Presented by Nichol Industries

Australian owned and operated metal marking business, Nichol Industries, is helping the Aussie rail network power into the digital age. 

Currently the rail industry uses a paper-based system, which means in the event of breakdowns there are costly delays in getting trains moving again. 

Project i-TRACE is an initiative by the Australasian Railway Association leveraging GS1 Global Data Standards. A not-for-profit organisation, GS1 provides standards for identifying, marking and sharing data across the supply chain. These standards underpin the rail industry’s digital future by providing a global standard for rail component identification through the use of GS1 DataMatrix codes. The goal is to trace every component from manufacture to installation and ultimately disposal, providing a better understanding of their “whole of life” performance. 

But in order to bring this project to life, GS1 required expert assistance with the physical implementation of marking these components. As such, they turned to Australian metal marking business, Nichol Industries. 

“While the GS1 Data Standards have been around for more than 43 years, the application in rail is new. We worked with GS1 to test different techniques for marking the Project i-TRACE barcode directly onto the product and we were able to partner with them to solve the challenges,” says Nichol Industries Managing Director, Adam Nichol. 

Nichol Industries’ GS1 Certification

Nichol Industries has provided marking solutions since 1958, moving from traditional ‘stenciling’ and ‘hammer-and-chisel’ marking through to advanced techniques using technology such as laser marking and dot peen machines. 

Achieving GS1 certification for the Project i-TRACE program “Building Rail’s Digital Capability” is no small feat for Nichol Industries.

“The GS1 certification was a few years in the making,” says Adam. “We worked with GS1 and our machinery suppliers in Italy to ensure the software was compatible to format and produce barcodes to suit these requirements. We went through about 12 prototypes before finally getting to the right one.”

An example of a Project i-TRACE GS1 DataMatrix code. Source: Supplied.

With over 60 years operating in Australia, Nichol Industries was an obvious partner for GS1 on Project i-TRACE. Their long-standing presence in Australia, combined with their extensive experience in implementing similar projects within other industries, meant Nichol Industries had the commitment and know-how to get i-TRACE moving. 

“We’ve worked on projects like this before. We worked closely with component manufacturers within the automotive industry to computerise their marking. What we’re doing with rail is also very similar to what we’ve been doing with the Defence industry for over 15 years,” adds Adam. 

Michiel Ruighaver, Senior Account Manager – GS1 Australia said, “We are very excited to have Nichol be the first solution provider to be certified for Project i-TRACE barcoding. By using a certified solution provider, suppliers can rest assured that their parts and components will be marked according to the Rail Guidelines for implementing GS1 standards.” 

The Need for a Digital Rail Network

Digitising the rail network will mean better visibility across parts and components, ensuring proactive maintenance to keep trains running and minimise the risk of breakdowns. 

Project i-TRACE allows for more efficient processes and outcomes by providing more data transparency, stronger asset management, and the ability to identify components that might require maintenance or replacement, before they fail.

“The end game is every component used in rail has a GS1 DataMatrix code on it, which is like a QR code, but in a different format. So if a train breaks down or a component breaks out in the network, they can read the code and get the part replaced as efficiently as possible,” says Adam.

Rail suppliers now have two options for their marking solutions: they can send their data to Nichol Industries to make the tags for them, or they can purchase a laser machine directly from Nichol Industries so they can mark their tags or components in-house.

For more information about Project i-TRACE, or to organise marking solutions for your machinery or rail components, head to https://nichol.com.au/laser-marking-machines/project-i-trace/.

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