Christoffer Hamin is at the starting pit of D-Rail, a Swedish company that monitors the infrastructure of railways in a surprisingly simple manner. Their measurement data unlock a wealth of information that helps to prevent delays, high repair costs and dangerous situations with trains. “The owners and operators of the railway infrastructure want consistent data. My goal is to detect errors in the infrastructure at an early stage, so that the repair can be planned in advance and not affect the traffic.”
While the preparations for the next edition of the Accenture Innovation Awards are in full swing, this interview shines a light on the last winner of 2018. And why they won: the jury described what D-Rail does as “a breakthrough of innovative technology in the conservative railway industry”. This month, D-Rail will go live.
What is D-Rail?
“The funny thing is that D-Rail’s service is actually not a technology, but information. Just as information is the new gold for marketeers, this also applies to the less flashy sectors such as railways. In essence, D-Rail makes sure that the tracks, signals and electrification systems of railways are working optimally by monitoring them on a daily basis with smart sensors.”
Why are you doing it?
“Just like in the Netherlands, accidents with trains happen in Sweden, too. Delays occur and the accompanying systems age faster than their owners would like. This has an impact on the experience of travelers and the reputation of carriers.”
Who is your marketing focused toward?
“In most European countries, there is a difference between the owner of the trains and the owner of the railways. For instance, in the Netherlands you have ProRail which is the owner of the railway, and NS which is the operator. D-Rail is of interest for them both. We want to make it easy for the public to understand the underlying challenges of monitoring a railway system, and how we can solve them.”
What makes the sensors smart?
“The sensors are the result of more than three years of research and development. We know what, how and when to assess the condition of the railway. The embedded system shows great potential to be used in many more applications. The high precision and autonomic capabilities enable our sensor system to monitor railways around the world with almost no maintenance, for up to several years.”
How does D-Rail stand out from competitors?
“Our competitors take the ‘we do as we’ve always done’-approach. With specialized measurement trains they trace, just like we do, the imperfections in the railway infrastructure. However, they don’t measure the infrastructure on a frequent basis. Also, our competitors are using lasers and cameras fitted externally onto regular trains. But as an engineer with years of experience repairing trains in Sweden, Germany, India and Thailand, I know that stones, ice and mud can lead to problems with that kind of set-up. That’s why our system is extremely rugged and wirelessly connected to the cloud. That way it can monitor the condition of the railways for many years without any problems.”
Why did you decide to apply for the AIA18?
“A scout of the Accenture Innovation Awards approached me. It offered us the opportunity to generate publicity for D-Rail, as well as the possibility to learn more about the Dutch railway system. We could help ProRail, NS and other carriers to make a difference in the future. D-Rail can help them to better prepare for unexpected situations.”
What have you accomplished through AIA up to now?
“The uniting factor during many AIA events was the clear aspiration to foster change. Trains need to be a reliable means of transport for everyone, and they need to run on time. The desire to do things differently goes deeper and further than I expected, it’s not solely a Swedish phenomenon.”
What was the deciding factor that led the jury to announce D-Rail as the winner?
“That we have the capacity to scale-up our innovative information system in a conservative industry. The railway sector is slowly moving towards an ‘Industry 4.0’, which will take greater advantage of automation and data sharing. The award gives us, along with the whole sector, an extra push in the right direction.”
What trends do you foresee in D-Rail’s market in the coming years?
“Growing competition and new possibilities. In Sweden, the government and universities are already busy with a few expensive projects to monitor the infrastructure of the railways. We want to spearhead this trend with our scalable solution. Just one D-Rail box per train is enough - and it’s compatible with every type of train.”
What is your golden tip for innovators?
“Keep up the fight. The innovation that stays standing until the end is probably the best solution to the problem. Keep trying, even if you fail, just don’t ever give up. That’s the only way to win.”
*) D-Rail is the winner of the Accenture Innovation Awards 2018 in the theme Mobility.