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Author's profile photo Subha Ramachandran

Romance of the Rails, with SAP IoT

Mother, I watch for hours and still the tireless trains march on and on along their iron road…


These verses from poet Humayun Kabir’s poem “The Train” bring back nostalgic childhood memories of family vacations comprising long train journeys often north of 30 hours at a stretch, through the vast expanse of India–– from the fellow passengers one meets on the train the first time and ends up often forming lasting connections that live on long after the train journey concludes, to the sights of rustic vistas from the majestic Himalayas to the Ghats, to dense forests and roaring rivers, to the quintessential local culinary delights offered by the hawkers at the stations the trains stops along the way. The sights, the sounds, the wafting aromas, the delectable food, and more – the train journeys were always a multi-sensory memorable experience where surprises would galore at each bend literally. Needless to say, as a kid, I loved the train journeys as much or sometimes perhaps more than the vacation destinations.

Fast forward to today, trains whether mass transit, inter-city or heavy haul continue to be an integral part of life and economy in India, and many other parts of the world. Imagine my unbridled excitement then, when one of our manufacturing customers deployed SAP IoT and SAP Edge Services to keep trains in Asia running – that’s right – tirelessly!


The company is a wheels manufacturer. With usage, wheels tend to develop cracks that can progress to dangerous dimensions, necessitating unplanned downtimes for the trains, to replace these wheelsets. This company deploys algorithms on the edge to proactively determine maintenance needs before crack propagation becomes dangerous. These algorithms are deployed on small gateways (4Gb RAM) either close to the engine or at the rear of the train and process IoT sensor data, autonomously, from wheelsets capturing flexion and torsion measurements. The algorithms factor in the train routes and stations the train stops along the way to calculate the remaining distance the train can run before any crack in the wheelsets becomes dangerous. With this, they are able to perform diagnostics while the train is operating, to determine when further inspection or maintenance is needed. All configurations, deployments, and fine-tuning of the algorithms are done centrally from the cloud. With this solution, they are able to lower the maintenance costs of the trains, reduce unplanned downtimes, and increase overall rail safety and reliability. After the successful go-live in Asia, they are now working on rolling out the offering to trains, in western Europe and other parts of the world.

Now, anytime I see a train trundling by, my eyes instantly dart to the wheels, and in a flash poet Kabir’s verses come to mind “.. Of the rhythmic beat of wheels revolving fast”  – I cannot but stand proud and marvel at how SAP’s software is helping our world run better, one train at a time.

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