Big Data vs. Big Results

Railcar IoT vendors get excited about all the data they can give you,
but is any of it actually useful?

Hum founder byron porter
March 2, 2021
Byron Porter
Founder and CEO, Hum

I remember when I first heard about IoT (Internet of Things)and Big Data. It was 2014 and I was at dinner with one of our processing equipment suppliers.  This person explained the concept of IoT and Big Data and that they were looking for use cases to bring it to their equipment. He asked if I had any ideas on what we might like to see.

“We can use telematic sensors to provide all sorts of data: temperature, vibration, humidity,” he said.

I thought about it for a while. I was very familiar with this equipment and was about to be assigned as a global subject matter expert for the company.

“What will all that data actually tell us?” I asked.

“Not sure,” he shrugged. “But my management would like to put these sensors in so that we can supply you with lots of data.”

It wasn’t long before “Big Data” project requests started coming thick and fast from upper management as I was tasked with leading the charge with this new concept. After evaluating a variety of Big Data projects I told the plant manager, “Sure we can get this data, but I’m not sure what we can do with it. Most of it’s junk.”

And that’s when Big Data died for us.

Fast forward 7 years and, Irony of ironies, I’ve now founded an IoT company capable of delivering Big Data to our customers. Except we don’t. We can do it, but we try to avoid it all costs because “most of it’s junk.”

Instead, at Hum we focus on delivering actionable intelligence, not just dumping data on our customers and leaving them to figure it out. In terms of railcar monitoring, we’ve developed the world’s first predictive wheelset algorithm capable of identifying wheel and bearing damage up to 100,000 miles in advance. Depending on car type, that could be months to years before a failure occurs that leads to a derailment or before a railroad may pull it unexpectedly.

We don’t send a mountain of vibration and temperature data to our customers to have them figure out what’s useful. Rather, we run our proprietary algorithm at the railcar and provide a condition indicator so that our customers know the status of each connected wheelset. Without having to hire a bunch of data scientists and technical experts to sift through the data, our customers can focus on optimizing their maintenance plan months in advance or negotiating larger discounts on long-term part supply contracts.

Similarly, we provide live and historical GPS location of our customers’ railcars. This can certainly be useful information and can help when railcars go wandering, but if GPS tracking data were valuable enough to railcar owners and railroads, then we would have GPS monitoring on every railcar in North America. Companies have been selling GPS tracking devices for railcars for more than 20 years now and yet only about 2% of the entire North American rail fleet carries these devices. Just having the data isn’t enough.

Instead, we use GPS tracking data to inform our Predictive ETA model and deliver real-time intelligence on when those cars will actually arrive. Being an operations guy who cut his teeth at a plant that loaded and unloaded hundreds of railcars a week, I would have killed for an accurate ETA from a railroad. Waiting for days to finally get a late train wreaks havoc when planning inventories, production schedules, staffing, the list goes on and on. Now, shippers who equip their railcars with Hum devices will be able to stop wasting time harassing the local trainmaster or their traffic group to get an updated ETA.

If you’re looking to equip your railcars with wireless monitoring devices, don’t fall for the “But we can give you all this data” sales pitch. That probably means the vendor doesn’t have anything valuable to show you and they want you to figure it out for them. Your time is valuable and you don’t need to spend it sifting through mountains of data.

If you’re looking for something that will move the needle for your business, whether as a large fleet owner trying to lower their car maintenance costs or as a shipper just trying to figure out when those cars will arrive, shoot an email to info@humindustrial.com to start talking with a Hum representative about the actionable intelligence Hum can give your business.