How to Protect Commercial Computers for Use in Rail Applications

Jake MacWhirter

How to protect commercial computers for use in rail applications

Commercial computers are designed to be operated in the same comfortable working environment as human beings. In an ideal world, we would be able to take these commercial computers and use them anywhere we wanted. But subjecting commercial computers to unprotected use outdoors in all weathers, shock and vibration prone environments and dust-laden conditions is not going to end well. Nonetheless, the modern working world needs computers to run in these environments, reliably and for periods of times outside typical consumer goods warranty periods.

In the rail industry, it is not uncommon for an application to be specified with the need for a 20 to 30 year operational life. This is complicated by the need to operate in extremely demanding environments – either trackside or on rolling stock – while providing mission-critical high availability services. Equipping commercial hardware for use in environments it was simply not designed for while maximising reliability and availability presents a serious issue. However, not all applications offer an equal challenge, and due to the complexities of associated certifications and compliance, not all hardware faces the same obstacles.

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Take a holistic view to successfully modify commercial hardware

In many instances, it is possible to use commercial products by making engineering modifications; these could be minor or major. In others, a purpose-built solution has to be developed to ensure all application requirements are fully met. Computers, associated networking, PLCs, switching equipment and other devices form only part of the picture here. When viewed holistically, the local environment and infrastructure should be considered. In doing so, the delta between what the equipment is capable of while remaining cost-effective and what additional protection is required can be understood.

Equipment cabinets and racks come in many shapes and sizes and are developed with a host of applications in mind. Some are rail-specific and some are more generic in nature, much like the computing equipment they house. A well-designed and well-specified enclosure can protect equipment from a great many things, and is critical to reliability.  Common needs include; EMC shielding protection from conducted and radiated emissions and immunity; IP rating for dust and weather protection; shock and vibration for proximity to track; cooling; and the presentation of a suitable internal microclimate for the housed equipment.

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Understand the application and certification requirements

Understanding the needs of applications, hardware available and capabilities of the enclosures is essential. A solid understanding will help to deliver reliable products that secure a low total cost of ownership while providing the resilience and availability needed for 24/7/365 operation. There are, of course, evidentiary processes which also must be followed to ensure safety and validity while underwriting the solution’s suitability. This typically comes in the form of accredited test house certification.

To some, computing, processing systems, racks and integration for rail may be a daunting task, as any errors can be costly. The challenge that many face is resisting the urge to implement commercial equipment and enclosures without first understanding the long-term outlook. However, with credible and quality data to inform decisions and the support of a professional team, it is no longer a painful, time consuming or risky proposition.

Brand Values - Captec

Partner with the right people

I have worked on numerous rail projects and if I have learnt one thing, it is that you need the right team behind you, providing the knowledge needed to bypass pitfalls, de-risk programmes and bring projects in on time and within budget. Without an experienced and diverse team covering design, engineering, project management, commercials and compliance, there are simply too many variables for one person to keep track of.

As a product manager, I am more than happy to take on your challenges, solve your industry’s problems and introduce you to our team. Find out more about Captec’s rack integration project management service here or get in touch to speak with a member of our team.

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