UNIPART RAIL and VolkerRail have opened a third overhead line fabrication facility in Crewe. The new facility will pre-assemble all overhead line material for Network Rail’s North West Electrification Programme phase 3, part of the Great North Rail Project. Its creation follows the use of similar facilities to support the Stafford Area Improvement Programme and the Rail Electrification Alliance Power Supply Upgrade Project on the East Coast main line.

The facility at Unipart Rail’s Crewe site is the culmination of three years’ work by Unipart Rail and VolkerRail, and will enable the preparation and just-in-time delivery of fully-fabricated assemblies to worksites, with a high level of traceability and control of materials.

The programme for the whole route from Preston to Blackpool North has been mapped out with every overhead line structure, be it a single or twin-track cantilever or a portal, given a unique identity. Components for each support will be brought together at the Crewe site according to the engineering drawings and a materials list prepared by VolkerRail. The components will then be checked against a specification before being packed together and allocated a reference, which includes a QR code attached to the package, before being transported to the VolkerRail teams at the relevant site on a just-in-time basis. Not only does the QR code enable anyone with a scanner to check what is in each assembly, but it also contains details of who fabricated any components. Should a component prove to be faulty there is full traceability as well as a simple process to order a replacement.

Traceability: the Uni-Trace Plus software uses barcodes to keep track of components.
Tony Miles

The system will also flag up any repeated problems, whether they are due to fabrication issues at the Crewe site or the manufacturing process of a supplier. Engineers on site are assured they have the correct components, and once construction is completed a QR code is placed on the structure to enable speedy checking of components involved at that location.

This site-by-site component list for each location is managed by Unipart Rail’s Uni-Trace Plus software. This is a bespoke system that provides live status information on materials, both in the facility and out on site for components and assemblies.

Not only does this allow engineers to be sure they have all the correct parts ready for assembly, but the status of each package and its contents can be checked remotely by anyone with access to the system.

Rather than overhead linesmen taking out large batches of components to each worksite and then selecting the bits they actually need, on the assumption that ‘there will be one in there somewhere’, Uni-Trace Plus ensures they have everything they need with no waste. Not only does this speed up work on site but, with more than 450,000 components required for the Preston-Blackpool project, the system also eliminates the sort of wasteful practice which has seen hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of components left over at the end of some other schemes.

As VolkerRail explained: ‘Previously people were getting to the site and then realising they had got the wrong parts for the location, so they took parts from other locations until they didn’t know what they had got left or what was in store. This is a much better way of working.’

The facility meets a requirement set by Network Rail that there should be ultimate traceability to every single component associated with OHLE installations. Uni-Trace Plus enables a speedy reaction to any unexpected event, from a faulty bolt to the discovery that a foundation pile has been driven too deep and a higher structure will be needed. The system also allows for the attachment of comments or even documents that refer to a specific structure for future reference.

At the opening ceremony guests were told ‘This collaboration (between Unipart and VolkerRail) drives value in and waste out’.