Products & Technology, Technology and IT

Precision sensors and automation solutions

How one company is helping keep rail networks operating and overcoming the maintenance gap.

Australia relies on diverse rail networks as its primary distribution means to keep the entire supply chain working effectively, from remote mining areas to urban locations. Keeping rail infrastructure in good condition is a high priority. However, a high likelihood of a maintenance gap between CBD rail networks and those in regional areas poses a new challenge. 

Condition monitoring and critical asset maintenance are crucial when it comes to rail management. An optimal asset management strategy depends on tools to evaluate the performance and the reliability of the rail networks. The condition monitoring system can be implemented to understand the overall health of the rail system which aids in the decision-making process while maintaining cost efficiencies. 

High-precision sensors

For more than 20 years, Bestech Australia has provided high-precision sensors and automation solutions to support testing and R&D activity to the Australian Industry. Engineers and contractors primarily utilise sensors for conducting measurement as part of asset maintenance, condition monitoring or research activity. Sensors are used to conduct measurements such as strain profile, which can be translated into the current health of the infrastructure. The collected data are transferred to the computer for further analysis. From there, engineers will be able to make an informed decision on whether the rail maintenance needs to be performed. An example of such an applications is measuring the width of the rail gauge.

Rail tracks are continuously exposed to stress, either residual stress from train loading or temperature variation, which may deform the rail head. This deformed track needs to be identified immediately and undergo maintenance as it can potentially cause accidents. The measurements are regularly conducted to pre-emptively detect the variation in the rail width. Therefore, it is not financially feasible to close off the rail tracks to allow maintenance personnel to perform the test every time. To get around this, a system that can be directly integrated on-board the train to conduct the measurement while the train is moving would be ideal. Such applications require compact-size sensors such as non-contact laser sensors that can be easily installed in the train without disrupting the other rail components. This high-precision sensor from Micro-Epsilon has been previously used to develop an innovative rail system that uses artificial intelligence to guide trains along the tracks. The outcome of the project is to reduce the wear and tear of the rail tracks, allowing them to operate for longer. 

For measurement of the rail gauge width, the sensor can be in¬stalled on the train bogie. This location is ideal as it presents no interaction with other systems. Two optoNCDT 1420 laser triangulation sensors can be installed at each end of the bogie for this purpose. The sensors can be time-synchronised and the results can be used to calculate the gauge width. The optoNCDT 1420 laser triangulation sensor comes with an integrated controller to offer high precision and high-speed measurement of displacement, distance and position up to 4kHz. The sensors also have a wide range of different output signals such as analog or RS422 communication interface.

These high precision sensors from Micro Epsilon provide high speed and advanced measurement capability which offer additional possibilities for high-speed railway applications. Two sensors with small laser spot can be installed on the measurement wagon to detect chipping, wear and slippage with high resolution. They are also unaffected by fluctuating reflection and ambient light, resulting in highly accurate measurement. 

In addition to laser sensors, there are also other sensors widely used in rail track inspections. The profile scanners have been used to detect rail wear by mounting them on a measurement wagon. The scanner can accurately detect the rail profile even when the train moves at high speed up to 100km/h. The results are automatically evaluated in the system and can be marked on the map using the GPS, allowing the maintenance personnel to carry out a well-directed repair measure.  

Additionally, the scanCONTROL laser profile scanner also has been used in an application to measure rail profile before and after milling. They measure the rail profile immediately before and after the grinding wheel. What makes the scanCONTROL particularly suitable for this application is its automated profile evaluation feature and its suitability to be used for on-board measurement. Therefore, the data can be recorded in real-time and transferred to the central control unit in the milling train. 

As the measurement needs to be performed on-board, the users need to have a suitable data acquisition system to collect the data. The measurement system from imc such as imc CRONOSflex offers rapid measurement and real-time calculations on board. It can also record fieldbus information such as from MVB (Multifunction Vehicle Bus) to provide new data capture possibilities. The imc measurement system provides additional measurement capabilities that can be useful for rail testing and condition monitoring. The system can be arranged to form a decentralised measurement system that consists of distributed local amplifiers with data recording and storage capabilities. It simplifies the installation and setup and minimises electromagnetic interference.

What makes the imc measurement system suitable for rail applications is its extraordinarily robust housing to withstand continuous mechanical shock and exposure to dust and projectile gravels. Therefore, it can be directly mounted on the bogie while performing reliable measurements in any weather condition. Bestech provides high-precision sensors and turnkey measurement solutions that meet the particular requirement of the rail industry. It specialises in design, delivery and commissioning of customer-specific measurement solutions through consistently providing high-quality technical support to aid in the successful delivery of the project. 

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