Why every rail control project should start with a Digital Twin

When you’re tasked with the mission of procuring a new rail control solution, taking time to clearly specify your needs, requirements, and expectations is a critical first step.

Doing so helps you avoid common project roadblocks— like long and unpredictable delivery schedules, tender specification issues, or errors discovered too late in the production process. It also gives suppliers a fair chance to develop the system you need in a time and cost-efficient manner. Furthermore, having clear specifications makes it easier, for infrastructure managers, to evaluate with accuracy how well systems comply with quality, safety, and other important requirements.

But producing specifications can be a challenge in itself. How can you be certain that your specifications actually correspond to your needs? Or that they will be interpreted correctly by all stakeholders? Our recommendation is to take a formal approach to develop a prototype, or a digital twin, that you can use to validate your specifications with simulation and formal verification.

What is a Digital Twin?

A digital twin is a virtual, interactive replica of an actual physical system, asset, or process. Applied to the railway sector, a digital twin could cover the entire infrastructure – from stations, rolling stock, switches, and signals to supporting IT systems.

It helps infrastructure managers to formulate and evaluate precise requirements for their system, and to ensure that these requirements are verifiable. The result will be precise and clear test and safety specifications for the supplier to deliver against.

Suppliers can then use the digital twin as input for the detailed design, using automation tools for code generation, testing and verification, and further shortening project schedules and reducing costs. The digital twin will be used throughout the lifecycle of the system, reducing costs related to upgrades and adding new features during the maintenance phase.

Ensure you get the system you need at the best price

There are multiple benefits to starting off your next rail control project with a digital twin. With help from automation and stronger verification and validation tools, you reduce risks and resource needs while, ultimately, allowing high-quality software to be delivered in a more predictable way.

Main benefits of a Digital Twin:

  • Simplifies rail control solution procurement processes
  • Enables an efficient validation and verification process
  • Reduces the risk of misunderstandings and project delays
  • Allows for more predictable delivery schedules and costs
  • Shortens the time needed for costly on-site tests
  • Minimizes the risk of error discovery late in the procurement process
  • Makes it easier to accurately gauge if systems comply with requirements

How to create a Digital Twin?

When creating a digital twin, the first step is to specify the requirements for the function and safety of the system, these are then used to define the design specification for the implementation. An Object Model is also defined, serving as a common interface for the test, safety and design specifications, so that these can be developed independently. This is done using an iterative, test-driven, and agile process consisting of the following steps:

1. Gather and analyze input
The process starts with an analysis of the needs and available information to define the test and safety requirements on a high level. Tender requirements, use cases, legacy systems, applicable standards, interfaces, rules, regulations, and project scope provides input to this task.

2. Formulate requirements and define the Object Model
Formulate the test and safety requirements in natural language using an object model that defines the objects in the system and how they interact. The test and safety specifications are then used to define the design specification, for the implementation of the system. The specifications are refined and validated later on in the process.

3. Configure your Digital Twin
Specify the configuration data that will be used to create instances, or Specific Applications, of the Object Model.

4. Validate the design, test and safety requirements
Define, or implement, the object model and requirements in a formal language that can be used to automatically generate a model for a given system configuration. Validate the requirements with automated simulation-based testing and formal safety verification, using the digital twin configuration. This process will reveal, and help resolve, any ambiguities and missing precision in the formulated requirements.

Learn more about how digital twins can help your railway development project.
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