time spent on rework or information gathering processes.
This journey has definitely not yet reached its final destination. There are already new areas in mind that could become part of the whole solution.
Marc-Oliver Böckelken works as a BIM implementation manager at Siemens Mobility GmbH in Brunswig, Germany. He has 19 years of experience in implementation of tools and processes for design and engineering for railway signaling projects. He started to develop a process to use Building Information Modeling in railway signaling projects at the end of 2016. Meanwhile he is rolling out the process worldwide within the Siemens Mobility for railway signaling projects.
Claudia Zeh works as a senior implementation consultant with Autodesk Consulting, based in Germany. With over 15 years working in the geospatial domain, she has extensive experience working on different types of infrastructure projects with customers in the area of AEC, construction, rail industry, and utilities. With her broad technological background in designing and developing solutions, database management, and requirements specifications, she provides consulting services to customers around BIM 360 and the Autodesk Infrastructure portfolio covering workflow assessment, customization, and solution implementation.
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