Tube Lines, the tube maintenance company for London Underground, is halfway through a trial of radio frequency identification technology to help engineers pinpoint their exact location when working in the capital's network of tunnels.
The three-month trial, which will be completed next month, has seen Tube Lines embed RFID tags across some of its tunnel network while equipping its engineers with 250 Symbol MC9000 mobile devices.
The tags provide location-based information to place an engineer at a particular 20 metre length of track. A global positioning system would normally be used to achieve this, but the system cannot operate in tunnels.
Martyn Capes, project manager at Tube Lines, said the trials involve putting location information onto the RFID tag, which is generally then attached to a railway sleeper. An RFID reader built into the Symbol device can then be used to tell the engineers on the track where they are.
A camera is included so engineers can take pictures of components.
The RFID trial is part of a massive overhaul and modernisation of the London Underground. Tube Lines has sought to create a single source of information from approximately 550 disparate systems, including Access databases and 15,000 Excel spreadsheets. Once this rationalisation is completed, it hopes to use just 10 products.
The company has developed a completely new IT infrastructure based on Oracle Financials and the Maximo asset management platform. Syclo, a developer of mobile applications, has configured its Smart suite of mobile products to support the asset management system.
By using the new system, Capes said Tube Lines has been able to replace a 13-step asset management process with one comprising just two steps.
Tube Lines had been using a paper-based system to submit tasks and urgent work. However, the process routinely delayed work to the extent that it often took more than three weeks from the time of filing to being actioned.
With the introduction of the new mobile system, field workers and service engineers are able to use real-time data entry to close off orders, replacing what had been a 24-day process with one that is completed in 24 hours.
Under the new regime, work orders are generated within the Maximo software and assigned to a crew. Capes said the mobile device runs an abridged version of the system, allowing staff to download work plans and fault history. The engineer can also order new parts and the system will check whether Tube Lines has the part in stock and create an order.
Capes said, "Real-time data upload and download allows engineers to view what work had previously been performed on a track or a carriage, giving the complete work background.
"We are able to track virtually every asset, which has improved our visibility of activities, and in turn has improved regulatory compliance."