Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stepping up rail-flaw detection

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New products, methods and technologies are helping suppliers find defects before they can cause problems on a railroad.

Research and development departments continue to drive advancements in rail-flaw detection technologies and methods. Railroads want to find smaller and smaller defects but they also need a total assessment of rail health.

Herzog Services, Inc.

Herzog Services, Inc. (HSI), has seen continued growth over the 2011 calendar year with the addition of another Class 1 railroad to its customer base, allowing HSI to strengthen its presence in the North American market.

“A growing market share with new customers and new requirements is an exciting focus for our team,” said Troy Elbert, assistant vice president of Herzog Services, Inc.

 Jeff Wigh, director of Research and Development, has been working diligently to increase HSI’s technical staff and to partner with HSI customers to analyze and meet changing needs and wants in the rail testing industry.

The Research and Development team also has new products on the horizon that Elbert says will not only improve defect detection capabilities, but also provide a suite of products to increase the analytical options available. Data, such as rail profile and light geometry, can be added if a customer so desires and can be updated with each subsequent scheduled ultrasonic inspection. 

“This will allow us to collate ultrasonic inspection and other rail health data to trend and monitor problem areas more efficiently for our customers. This could present a cost savings to our customers by allowing them to focus on areas that need more frequent inspections or other maintenance measures to prevent premature rail failures,” said Elbert. “HSI will continue to provide customer service to the industry and refine our products to be the most reliable and efficient inspection system on the market. With upcoming new product capabilities and expansion of services, Herzog Services, Inc.’s goal is to give our customers value for their inspection dollar.”

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Herzog Services, Inc., uses ultrasonic technology to find defects on lines for heavy haul and transit customers. HRSi's Series 6000 vehicle out on track.

Nordco

Nordco Rail Services and Inspection Technologies launched two new rail-flaw detection vehicles in 2011. The company says these vehicles focus on providing exceptional reliability and defect detection.

“To accomplish this we have introduced some exciting new technology, our patent-pending On Board Run on Run system, a 48-channel fully digital hardware platform and an Automatic Wheel Probe alignment system utilizing rail profiling data,” said Patrick Graham, president of Nordco Rail Services and Inspection Technologies. “Our focus is to continue to improve the quality of the test while driving up the total miles we can test in a given day. The On Board Run on Run system allows the operator to see the previous test information; this will allow better decisions and affect both test speed and quality.”

Graham notes that adding rail profiling to a detector car allows the railroad to collect profiling data as frequent as every two weeks or specifically tailored to a customer’s needs.

“However, it also provides the detector car with the exact location of the web of the rail relative to the gauge corner. Using this, we have specific algorithms that adjust the wheel probe to insure it is always centered over the web of the rail. Once again, increasing quality and test speed,” said Graham.

Nordco also launched the “One Pass” manual inspection system in 2011. This allows for a fully recordable GPS tracked test of a rail in one pass. Nordco utilizes its XL9-11 wheel probe with 11 transducers including the side looker transducers for vertical split head detection.

According to Graham, customers are continuing to request increased quality and test speed, as well as looking for ways to reduce service failures. 

“One of the ways we responded to this need is our expanded 48-channel platform. This allows us to continually deploy new wheel probe technology with significant extra processing power. When we couple this with our latest XL9-11 wheel probe, we have extra physical room available on the test carriage and have extra process channels.

Because rail surface conditions can be a factor in providing a good quality test and training and maintaining quality personnel is always a challenge due to the nature of the business, Nordco says it has enhanced its training programs with in-house simulations and hands-on track time to further develop the skills of its chief operators.

“Nordco continues to offer the railroads varying solutions to rail-flaw detection. We provide full service turnkey testing services, as well as sell rail-flaw detection systems directly to the railroads. This allows the railroad to work with the model that best fits their business needs. In many cases, the solution we provide is in-between the two options, which continues to be the strength of Nordco; flexibility to provide the right solution to meet our customer’s needs,” said Graham.

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Nordco vehicles now have an expanded 48-channel digital hardware platform, which the comapany says, allows it to continually deploy new wheel prob technology with extra processing power.

Precision RST

Precision Rail Stress Testing Inc (Precision RST) says it is addressing a long-standing industry need with the introduction of the Rail Stress Tester. According to Precision RST, the system is designed to quickly and accurately measure the neutral temperature of rail in a non-destructive manner.

“Our customers have told us that they are looking for a neutral temperature testing system that is accurate, fast, portable and non-destructive,” said Rick Middaugh, general manager at Precision RST. “There is increasing demand in a number of areas, from Class 1 to passenger to short lines: If there is a risk of a rail break or thermal misalignment, there is a need for neutral temperature testing.”

Middaugh notes that with rail stress measurement testing, the ongoing challenge lies in measuring the residual stress in the rail, as every rail has its own residual stress, however minimal. He says the system being introduced by Precision RST includes a calibration process that addresses the residual stress issue and allows for quick and accurate measurements every time.

“Neutral temperature testing has been an issue for years and Precision RST’s solution offers an efficient, accurate and cost-effective method to measure neutral temperature,” said Middaugh. “This system can be used for planning purposes. Railroads can focus valuable resources and maintenance efforts based on the results of the testing. The system can also be used for validation. For example, the tester could be applied as cwr is being laid and de-stressed to validate that it has been de-stressed to the targeted level prior to welding.”

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Precision RST introduced the Rail Stress Tester, which is designed to measure rail neutral temperatures.

Sperry

Sperry Rail Service says a number of technological developments it brought to the market contributed to the company’s detection of 90,000 rail-flaw defects in North America last year.

“Sperry’s approach is based on three principles – customization, innovation and service,” said Jamie O’Rourke, general manager of Sperry. “Railway clients share common issues but are inherently unique in their operations, with widely varying internal infrastructures, cultures, track conditions, usage, standards and regulatory oversight. The Sperry approach is to customize our proprietary capabilities and best-available technologies for programs specific to each railway.”

Sperry says recent innovations have come from a range of specific customer needs to broaden strategies implemented from around the world. For example, Sperry has deployed and released its Joint Bar Crack Detection (JBCD) system for inspecting joint bars for cracks or breaks. According to Sperry, the need was highlighted by Class 1 railroads’ interest in leveraging the frequency of Sperry’s rail-flaw detection vehicle to deliver a non-disruptive, value-add solution. John Kocur, who leads Sperry’s production engineering, said “the JBCD has been deployed on our 950 Series vehicle platform. The test vehicles are upgradable with the JBCD technology. This means no additional track access time is required to complete the joint bar inspection.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Sperry says it is advancing the implementation of its nonstop testing program in North America, moving from the pilot stage of 2010 to offering full service in 2012. This is being done collaboratively with rail-flaw detection leaders of the Class 1 railroads in a series of “stakeholder meetings” allowing each railroad engineering group to review the best fit of this technology for their specific infrastructure.

“The common denominator between our Joint Bar Crack Detection and our nonstop testing innovation is more actionable management information while lessening the footprint of inspection services,” said Alastair Veitch, managing director of global engineering at Sperry, “North American railroads will continue to require reduced risk while traffic and tonnage increase. That means efficiency and expertise in the testing service are paramount.”

Sperry says its technology road map requires new products and enhancements in platforms for delivery, detection technology and software management and points out 2011 was a year of significant development in all three. In platforms, Sperry says its delivery of the new Sperry 450 Series vehicle offers a lighter-weight and more nimble rail-flaw detection vehicle to deliver its core ultrasonic, X-Fire and vision technologies. The company points out that this platform is a fit for railroads seeing the benefit from a smaller vehicle than Sperry’s 950 Series vehicle. Further down the size scale, 2011 saw the implementation and rollout of the Dual Rail Inspection System and B-SCAN Flaw Detector single rail walking stick.

In the key area of detection technology, Sperry’s efforts continue to drive towards a full review of the rail condition. The biggest challenges to full detection, notes the company, come from the surface condition of the rail and the need to inspect the steel at a high-speed. An exciting focus for Sperry is the improvement of its proprietary induction technology bringing newly modeled coverage of the rail head for detecting defects with induction as part of Sperry’s next generation Electromagnetic Rail Inspection. This technology includes Sperry’s new surface crack detection and measurement system. Sperry has initiated trials with new base-defect focused ultrasonic technology that can be targeted for areas with a high concentration of base defects. Dr. Mark Havira, who has been leading Sperry’s ultrasonic detection research and development for 10 years, commented that “the full complement of testing platforms from slow to high speed now in service by Sperry gives us the opportunity to focus detection where it is most needed. This is especially true with base defects.”

Sperry says it has made advancements in the area of software and information technology, as well. The company offers its Sperry Data Management System (SDMS), which uses the Internet with secure access to the rail-flaw detection history for each of Sperry’s North American customers and has outfitted all of its rail-flaw detection equipment with wireless technology to ensure connectivity with the vehicles and monitoring performance on a real-time basis.

The proprietary DCS.NET on-vehicle software program has been completely implemented in 2011 and manages the inspection process while updating and drawing from SDMS. Sperry notes that a powerful new component recently developed enables the chief operator on the vehicle to concurrently view prior tests to assess changes in the rail condition. Sperry points to this tool as a key reason the DCS.NET was advanced across its fleet.

Dave Corby, Sperry director of software and information technology said “these advancements are part of the Sperry Geographical Information System (SGIS) that will accurately tie locations and historical information to benefit each North American railroad, in line with their specific information technology strategy”.

Underpinning all of the above technological advancement is the ongoing development of a highly skilled workforce to operate these systems that are mission-critical to the railroads. Sperry points out its stringent classroom training for rail-flaw detection chief operators and 2011 marked the 100th graduation from the class curriculum by a Sperry employee.

“With all the technological advancements coming from fifty engineers working at Sperry, the focused training on standard operating procedures allows us to ensure we not only meet our customers’ needs in technology, but equally as important, in service,” stated O’Rourke.

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