Success story at a glance

Company: Alstom (Site: Sesto San Giovanni, Milan – ITALY)
Market sector: Manufacturing (Railway)
Application sector: Asset Tracking
BLE architecture BluEpyc Beacon, EchoBeacon, Gateway


Alstom is a global company promoting sustainable mobility that develops and sells special equipment and services in the railway sector. It’s a world leader in integrated transport systems; headquartered in France, Alstom is present in more than 60 countries with 32,800 employees.

Alstom offers a complete range of solutions: from high-speed trains to subways, trams and electric buses to passenger solutions, personalised services (maintenance, modernisation) infrastructure, and also signaling and digital mobility solutions.

Since 1998, Alstom has been present in Italy, in 8 different urban centres and employs approximately 2,600 people.

Strongly rooted in the Italian railway tradition, Alstom has been producing trains for 160 years, traction systems for 60 years and signaling equipment for 90 years.  In Italy, Alstom can boast two centres of excellence in the regional and high-speed trains ‘Pendolino’ In the Sesto San Giovanni site, close to Milan, Alstom made important investments, while the Savigliano site in north Italy, is an example of Industry 4.0, otherwise known as SMART industry.

The Challenge

The Alstom headquarters based in Sesto San Giovanni (Milan, Italy) is a specialized centre in services activities, maintenance and production, engineering and validation for traction systems of regional and high-speed trains, subways and trams. In the last few years the site has developed a strong offering in the services area, offering customers assistance and maintenance with long-term contracts, thanks to the use of the most advanced technologies in the sector.

In particular, the Sesto San Giovanni site is equipped with a laboratory that can simulate and replicate the life-like transport systems, subjecting them to vibration stress-tests, thermal shock and corrosive aggression.  The site houses special areas, such as the climatic area, that is dedicated to resistance to saline corrosion and electromagnetic compatibility.

With the objective of reassessing and adjusting operational and technological processes, inspired by the lean concept, the Alstom site in Sesto San Giovanni needed to automate the tracking of assets.  For example, the equipment used for the production and maintenance of trains are continuously moved within the various departments of the site, which covers more than 20,000 square meters, divided into 6 bays, 5 of which are destined for production and testing departments. Today the areas are monitored by Bluetooth Low Energy in approximately 3,000 square meters. The project is to expand to the entire shop floor and is currently being mapped out.Alstom factory

The goal is to identify a technology that is not invasive, able to identify automatically the equipment (today there are 500 assets monitored by BLE), without putting the onus on the employee to intervene when identifying an asset or assets.

In summary, the needs expressed by Alstom are the automatic traceability and location of assets, monitoring the passage from one department to another.

In particular, in order to achieve the required improvements in the production cycle, the type of information that needed to be collected are:

  • real-time current location / position of the asset/equipment,
  • how long was the asset/equipment in a given department,
  • maintenance status of the equipment,
  • detect unauthorized transit of certain tools and assets from one department to another

The Solution

The feasibility study, carried out in August 2016, identified the ideal BLE configuration and related data-flow, according to Alstom’s needs listed above.

In particular, the factory in Sesto San Giovanni is divided into 13 areas, each one assigned to a specific task based on production operational logic or flow and maintenance of the train.  Some of these designated areas are set-up in different layouts. Some are closed areas, within defined metal grids and some are in open spaces.  Among these, are mechanical and pneumatic assembly areas,  workshop areas, climatic areas, accelerometric and sandblasting areas.

Alstom BLE EchoBeaconThe assets, including torque wrenches, simulators, measuring instruments, test stations subject to maintenance and/or verification programs, are affixed with tags/Beacons BLE, which transmit data to the EchoBeacons fixed to the ceiling or wall close to the entrance and exit openings. Each EchoBeacon is assigned to area to be monitored.  These devices are BLE mini-gateways conceived, designed and built by BluEpyc, able to control and monitor the presence of Tag/Beacons in restricted or confined areas, and then to detect on time (hands-free) the equipment with Beacons, retransmitting this information to the BLE reader/gateway up to a distance of 100 m and beyond. The EchoBeacons are also the ideal components for monitoring gates (inputs/outputs) very simply and cost-effective infrastructures and installations.

The Benefits

The solution allows Alstom to save approximately 160 hours/month, that previously took to manage and track company assets.  The current departments in which the solution has been implemented, the operators can now focus on being more productive. This solution will now be expanded  to the entire shop floor. Continuation of this project has been extended, and in March and April 2019, the BLE solution has been implemented in other plant areas.  These additional areas have been outfitted with 29 wall-mounted EchoBeacons and more than 20 Industrial Gateways.

The IEEE standard that supports the wireless technology BLE, is what sets it apart and reduces configurations limitations of future Bluetooth systems.

Bluetooth low energy architecture & services

  • BluEpyc Bluetooth Low Energy Gateways Industrial Wall Mount Ethernet: these are BLE Observers that are able to dialogue with Beacons and iBeacons; operating as active RFID readers, they can be installed on the wall, ceiling or pole, protected by IP67 box;
  • BluEpyc Bluetooth Low Energy EchoBeacons: devices conceived, designed and manufactured by BluEpyc’s R&D department for micro-location and detection of positioning changes of the person or object with Tag Beacon; at Alstom, the EchoBeacons work to identify the asset within a precise area, and to trace its movement from one area to another;
  • BluEpyc Bluetooth Low Energy Tag Beacons: these Proximity Tag/Beacons guarantee a unique identification and are equipped with LEDs, ideal for Indoor Positioning System (IPS) applications with the Zone Method; the unusual feature of these Beacon Tags is the presence of the accelerometer sensor: The Beacon activates its communication only when the accelerometer perceives a movement, otherwise it is “sleeping”.

BluEpyc BLE Echo BeaconBeacon transit tests were carried out at minimum power, close to the EchoBeacon, in order to verify the area coverage. For each equipment, the most suitable Beacon Tag type and its application method were tested and then identified.

The tests were also performed to identify the ideal placement location of BLE components, such as on the ceiling or in the centre of the corridor. Each EchoBeacon is to only monitor its assigned area in order to avoid any interference or “false positives” with the neighboring  EchoBeacon.  Other tests were conducted and the coverage of BluEpyc Gateways in relation to EchoBeacons was verified in order to determine the required number of Gateways.

The radiometric tests, on the other hand, were aimed at verifying possible interference of the BLE with existing equipment (for example with bridge crane, furnace, drills, etc.) or with other wireless technologies (for example with GPS and Wi-Fi, used to simulate the transmission of train data to the station) and vice versa: the tests showed the non-existence of similar disturbances in bi-directional mode.

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«This system of automatic tracking and location of equipment will allow us to reduce the time spent in managing company assets, to reduce the “non value added” on industrial processes and improve the efficiency of production departments.

In addition, it will make the management of everything that is subject to cyclical controls such as equipment, instruments and test stations, even more systematic and rigorous. »

Donato Carlo Loguercio, Process & Manufacturing Engineering Manager at Alstom (Sesto San Giovanni site, Milan)

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