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Transport & Logistics

Breaking new ground in heavy haul operations – an interview with Kevin Piefer

8 Mar 2021, by Informa Insights

ARA Heavy Haul Interview questions with Managing Director for Holland Rail Services, Kevin Piefer

Q: Kevin, why did Holland LP, a North American based company, decide to branch out to Australia? Is Holland doing business in any other countries?
A: Holland is a company that innovates, builds upon its innovations, and then operates what it builds. In North America, it is a model that has successfully improved the heavy haul rail infrastructure in bringing high-level weld quality AND productivity that allowed the Class 1 RRs to rely on us as their Flash-Butt Welding (FBW) experts. We see the Australian market as quite similar except it is a few years behind in gaining the level of weld quality and productivity seen by the Class 1s in NA. It’s more than just having FBW equipment – it’s having that deep underlying knowledge of how the equipment was built, how it performs optimally, and how to use it to best serve the customer. Holland does maintain a presence in many other countries, but as a builder of FBW equipment only. Holland does not release its proprietary weld control system, Intelliweld ® anywhere except where it operates its own equipment. North America and now Australia are the only places in the world that will have both our technology and equipment and our full-service FBW operations. We have called this branch of our business Holland Rail Services Australia (HRSA).

Q: Since Holland is new to Australia, what are some things people might not know about Holland that you wanted to share?
A: Holland has been in the rail industry for over 85 years, although the FBW part of the business had its genesis in the early 1970s. Holland was first to market with an in-track FBW machine and then innovated that into the first to market mobile in-track FBW machine. The core of Holland’s business is FBW and literally coined the term MobileWelder® such that it is our trademark!
We have always been a family-owned business and are currently in the fifth generation of family leadership.

Q: Kevin, how do you feel the pandemic has affected the industry and HRSA specifically?
A: The rail industry, like most industries, accelerated the learning curve on how to improve (or in some cases…start) their remote/virtual capabilities. There is no doubt our industry is hands-on and requires a certain level of face-to-face interactions, but we all are seeing that model shift at a pace that we never thought would be needed. Holland launched a business in Australia just as the pandemic began in early 2020. The technical systems (operational dashboards, remote equipment telemetry, virtual troubleshooting capabilities) that were developed at Holland previously to manage a remote and mobile workforce in all 50 US states and 10 Canadian provinces positioned us well to set up our technology and equipment for live or remote demonstrations and compliance testing.

Q: Do you feel the railroad industry has changed significantly in the past couple of years? How has Holland adapted to these changes?
A: Yes, I believe the industry has changed significantly.
There is a drive for more automation, more remote and virtual access to machines, and a desire for reliable data. The industry is turning a corner. The bad news is that the industry seems to be steadily losing the ‘old hats’ that could do everything by sight and feel and sometimes the ‘seat of their pants.’ Often things were done subjectively. It’s not great to lose that, but it is an industry that is becoming more technical than ever. What we are losing in the transfer of knowledge of those before us we need to replace (as best we can) with automation, machine learning, predictive analytics, and useful data collection. We must then use all of that to create a new generation of railroaders that do their jobs based on objective data to ensure safe, reliable, and repeatable outcomes. Holland has been an industry leader with its technology and innovation and has already spent the ‘capital’ necessary to invest in the data platforms that will help lead the technical revolution that has already begun in the industry. With remote access to machines and their performance, the data collection and usage from Intelliweld® as well as a complete online dashboard to manage all works (imagine a control tower at an airport), we are already there!

Q: What does HRSA offer the industry that is unlike any other company?
A: We are innovators and operators. We collect data that our Intelliweld® system generates during the welding process as we, ourselves, perform the welding operation. We then utilize that data to ensure the consistency, integrity, and repeatability of the welding process. We also utilize that data and the results created to improve the welding process and to train our employees on proper welding techniques and procedures to ensure the consistency, integrity, and repeatability of the process.

Q: Holland is breaking ground in Australia. What are some exciting things your team is working on?
A: Since early 2020 (during the pandemic) we set up a new portable FBW unit for testing and demonstrations in Perth to verify our own weld program testing on local rail types.
We have been able, with the remote help of our technical experts both in NA and Australia, to successfully create proprietary weld programs that meet or exceed current standards and customer requirements for standard carbon rail and head hardened rail. We have worked through such internal qualifications with SP-3, HE-X, PG4 among several others.
We also completed our first welding project for the Perth Transit Authority utilizing our qualified weld program with our portable FBW unit.

Q: Kevin, where do you see HRSA in five years?
A: Our goal is to establish ourselves as a reliable, consistent, and valuable partner to our customers. Partnership is one of our Core Values. We strongly believe that with the level of welding knowledge and expertise combined with our innovative spirit we bring a fresh perspective to the market that will propel the industry to new expectations of what it deserves in quality and reliability. We are not the status quo and look to lead FBW quality, productivity, and innovation to better serve our customers.

Join Kevin and the team for an insightful discussion at the ARA Heavy Haul Rail Conference due to take place 14-15 April 2021. This year’s event will be held at the Ritz-Carlton in Perth.

Learn more and register.

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