Looking at a complete system within the vehicle along with all its interfaces from a completely clean sheet will give us the opportunity to question, review and potentially improve that system (in this example, rail) utilising the latest technology and manufacturing advances.
The 4C challenge
When thinking about how to address the 4C Challenge for rail, the ability to innovate, both in technology and thought processes, is crucial. The four Cs challenge originated from the UK Railway Technical Strategy which defines the top-level strategic drivers as:
When combined, they ask the following question: How can we improve our customer experience whilst increasing capacity on the network and at the same time reducing both our carbon footprint and the cost of running the railway?
The four Cs are inextricably linked: Won’t an increase in capacity mean an increase in the carbon footprint? Won’t more capacity mean a higher cost? Or, if we take cost out, will this negatively affect the passenger experience? This is where we need to think about the relationships across the four Cs and how we, as suppliers, can think holistically to benefit the complete picture.
An example is shown below where, starting with a clean sheet, a pantograph control solution has been developed for use without the need for an auxiliary compressor.
From an interiors perspective, this example illustrates our ability to have a direct impact on the four Cs, the four key top-level drivers, particularly when we employ innovative thinking. Not all projects or activities will be able to affect all four quite so obviously. They may have a significant impact in one area whilst still having a positive impact on another, but the thought process remains.
If you look back at Fig. 1, we can see that two factors affect these four Cs, and they are weight and space.
It is not just a case of reducing the size of something; performance characteristics must be at the very least retained but preferably enhanced whenever possible. You also have to consider mechanical strength, suitability for the operating environment and the forces that may be applied.
The reduction in size may also not result in a proportional weight loss, depending on the construction materials. Therefore, we should look at each point in isolation and then as a whole in order to achieve the ultimate end result.
There are obviously many things that can affect component weight. Size, shape and material are all key, but production method can also be vital in producing the optimum form.
Just consider the ability of additive manufacturing to produce components without traditional problems, such as shape and form restraints, or material waste produced by machining. The resulting components can be complex forms that maximise material thickness; this gives us engineered solutions that are both mechanically sound yet of lighter weight, and all in a shape or form to fit and integrate into the interfaces.
Reducing equipment weight alone may not affect the space envelope required; however, some gains can usually be made. It is worth weighing up the cost of aiming for using less space against the cost of developing the equipment to fit.
Miniaturisation in itself can be an expensive exercise. It may be better to think of the effective utilisation of available space and look at methods to reduce wasted space. As previously stated, additive (or 3D) manufacturing can go some way towards addressing this, but the optimised design must include a consideration of access for maintenance and service requirements.
However, the previously illustrated example shows: weight and space can also be reduced by returning to basics and challenging the current thinking.
The “we’ve always done it this way”, or “this is best practice”, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sayings need to be challenged; then maybe a new best practice will come to light.
New technologies that benefit the whole life-performance and life-cycle costs can be considered, including the IoT (Internet of Things). Operating from this level we can also take a holistic view of the vehicle system with the four Cs in mind. The link, then, to innovation – which may not mean a completely new solution, but could include technology transfer from other industries and utilising alternative technologies – can truly be explored and the benefits maximised.
It may also be that it's not a new technology that facilitates a new approach, it may be advancements in existing technologies that previously could not have met the requirements, so preconceptions need to be taken out of the thought process.