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In Switzerland, an SSB Cargo freight train emerges from a tunnel

Smart railroad giants

Smart, connected sensors made by Bosch make rail-freight operations more transparent and secure

Reading time: 13 minutes

Bosch vehicle technology ensures that freight cars around the world move smoothly – not only on the tracks, but also on the internet. Monitoring wagons and their cargo creates transparency and results in more efficient logistics processes.

A box with sensors, known as the AMRA system, attached to the exterior of a freight car.
Light yet robust, Bosch hardware connects freight cars with the internet

The refrigerated freight car 21 85 2471001-7 has covered a lot of ground: in just three months, it has traveled 21,543 kilometers over the length and breadth of Europe. It was exposed to an outside temperature of 38 degrees Celsius on August 26, and of minus 17 on November 13. On November 16, in Muttenz, Switzerland, it had to withstand a violent jolt during shunting. Dealing with such extremes is a fact of freight-car life. But what is new is that the car and its freight are monitored in the process, thanks to an alliance between Bosch Engineering and the Swiss rail freight company SBB Cargo.

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How the technology works

Tablets can be used to evaluate freight cars’ condition monitoring data.
Always up to date: the condition monitoring system allows data to be evaluated in real time

The refrigerated freight car 21 85 2471001-7 is one of roughly 150 smart freight cars plying Europe’s railroads for SBB Cargo. The plan is to retrofit as many as 1,500 additional cars. Their “smartness” comes from tried and tested technology and components that started out life in the Bosch automotive sector. “We use smart, connected sensors to gather data from freight cars and process them online,” says Bernhard Bihr, the president of Bosch Engineering. “The new system creates transparency along the logistics chain of rail, road, and sea transport, and contributes to more efficient management of the increased volume of freight transport.”

400 million

metric tons of freight are transported in Germany each year across a rail network covering nearly 40,000 kilometers

An infochart shows the path taken by data used for condition monitoring in rail applications.
At a glance: the condition monitoring system for rail applications

Known as AMRA (asset monitoring for railway applications), the monitoring system is a robust piece of hardware weighing just 700 grams, mass produced at Bosch for automotive applications. Embedded in or connected to this hardware, there are numerous sensors which measure things such as temperature and shocks. An integrated data transmitter connects the system with a cloud, where the data are analyzed, made available in a data portal, and integrated into the customer’s business processes. The system was developed as a retrofit solution for existing freight-car fleets, but can also be installed as original equipment during the manufacture of freight cars. An integrated battery with a service life of up to six years means it does not need an external power supply.

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1 | Geofencing

Frequently, information about a freight car’s whereabouts is closely connected to the need to know when a car enters a station area or deviates from a scheduled route. Geofencing helps here. Once a virtual “fence” has been staked out on the AMRA online portal, the freight car will send an email or notify the portal as soon as it reaches the perimeter. An arrival alert will then automatically trigger electronic delivery notes and optimize logistics processes.

2 | Geolocation

A GPS sensor in the connectivity unit allows the location of each car to be determined to the nearest meter. This saves costs, improves logistics planning, and ensures punctual delivery.

3 | Freight monitoring

The AMRA connectivity unit is attached to the exterior of the freight car. Additional sensors inside the car, connected by cable or Bluetooth, transmit information about interior temperature and humidity. This helps establish certainty as to whether the cold chain has been preserved for foodstuffs.

4 | Door monitoring

A separate wireless sensor can detect whether and when the freight car’s door is opened and transmit this data to the connectivity unit. This makes transport of the freight more secure.

5 | Recording mileage

A GPS sensor helps pinpoint current position, which allows the car to be tracked on a railroad map. AMRA acts as a kind of digital odometer for freight cars, allowing servicing dates to be planned in advance and avoiding the risks of breakdown due to excessive mileage.

6 | Monitoring impact

This allows the cause of any damage to the car or freight to be identified. A triaxial acceleration sensor in the connectivity unit can measure the force, frequency, and precise position of the kind of shocks that can occur when shunting and loading/unloading.

7 | Brake-status monitoring

In the future, the plan is to have a separate wireless sensor that monitors the car’s brakes and wheel sets. This data is transmitted to the connectivity unit. The aim is to be able to predictively diagnose any damage and avoid freight-car breakdowns.

Several computer screens are used to survey the data recorded by the condition monitoring system.
Rail operators can retrieve train data directly from the cloud.
Various diagrams on a screen display information such as distance traveled, temperature, and humidity.
The data provides information about distance traveled, temperature, humidity...
Various sets of data on a screen show when and where a freight train was underway.
...or when and where a freight train was underway.
Data on a screen show when and where the freight car was subjected to violent impact.
The user is also alerted in the case of violent impact.

Summary

Bosch Engineering has developed a technology that uses smart, connected sensors to gather data from freight cars and process it online. Known as the AMRA system, the technology makes it easier monitor the condition of rail freight, and makes the transport process more secure.

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