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Rail Transportation

Why Technical Documentation is Critical to All the Stakeholders in Rail Projects

In rolling stock projects, often there is a lack of consensus among major stakeholders about the structure, format, and content of technical documents related to train operations, maintenance, spare parts and training manuals. Even in quintessential metro or high-speed rail projects from the best-in-class railways and transport agencies, lack of clarity in requirements for technical documents is commonly seen, despite its vital importance. In some cases, requirements are specified but are vague and open to interpretation for people involved in the value chain, namely train builder, subsystem suppliers, and ultimately the technical authors and illustrators responsible for the creation of the manuals.

The structure of manuals often attracts deferred views. Should the manuals be logically grouped by systems and sub-system or by the physical location of equipment? For engineering, it may sound more logical to structure the manuals by systems, but for technicians who ultimately use the manuals to perform maintenance tasks, physical location comes in higher order of priority. Another example is the mode of delivery of manuals. Just stating that manuals are needed in ‘electronic format’ is very vague in this modern age of information technology with multiple publishing platforms available.

Invariably, the development of technical documents takes an iterative approach, with requirements evolving throughout the development cycle, thereby leading to cost and time overruns. In most cases, a lot of time is spent on reviews than originally provisioned for. In worst cases, the train’s entry into service may even be delayed if the train drivers/engineers, other crew, and maintenance staff are not adequately conversant with trains.

What can be done?

1. Firstly, the rail industry needs to acknowledge the need for detailed technical documentation requirements as this would enable easy flow of data between the stakeholders and avoid multiple iterations. These specifications should be provided bearing in mind the functional purpose and ease-of-use of these manuals. In spite of the differences between the rail and aerospace industry, in the area of standardization of technical  documents, the rail industry can adopt the process of standardization for documents, similar to the aerospace standards. A consultation preparatory exercise should be conducted with all the rail transport agencies before deciding on a standard structure for the technical documents which will be accepted universally.

2. Secondly, the requirements should be a part of RFT (Request for Tender) prior to awarding a contract for rolling stock to an OEM. Given that, most OEMs primarily act as system integrators, major systems are bought-out and integrated with the body shell. The same could apply for technical manuals if requirements are well defined as early as the bid stage, where the OEMs can ask their sub-system suppliers to provide content in a format that can be easily integrated with rest of the train’s technical manuals.

3. Thirdly, a requirements management V&V (Verification and Validation) approach should be emphasized to manage the development of technical documents. From choosing the right development and publishing platform to creating a specific structure, a systematic process can be implemented using V&V, which will sufficiently elaborate the technical content required to pass the validation process.

What are the benefits of doing this?

To the operators: Well-defined requirements will benefit all the stakeholders involved in the development of technical documents. Rail transport agencies including train operators will have a better control on the outcome with minimal resources. Introduction of the V&V techniques for the development, review and acceptance of technical documents, will add process robustness and traceability which will drive up the overall standard of technical documents in the railway industry.

To the OEMs: The ambiguity factor is eliminated if the technical documents requirements are well-articulated starting from the bid phase. This helps in optimizing the resources, reducing the overall cost and time spent on developing the technical documents. Consequently, rolling stock OEMs’ systems engineers can completely focus on design reviews, acceptance and production issues rather than devoting time for further discussions on the features and functionalities of technical documents.

To suppliers and sub-contractors: The rolling stock OEMs are usually assisted by their systems and subsystem suppliers. If a standard requirements template can be perforated down to the level of technical authors and illustrators of every equipment supplier, the output of every supplier will be consistent. This helps in quick integration of all the technical documents and can significantly reduce the lead time to develop these documents for a new rolling stock.

To the maintenance staff: A standardized structure for the technical documents across a fleet of trains would aid the maintenance staff to handle multiple documents. It enables easy implementation of an IT system for the delivery of any interactive content on handheld mobile devices. This will also result in seamless integration of the technical documents with other IT systems such as asset management and parts orders.

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By Ravi Murty | May 4th, 2018

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