With Intesens, the French IoT is on the right track!
Located in Labège near Toulouse, in the heart of the IoT Valley, the Intesens startup was selected by SNCF to deploy large-scale sensors, connected to its railway equipment. In the energy sector, Intesens works with RTE and Enedis (ex-ERDF) to monitor electricity networks. What’s this team’s secret? It comes from the world of industrial maintenance and is well aware of the needs of infrastructure managers. Furthermore, it grasped the potential of low-speed networks (such as Sigfox) very early on.
The maintenance of railway networks has always required field inspections. In particular, agents check the condition of the catenaries to prevent breakdowns (about 400 occur each year). This is a tedious job given the size of the infrastructure - about 30,000 kilometers of tracks for the French network, half of which are electrified - and dangerous, which is why the officers working high up are called "squirrels".
Toulouse train station tests the equipment on behalf of the entire French rail network
In order to help its squirrels, spare its passengers any delays, and reduce costs (the cost of repairing a damaged catenary tis significant), in 2014, the SNCF launched, as part of its open innovation approach, a challenge (1) to design a technological device to support this maintenance. Intesens proposed placing connected sensors on cable counterweights to monitor their mechanical voltage remotely, via a web platform, which would aggregate the data transmitted by enclosures via the Sigfox low-bandwidth network. What happens if an anomaly is detected? An alert is immediately sent to operators. Rather than inspecting the tracks up close, officers may now focus on the work that has the greatest added value: preventive maintenance and repairs. Intrigued by the concept, the SNCF deployed the device at Toulouse Matabiau station to reduce the number of false alerts, in collaboration with Intesens. It has formed a successful partnership with the startup, which had already successfully experimented with other devices in the rail field, such as temperature sensors for rails (to measure expansion due to overheating in the summer), or sensors to measure rail deformation, in order to assess the weight of convoys. At the start of 2016, to speed up the pace of innovation, SNCF even went so far as to install one of its teams within the IoT Valley (2)... a site that also hosts Sigfox, pioneer of the low-speed network dedicated to the IoT.
"The pilot projects in the Midi-Pyrenees region have been successful," explains Mathieu Sacrispeyre, CEO of Intesens. “They not only proved the reliability of the devices, but also, and above all, the return-on-investment that SNCF can expect. Our solution allows you to optimise maintenance operations, so technicians only act when necessary. And the availability of monitored equipment is significantly improved." As a result, the deployment of sensors on the 100,000 counterweights across the French network could be simplified by preventing one or two removals of catenaries. Amazing! "In 2017, we will therefore scale up and increase the number of sensors to equip the entire French railway infrastructure, representing tens or even hundreds of thousands of deployments."
In the IoT, France is one step ahead
Following this collaboration, and its findings regarding the potential of the IoT in the industrial world, Intesens has duplicated its success in the field of energy, working with RTE and Enedis on the prevention of cable breaks and the monitoring of generators to guarantee a consistent supply during periods of network maintenance. "We are lucky. In the field of IoT, and in particular the IoT used for industrial maintenance (which will be the foundation of the world’s connected fleet in the future), France has made considerable advances. On the one hand, some of the technologies are French, like the Sigfox and LoRa networks. On the other hand, companies like SNCF and Enedis planned to bring their activities into the digital age very early on, and invested heavily in them. Finally, the organisations we work with understand that if the solutions developed in partnership with us spread across Europe and the rest of the world, then they will be able to perpetuate them, continuously improve them, and lower their costs." In fact, Intesens is already in discussion with other European railway companies...
The startup, which exceeded one million sales in 2016 and doubled its workforce in just one year, has other projects on the cards. "When there is a return-on-investment and proven applications for connected sensors, and they satisfy regulatory constraints, their uses are almost limitless. In the area of the ‘Smart City’, we’ve equipped elevators, escalators, water pumps, and recently the emergency batteries of the inverters installed in the critical equipment." And for those who remain sceptical about the initial investment involved in acquiring and installing the connected sensors, Intesens has developed a new concept in the field of IoT: leasing. Innovation is rarely just about technology...
A scalable infrastructure with the OVH Public Cloud
To collect, process and exploit - in the form of alerts and/or graphics - the data transmitted by their connected sensors, Intesens has developed a scalable infrastructure using the OVH Public Cloud . "Historically, we used a dedicated server on which we hosted applications that were specifically developed for certain clients. Next, we built two production and pre-production environments, hosted in two remote datacentres. Each environment was built on a classic architecture: load balancing, front-end server, back-end server and database server (PostGreSQL). For special processing requirements, or in case of peak loads, we add extra instances on demand. To enhance and secure the connections between these different solutions, we plan to use the vRack private network. Today, the web application we have developed fulfils most of the initial requirements. But recently, we have seen increasing use of our API, which allows data to be interconnected with our customers’ existing information systems. The Public Cloud allows us to adapt to these developments very easily."
Find out more about the Digital Launch Pad programme
(1) Intesens facilitates the work of "squirrels"
(2) The Intesens method of innovating at high speed with SNCF , by Sylvain Arnulf, L’Usine Digitale, on 10/05/2016.
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