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VR, 3D printing to help improve rail maintenance and reliability

SINGAPORE — Robots and 3D printing, as well as augmented and virtual reality, could help the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and rail operators improve rail reliability in the coming years.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) initiatives are being developed and proof-of-concept trials will start at the Tuas Depot next year, said the Land Transport Authority and they will be used to train both maintenance and operations staff. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) initiatives are being developed and proof-of-concept trials will start at the Tuas Depot next year, said the Land Transport Authority and they will be used to train both maintenance and operations staff. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Robots and 3D printing, as well as augmented and virtual reality, could help the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and rail operators improve rail reliability in the coming years.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) initiatives are being developed and proof-of-concept trials will start at the Tuas Depot next year, said the Land Transport Authority on Monday (Nov 13). They will be used to train both maintenance and operations staff.

AR can help ensure a more consistent and complete training syllabus. With VR, trainees need not frequently dismantle and reassemble large and complicated railway components to practise on a particular part such as the train bogie — the undercarriage to which a train’s wheels are attached — or train car-body.

VR would allow the trainees, through guided lessons, to improve their competency in maintenance of various components of the system, said the LTA.

The 3D printing proof-of-concept trials will also begin next year.

The use of 3D printing for train parts will help reduce time taken for replacement parts to be delivered. The LTA said that it would also be able to produce prototypes quicker, instead of going through lengthy or expensive manufacturing processes.

For instance, a 3D printer can produce up to four train carriage handles overnight.

Meanwhile, an automated track inspection system, which has been installed on four Downtown Line trains, will be progressively rolled out to other lines.

Under the system, imaging sensors and laser scanners are installed below the carriages of trains to monitor track conditions for early signs of anomalies so that they can be fixed before a fault occurs.

A separate automated vehicle inspection system, which comprises cameras, lasers and sensors, will start operations by the end of next year, said the LTA.

With the system, the amount of time taken to inspect major train parts like its wheels and brakes can be reduced from six man-hours, to about two minutes. When a train passes through the system, the data will be picked up and sent back to the depot, to allow for quicker detection of any faults.

The LTA said that it is looking at ways to integrate the deployment of robots into maintenance workflows.

On Monday, the Autonomous Mobile Robot, or TUG, was shown to guests. It can carry items like tools and spare parts weighing no more than 635 kg and navigate by itself.

When it detects obstacles such as people, it will stop and go around them.

The use of robots helps eliminate the need for workers to do heavy lifting and saves time and effort, said the LTA.

A version of the TUG robots were reported this month to be deployed at hotels to transport laundry, as part of a tie-up between StarHub and ST Kinetics.

Speaking at the showcase on Monday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said maintenance has “largely moved from (being) preventive, to predictive”.

“We need to invest in technology to exploit predictive maintenance, and to build up capabilities to do so,” said Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.

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