“Brains”, laboratory and electronic boards: the three assets of Alstom Villeurbanne

Train “brains” designer

Signaling equipment for 200 Norwegian regional trains, tram-trains for Île-de-France Mobilités, 66 trams for the Casablanca metro, control solution for the Amsterdam metro… When Alstom Group signs contracts, Villeurbanne finds itself busy. The site, located between L’Autre Soie and Bel Air Camp, is Alstom’s global center of expertise and has many advantages.

Read also on Tribune de Lyon: Between TGV and Metro B, Alstom Villeurbanne at the heart of the trains of the future

It is dedicated to railway electronics: high-speed trains, regional trains, metros, trams, for which it designs on-board systems, “brains”which ensure the piloting and overall control of the train, provide information to the driver and passengers.

What could thus be called the intelligence of the train is carried by the on-board computer and the central computers. The reflexes are managed by the control electronics which control the motors, brakes, anti-slippage…

The nervous system includes the on-board network which exchanges data with the ground infrastructure and/or the control center. Equipment that makes it possible to determine where the convoy is with a view to arriving at level crossings, or even to evaluate the time and distance difference with the train in front in order to improve the timing on the tracks.

For example, Alstom has introduced a new generation of computer which can control both control-command and traction/braking functions, reducing investments and maintenance costs.

Another improvement: a passenger counting system to know the crowds according to the timetables and the stations served to adapt the transport offer. Villeurbanne produces, for example, a “traction calculator”composed of an assembly comprising up to twenty electronic cards and the purpose of which is to determine how to run the engine, brake, accelerate, etc.

The site’s activity is thus roughly divided between rolling stock, signaling and service (repair, maintenance, obsolescence management, etc.). The site, inaugurated in 2015, is filled with 1,100 employees, 87% of whom are engineers. Research and development therefore takes a prominent place for the design of electronic systems, but also their manufacture. 10 to 15% of electronic boards are produced in-house.

The Environmental Qualification Testing Laboratory (EQLabs)

The laboratory is equipped with two semi-anechoic cages in which the material spends two days resisting electric fields at frequencies from 30 megahertz to 6 gigahertz. © Tom Augendre

Under the responsibility of Loïc Levis, the test laboratory is in charge of testing the compatibility of future systems (prototypes, first series) and electronic equipment with European and international railway environmental standards or customer specifications.

For this, the laboratory has various means of testing or “torture”, to simulate the stress induced on the cables, the phenomena of electrostatic discharges, network load shedding… The laboratory is also equipped with two semi-anechoic cages (whose walls partially absorb the waves, Editor’s note) in which the material spends two days resisting an electric field at frequencies from 30 megahertz to 6 gigahertz.

An electrodynamic exciter is also available to test the vibration resistance on different axes, for five hours per axis. Finally, the laboratory has about ten climatic chambers, ovens used to assess the proper functioning of electronics over wide temperature ranges (-25°C to 70°C), in high humidity conditions (98% humidity for two 24-hour cycles) and to anticipate corrosion phenomena so that the products can operate for more than 40 years.

30,000 electronic cards produced per year

Alstom Villeurbanne Electronic cards
The 3,000 m2 electronics workshop accommodates 80 employees to produce 30,000 electronic cards per year, 16,000 traction or signaling computers and process 8,000 after-sales service products. © Tom Augendre

Every half hour, the little logistics “train” from Alstom’s Villeurbanne site distributes raw materials — printed circuits, electronic components, small mechanics and electronic cards — arriving from the Pusignan logistics platform. Then collects the finished and semi-finished products in the opposite direction.

From there, these components are integrated within the 3,000 m electronics workshop2 where 80 people work in the production and after-sales service activities of electronic systems. Under the direction of Damien Autran, the department assembles printed circuits and components: the latter are placed on the board by a robot and soldered in an oven at an average temperature of 255°C; then the cards are checked, varnished, passed through quality control before being sent to the integration department.

There, the electronic cards are integrated to form systems such as a traction computer for a TGV, a tram, etc. In the space of a year, the production time for this computer has been reduced from 21 days to eight.

Then, each system is subjected to various tests: temperature then dielectric, before undergoing a final functional test. The site produces 30,000 electronic cards per year and 16,000 traction or signaling computers, and handles 8,000 products in after-sales service.

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