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Two ears, one mouth: the importance of listening in product development

The old saying, famous in sales training, is that ‘you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion’ is a good standard to adopt when it comes to product development. It’s even more important when safety is a key priority for the environment you are developing product for.

Listening is an underrated skill, but it is one that is highly valued among customers. At SCT, we invest heavily in listening to customers. It’s a big element of our R&D and general business operations. The great thing is that working on products that support engineers in heavy-duty areas like railways and mining, we find they are always happy to talk. And, when they talk, we listen.

Outsmarting the problem

One track maintenance engineer recently told us; “Maintenance on our railways is a tough job. It's time-consuming and costly. It’s also unpredictable and often feels like we're fighting a losing battle against wear and tear.” He told us that what’s needed is a way to outsmart the problem. Which is what we provide in the SWIX Smart solution, and how we continue to enhance and develop it to meet the needs of track maintenance engineers.

The entire rail industry worldwide has a pressing need for predictive and preventative maintenance. Late identification of infrastructure issues and faulty assets can lead to catastrophic failures as criticality only increases over time. There’s a significant potential human cost of asset failure, for both maintenance engineers, rail staff and customers. And incurred costs can be massive. Between 20-30% of infrastructure delays are S&C related. S&Cs are the switches and crossings that enable trains to change tracks. They sustain really heavy wear and tear, especially from freight. S&C maintenance and replacement costs around £11B globally. Network Rail £1.9B on maintenance in 2021-2022.

With less money likely to be spent on S&C maintenance and replacement in the next control period – as more resources are allocated to above line infrastructure – there’s a real need to outsmart the problem of early detection and identification of faults in order to effect preventative measures.

That’s what SCT has developed in our SWIX Smart solution, which is at present deployed by the great majority of Routes at Network Rail. Its Smart Track Monitoring provides 24/7 365 access to live track data. Its remote sensor IoT technology was built and enhanced based on discussions and input from track maintenance engineers.

Understanding operations and challenges

Every rail organisation is under pressure to reduce maintenance costs by understanding where and when engineers need to carry out work on the track. Safety is always an issue, so reducing the need for visual track inspection with automated monitoring means engineers don’t need to be on the track as frequently. It also enables them to only attend to the areas where issues are present rather than the entire route/network, reducing costly delays to services.

At SCT, we tend to dig deeper, ask more questions and listen carefully to the answers. Because we understand that maintenance windows are short, we have made SWIX very fast to install – typically under ten minutes. Its installation also doesn’t compromise the rail or ballast infrastructure.

We also get into discussions with the track maintenance engineers about their operational processes; the ‘when, where, why, and how’ of their day-to-day jobs. What we learn, practically daily, is eye-opening and constantly feeds into the data we provide customers with and our ongoing product development.

Listening is key

If there is one takeaway from this blog, I would say that for the team at SCT listening to the people who use our solutions is vital. Just the other day I received this message in response to a LinkedIn post; “Yours and the team's attitude to listening to customers and delivering solutions they want is industry leading.”

Clearly, listening is one of our major assets. No wonder that SWIX is the most widely recommended S&C smart monitoring tool among track maintenance engineers. It’s because we take our lead from the people on the tracks.


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