Success Stories Fluidmesh Helps leading Class 1 Railroad Drive Productivity in Intermodal Transportation Operations

Executive Summary

Intermodal transportation has been in high demand in the last few years in North America putting pressure on so-called Class 1 Railroads, the exclusive group of large railroad companies that dominate freight transport, to increase safety and efficiency in their intermodal operations. As the name suggests, intermodal yards are used to move containers from trains to trucks and vice versa. These sites are of critical importance to the global supply chain and can often be the bottleneck in timely customer deliveries. Personnel safety along with design and logistical inefficiencies can create working environments with much room for improvement.

Fluidmesh MPLS-based wireless technology was recently selected over a traditional cable reel solution to deliver connectivity to Rail Mounted Gantry (RMG) cranes in a Class 1 intermodal transportation site in Northeast Illinois. The innovative approach has allowed Fluidmesh’s customer to reduce costs and increase productivity due to higher network availability and a greater crane mobility. The successful implementation has contributed to make the site one of the most productive intermodal yards in North America in 2018.

The Subject

The intermodal transportation site owned by the Class 1 Railroad is expansive, boasting 621 acres of land with room for more than 6,000 stacked containers and 5,200 wheeled containers. The site’s 26 Rail Mounted Gantry (RMG) cranes, which are among the largest in operation anywhere in the state, average a total of 2,300 lifts per day.

The Problem

In order to operate, each Rail Mounted Gantry (RMG) crane requires constant connectivity for power and mission-critical anti-collision systems. The anti-collision system is especially crucial, as it requires real-time visibility of crane positioning, speed, and other telemetry in order to guarantee the safety of all personnel. Traditionally, this connection is provided by a spooled cable that unravels as the RMG completes lifts in the terminal. The cable is limited in length and susceptible to damage.

Further, Fluidmesh’s customer needed to deliver additional applications to each crane, most notably, live digital video feeds. Having real-time video from cranes creates a safer workplace, with fewer accidents and injuries. To support this need, each crane was outfitted with up to 27 cameras, requiring data transmission of up to 90 Mbps per crane.

The Solution

In an effort to boost productivity at the site, Fluidmesh’s customer worked closely with the Fluidmesh field engineering team to explore a new approach to crane connectivity. After extensive validation in the field, the customer decided to go with a 100% wireless MPLS solution to run the mission-critical data from the RMGs and to deliver power using an electric “3rd rail” system. By doing so, the customer was able to discard the spooled cables towards an efficient, reliable and cost effective wireless solution.

The Results 

Leveraging Fluidmesh’s innovative approach to wireless transmission, the customer was able to deliver reliable connectivity to RMGs at a fraction of the cost. The wireless network has a capacity of up to 150 Mbps per crane supporting a 0-ms handoff time and a round-trip latency under 25 milliseconds. The low latency insures that the anti-collision system can perform as if connected over fiber-optics. The high bandwidth guarantees connectivity for dozens of cameras on-board each RMG, streaming live-video back to an on-site control center.

The combination of high bandwidth, low latency, and a 0-ms handoff time means that the customer can use Fluidmesh’s wireless network to support tele-remote applications throughout the intermodal transportation yard. As one of the most advanced applications available, tele-remote technology allows cranes to be operated remotely via a complex system of controls and cameras. This insures operators can work safe distances away from the crane, and a single worker can control multiple cranes, thus enhancing safety and efficiency. By supporting capacity for tele-remote operations at the site, Fluidmesh cemented itself as a leading global wireless technology capable of achieving performance traditionally associated with fiber-optics.

How We Did It

In order to achieve this performance, Fluidmesh employed its patented Fluidity technology, which uses an MPLS-based wireless protocol to deliver fiber-like performances over the air. The network is designed to deliver seamless roaming: cranes moving around the container yard must constantly reconnect, or “handoff” to new radios in proximity without dropping any data. This procedure in traditional 802.11 or LTE networks creates up to 500ms of interruption decreasing performance to an unacceptable level, hence the traditional requirement for cranes connected by wired spools. Fluidmesh’s Fluidity technology manages a network “handoff” in 0 milliseconds. This means that the customer can rely on superior, guaranteed network performance, even in the most challenging conditions.

In addition, the Fluidmesh MPLS wireless network uses a beam-forming configuration to guarantee pervasive coverage along the yard with minimum network infrastructure. “We are very excited to have been able to assist this Class 1 Railroad with their RMG connectivity needs at this intermodal facility” – comments Cosimo Malesci, Fluidmesh Co-Founder and EVP Sales and Marketing. “Providing reliable and high-throughput wireless connectivity in container terminals has been a challenge for traditional 802.11 WiFi and 4G LTE vendors. Our MPLS-based technology provides terminal operators a solution to increase network capacity and uptime at a fraction of the cost. We have been able to achieve up to 100 Mbps of usable TCP throughput per crane with 50% less APs than WiFi. We have run the system for 50,000 hours of crane operations and we have seen uptime north of 99.999%. We are extremely proud of what we have achieved together with our customer.”

Fluidmesh’s superior bandwidth capacity and coverage meant that the requirement was well within reach. Along with Fluidity, which delivers a completely seamless architecture to the intermodal yard, this ensures that the wireless network can support the most advanced crane applications in the world, from terminal operations to full tele-remote and crane automation.