A mechanical mole, digitally enhanced

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IoT Use Case Microsoft Azure - Tracto
4 minutes Reading time
4 minutes Reading time

Establishing, expanding, renewing a pipeline network – all this can be done underground without having to break up the ground. Thanks to the consistent technical development of machine technology and accessories, there is now a trenchless solution for practically every type of pipe laying or rehabilitation.

The challenge: Leveraging machine-generated data potentials

The trenchless laying of pipes is also known in the industry as moling technology. In the process, the GRUNDOMAT soil displacement hammers developed by TRACTO in the 1970s digs through the earth without having to tear up roads or sidewalks. The target accuracy of the movable head is crucial for precise propulsion.
Today, the possibilities of this technology range from underpassing traffic and waterways, pipeline construction, fiber optic line construction or the laying of house connections to underground pipe renewal. TRACTO is the only full-service provider in the field of trenchless technology and is continuously developing the machines required for this purpose, right up to the automated controllable fluid-assisted horizontal directional drilling rigs, the so-called HDD rigs.
TRACTO’s machines have thus become indispensable in the expansion of modern infrastructures, and the company is doing a great deal to continuously optimize them and offer customers new services. Especially with the controllable HDD rigs, the highest quality and cost-effectiveness must be ensured – no drilling rig must fail and cause downtime, because downtime costs money every hour. That’s why TRACTO and its customers need to be able to keep an eye on HDD rigs around the clock.
For these reasons, the company decided to develop modern, digital services in order to use the data generated directly during the drilling process. The crucial question here is: How can this data be obtained and transformed into added value for customers? This is one of the reasons why TRACTO initiated the digital transformation more than four years ago under the motto “Fit4Future” and brought Microsoft Azure on board.

The solution: Azure-based processing of telemetry data from the machines

In order to leverage the potential that lies within drilling equipment, it is crucial to bring the data stored within the machines to the surface and make it visible. Therefore, the telemetry data is now transferred directly from the machines to the cloud using sensors via the Microsoft Azure IoT Hub. There, Azure Kubernetes Services and Azure SQL, along with many other services, form the basis for fast storage and preparation of data. The data is then analyzed by apps developed specifically for TRACTO machines, creating the basis for a wealth of new, digital possibilities that TRACTO can develop independently with Azure DevOps. For example, the mandatory drilling logs are now generated in the BoreData application from all the data generated during drilling, and the logs are available to TRACTO and, more importantly, to customers very quickly and easily.

Based on the data obtained, the drilling process itself can also be significantly improved: The drilling routes can be calculated in advance as 3D models using the Quickplanner3D application. The drilling plan is then sent to the appropriate machine, which then follows it during drilling without the drilling foreman having to manually intervene.

The most modern HDD plants already have a high degree of automation; they can be controlled remotely via tablet – in the past, up to three other people had to ensure smooth operations on site.

In addition, TRACTO and the customers have an overview of the machines and the work progress at all times with the COCKPIT: Where their machines are currently located, how long it has worked in a day, how many drilling meters the machine has covered – TRACTO’s customers can see all this at a glance in a single application.

The result: Higher reliability through efficient maintenance

TRACTO also relies on Big Data for machine maintenance to quickly identify machines that have already failed or are about to fail in the system. This means that problematic components can be found in good time and quickly replaced. In addition, at the touch of a button, the customer can switch on TRACTO’s service to remotely access the drill rig’s display directly and search for the underlying problem. With this solution, TRACTO significantly reduces the downtime that is such a costly issue for customers.

However, TRACTO is already thinking about the next steps, such as incorporating predictive maintenance with the goal of contacting the customer in time to prevent downtime in the first place. This will allow TRACTO to further increase resilience in the future.

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