Data, AI and IoT accelerate Rumo’s investments in rail technology

Data, AI and IoT accelerate Rumo's investments in rail technology

Brazilian logistics group Rumo, the country’s largest rail operator, is accelerating investments in digital transformation by focusing on data analytics, IoT and artificial intelligence to monitor tracks, trains and cargo.

Since last year, the group has invested 700mn reais (US$130mn) in technology projects and IT systems, and the forecast is for similar spending levels in its next investment cycle, Rodrigo de Souza, manager of IT, told BNamericas. Rumo railway technology.

The total, however, may vary depending on the profile of the projects. Initiatives where the stage is more related to development tend to demand fewer resources than projects that are already in the implementation phase or that require hardware acquisitions, for example.

“The budget varies a lot depending on the need. Today I may be implementing more than developing. And with that, next year it may be a bit lower. [than this year’s capex]Souza said.

Rumo is prioritizing projects related to the automation, digitization and sensing of the railway network, with a view to improving preventive and corrective maintenance.

Called Broken Rail Detection (DTQ, in Portuguese), the rail failure verification system began development in 2017. In 2018, the company began implementing the system.

Now, the project has entered a second phase with the inclusion of artificial intelligence, so that more precise algorithms can identify patterns and help the system detect failures. Currently, 60% of the DTQs deployed in the Rumo network are powered by AI.

In August and September, DTQ with AI helped identify 102 cases of broken rails.

The software, including the algorithms, was developed internally at Rumo, while the hardware (sensors) was developed by a company in Curitiba, Paraná state. Both companies share a product patent.

DTQ is implemented in the company’s main corridor, which connects the cities of Rondonópolis, in the state of Mato Grosso, with the port of Santos, in the state of São Paulo, as well as some sections of its southern network in Paraná and Santa Catarina.

Rumo is currently mapping the following sections to receive the DTQ system.

“These runners [where DTQ is present] they have heavy traffic, which puts a lot of stress on the rails. Future implementation depends on whether or not the rails are new, whether or not there is increased risk, among other factors. The option could be to simply install new rails. All this is aligned with the infrastructure area. We are currently planning this with the team,” Souza said.

The company currently manages some 14,000km of railways in the states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, São Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, Minas Gerais, Goiás and Tocantins.

It also owns 1,400 locomotives and 35,000 wagons.

CLOUD AND IoT

Rumo is also investing in migrating the majority of its data to the cloud. Both operational data, which includes the rail system itself, and internal data, related to the back office and its network operations center (NOC).

The company has contracts in place with two of the main public cloud providers in the market. Souza said he couldn’t name them.

The largest cloud providers are AWS, Microsoft, Google, and Oracle.

In IoT, Rumo has prioritized low-cost solutions.

“The dollar, and even the war in the Ukraine, has had a huge impact on the costs of foreign components. Today we are working a lot with the data that we already have, more with the implementation of systems in partnership with local companies and, finally, in the capture of data through sensors”.

This capture is done through a system called Way Side, which consists of equipment distributed along the line monitoring acoustics and the impact of the wheels on the rails, among other elements.

In the past, these data came separately and the reading was done mainly on a case-by-case basis. All these measurements are now being centralized, read and processed at the same time by the company, Souza said.

Rumo does not necessarily intend to put IoT sensors on the carriages, as external systems already generate a lot of data to work with, the executive said.

CONNECTIVITY

To mitigate the problems related to connectivity in the areas through which its wagons cross, many of which have little or no coverage, the company has relied mainly on satellite. The main providers are Globalsat and Inmarsat.

Whenever possible, Rumo uses the public cellular network, including 2G (GSM) technology, since much of the data transmitted is simple and requires little bandwidth. In this case, the cellular network used is that of Claro.

According to Souza, the company is also testing cellular IoT LoRa (long range) technology. A key feature of LoRa is low power consumption, which means devices can run for long periods without charging.

Although individual sensors transmit simpler data, the total transmitted generates a “data lake” of about 1.8 terabytes, according to the executive.

In July, Brazilian company Surf Tech partnered with Rumo to run fiber optic networks along the company’s railways. The objective is to bring connectivity to the municipalities present in the nine Brazilian states covered by the network concessioned by the company.

This specific project is not being carried out by Souza’s team, but the executive said DTQ and WaySide are expected to benefit from this connectivity.

Initially, the project foresees an investment of 1.5bn reais by Surf Tech.

EXPANSION

Digitizing operations is key for the company as Rumo expands its rail network.

The company’s board has just authorized a 4.5bn-real, 211km first phase of a 15bn-real rail project in Mato Grosso state.

“This project is transformative for Rumo and for the state of Mato Grosso, the region with the highest grain production in the country. Our investment thesis is based on an expectation of growth in food demand in Asia. Our projection is that grain production in Mato Grosso will grow 30% by 2030, which will require a lot of logistical structure to attend to,” said Rumo’s chief financial officer, Rafael Bergman, in a conference call to present details of the project.

The first phase will connect the cities of Rondonópolis and Campo Verde. Works are expected to take three years and operations should start in 1H26.

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