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Bringing IoT to the stationary side of rail transportation

Helping Siemens Mobility reduce rail operator’s expenses by looking outside the train

The challenge

Railroad operators need digital to improve operations without disrupting their assets or processes.

The outcome

A digital twin for railroad crossings gives operators the foundation for new insights and capabilities.

Next Mile helped Siemens Mobility expand opportunity beyond mechanical installations. Jump to their problem (unwelcome disruption), solution (smart research), or outcome (digital twin for crossings).

Digital without disruption

Railroad IoT, regulated technology

For decades, governments and corporations have invested millions of dollars in positive train control (PTC), tracking trains in motion. However, mobile assets are only half the equation: trains ride on infrastructure.

Like many industrial assets, railroad crossings are 30+ year capital investments that constantly change, but never move.

100 years of railway expertise

Siemens Mobility knew that modern digital could help address this missing half of efficiency. They invented the electric tram in 1881 and remain at the forefront of transportation efficiency, pioneering advancements in mobility management, electrification, rolling stock, and digital control.

IoT meets regulatory reality

When designing industrial internet of things applications (IIoT), many technologists assume they should stick a sensor on everything and collect “all” the data. That approach imposes an untenable change burden in high-stakes regulated environments. Siemens Mobility knew such a blunt approach wouldn’t work for rail customers, and quickly disqualified every obvious plan.

Siemens had no shortage of ideas, but needed information from the field and external perspective to focus their efforts. Above all, digital technology needed to improve the status quo, not break it.

“The job of the crossing is to keep cars and trains apart. If digital can’t help that, then it’s unnecessary.”

Principal Engineer at Siemens Mobility

Smart research, smart rail

Intake, assessment, and
research planning

Siemens and Next Mile began by centering on rail customers. We unpacked the state of the industry, revisiting past ideas, reviewing a trove of preparatory documentation, and discussing Siemens’ expert impressions of life as a railroad engineer, technician, or logistics expert. From there, we tailored our research plan to address each key audience.

Qualitative research: factory to field

The factory isn’t the obvious place to start a deep customer research effort, but it’s the first place a product meets reality. Siemens manufacturers and engineers held deep knowledge about what their products meant to customers in the long term.

After the factory, we put our boots on, riding with engineers, sweating with service technicians, and planning alongside logistics experts. Our research uncovered what mattered most to each. When we peeled back context, most raw user needs centered on improving service or extending present value into the future.

Smart Rail

Contextual knowledge for capital assets

At first glance, customers wanted the information provided by a traditional digital twin of the crossing itself. However, Siemens couldn’t instrument a fleet of crossings without asking customers to make a colossal reinvestment.

Next Mile’s research fully validated Siemens’ previous disqualifications. It felt like we’d arrived at a dead end.

“We had been focusing on digital products and digital itself, when digital might help us deliver our current products more effectively.”

Director of Technology at Siemens Mobility

A digital twin for crossings

Positive control

No singular connected product can truly upend 150 years of established process. Technologies must work together against a legitimate need to produce value worth changing for.

When we stepped back, Next Mile’s research did illuminate potential users’ real needs. Contrary to expectations, it turned out that a connected product wasn’t required to meet them.

Instead, Siemens Mobility will create a digital twin of an analog crossing, but not by instrumenting hardware. Instead, they’ll synthesize a mirror image of an instrumented crossing using a variety of pre-existing data.

Future value

Our findings and collaborative ideation gave Siemens Mobility a viable route toward digital transformation, helping railroad operators with digital services without upending their operations with digital products

Solution specifics

Services: Opportunity exploration

Engagements: Monetize

The route forward

Leaving the station

Siemens moved from thinking about digital as a physical product to thinking about digital offerings. They’ll translate their deep railway management expertise into digitally delivered services, offering as much or more value

Next stop?

Siemens is a recognized leader in digital twin development and can execute without additional help. They just needed a spark to see customers and digital differently.

By building a digital twin for crossings, Siemens will improve service, reduce risk, and build future value for rail operators and all of us who depend on rail.

Next Mile helped, but this is Siemens Mobility’s success.

Read about our offerings and typical engagements to see how Next Mile can help you.

All aboard!

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