AusRAIL: Improving heavy machinery through simulation

Plasser & Theurer tells Rail Express how its research and development team is embracing the future of track construction and maintenance.


Since 1953, Plasser & Theurer has supplied more than 16,300 heavy duty machines for installing, renewing and maintaining rail tracks and overhead lines around the world. Despite this long and successful history, the company has emphasised a focus on new technologies with its research and development team.

One example of this is the Hardware in the Loop (HIL) simulation method, which Plasser & Theurer has used for over a year. The method allows the manufacturer to test and optimise the function of machine control units as soon as design is completed and – crucially – before the machine is built.

The HIL method simulates the actual environment of a component by digital means. The result is reduced costs: laborious test and development assemblies can be constructed in a virtual environment, saving time and allowing for testing at any stage, irrespective of the production progress.

Plasser & Theurer HIL expert, Harald Daxberger, said another major benefit of the method is enhancing overall quality of the machine, thanks to the fact testing can be used directly to improve the design.

“In our case, it is always a specific machine we model,” Daxberger explained. “This simulation is then used to connect the actual control device to test functioning.”

At present, Plasser & Theurer primarily applies this procedure to testing machine controllers. The major advantage is testing can begin directly after completion of design and software development rather than during commissioning of the machine, leaving enough time to optimise the configuration of functions. Commissioning then becomes more efficient as system issues can be identified and resolved early on.

Another strength of the HIL method is proving proper functioning of a machine before completion. Daxberger says this is particularly helpful when building large customised machines and has already been used in one specific case.

In one case, the purchaser of a track renewal and ballast cleaning machine wanted to know whether the automatic system provided to prevent overfilling of the ballast hoppers would work flawlessly. To achieve this, Plasser & Theurer set up a model simulating the ballast flows and the interaction of the conveyors. This model was connected to the actual control unit which regulates both the speed of conveyors and their position. With the help of this test arrangement, the Plasser & Theurer team was able to prove that the automatic system would work as intended.

Daxberger says the HIL method can be used for more than just optimising control units.

“It is certainly feasible that we can use this tool for remedying any faults in operation,” he said. “For this purpose, we would simulate the entire situation including its environment on the computer and therefore not need to go to the construction site.”


Visit Plasser Australia at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 345.

To find out out more of Plasser & Theurer’s research and development work, visit research.plassertheurer.com