Virtual Reality will help ‘predict and prevent’ approach to maintenance on HS2 infrastructure

Virtual Reality and real time monitoring by sensors built into HS2’s infrastructure including rails, bridges and overhead power lines will help towards a ‘predict and prevent’ approach to maintenance.

Detailed designs being prepared by engineers working on Britain’s new highspeed rail network are being developed using advanced computer design programmes. The data produced will both inform construction of HS2 and build the railway’s digital twin, a virtual reality 3D replica that will be as detailed as the real thing, said HS2.

During HS2’s construction thousands of remote condition monitoring sensors, similar to those used in Formula One and aviation, will be built into the physical line’s infrastructure as if it were the railway’s version of the body’s nervous system. These sensors will monitor performance of the railway’s assets and components to predict and prevent failure, helping to underpin the line’s reliability and ultimately the punctuality of its passenger services.  

Taking live information on the health of its infrastructure from thousands of sensors across the route and building it into HS2’s digital twin has created Britain’s new high speed rail network in complete virtual form. 

The data that sensors on board the high speed trains collect will be transmitted directly to HS2’s Birmingham-based Network Integrated Control Centre (NICC) at Washwood Heath.

Here engineers and maintenance teams will analyse data with the use of Artificial Intelligence to monitor asset performance trends across the network. A downward trend in asset performance will trigger HS2’s predict-and-prevent maintenance programme.

However before going out on site engineers will use virtual reality headsets to investigate issues from the safety of the NICC. The technology will enable maintenance teams to understand issues and in some cases resolve them without even having to physically go out on location.

The benefit of operating a “predict and prevent” system on HS2 will enable parts to be repaired and replaced when the asset tells us – rather than relying on a rolling programme of maintenance and renewals.

Head of Strategic Planning and Asset Management, David White said: “With HS2’s digital twin-based predict and prevent approach to maintenance we have the ability to prevent failures and replace assets when the system indicates a decline in performance – as opposed to relying on a rolling programme of asset replacement. 

“Harnessing the power of the digital twin and its predictive capability could see an asset’s operational life extended by months or even years. This will enable us to reduce cost, cut waste and shrink the environmental footprint of HS2’s maintenance operation and maintain a consistently high level of customer service.”

Even without its digital twin-based maintenance operation HS2 will be one of the most reliable railways in the world, so much so that virtual reality technology has an important part to play in keeping teams familiar with the railway.

Mr White added:“HS2 will be very safe and reliable, not least because it will be new and built to the latest standards. This in itself creates the challenge of keeping staff trained and competent to run and maintain both the railway and its stations. So we will create new tools through the use of virtual and Augmented Reality technologies to maintain and enhance the skills of our maintenance and station teams.”

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