InnoTrans 2012

High-tech for safe rails

Press Release / 4.9.2012

Goods transport on Germany’s rails is booming. To manage the increasing challenges to people and materials, innovative railroad technology is in demand. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft will exhibit two new safety technologies at the InnoTrans trade show in Berlin from September 18–21 (Hall 4.1, Booth 225): a scanner that measures passing trains at full speed, and sensors that provide early detection of damage to railroad vehicles through preventative maintenance.

© Fraunhofer LBF

Using energy self-sufficient sensor nodes, the condition of safety-critical components can be monitored on a continuous basis.

© Fraunhofer IPM

The Sector Profile Scanner measures passing trains at full speed.

According to the latest figures from the German Federal Statistics Office, the volume of goods transported by rail increased by almost 20 percent to 375 million tonnes from 2009 to 2011. However, growth also leads to higher stresses: While freight and railcars have to withstand greater demands, train engineers and railway logisticians have to contend with shorter delivery times. The risk of error, damage and breakdowns increases – for example, through loads getting displaced or worn parts. Modern rail technology must contain these security risks in a simple and economical manner.

Railroad measurement technology: Award-winning high performance scanner

The Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM in Freiburg has developed a laser scanner that measures passing trains at full speed. Potential ecological risks such as protruding goods, open loading doors, shifted containers or railcars caught in or separated from each other can therefore be identified easily and swiftly from the operations center. »A three-dimensional map is presented to the safety officers within fractions of a second after the train passes through. Thus, they can respond virtually in real time,« explains Dr. Alexander Reiterer, head of railroad measurement technology at IPM. The four high-performance laser scanners installed adjacent to the rails, which can measure up to two million data points per second – and thus, trains at full speed – make all of this possible. Reiterer: »Despite the extreme conditions on the edge of the rail, the Sector Profile Scanner (SPS) is virtually maintenance-free, thanks to its hermetically-sealed housing, and poses no risk to the human eye through the use of the class 1-lasers.« For this development, among other things, IPM received this year’s Joseph-von-Fraunhofer Award which the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft awards to its employees each year for outstanding scientific achievements.

Sensors monitor condition of undercarriages

The energy self-sufficient sensors and sensor networks are one of the promising future technologies today. The Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF in Darmstadt has found a means to use this technology for railroad engineering as well. Attached to the undercarriage, the sensor system draws its energy from the oscillations of the railcar. This takes place with the aid of a piezoelectric converter. The sensors continuously supply data about the condition of the security-critical components to the train engineer. A brief glance at the comparison values from the computer is sufficient for him or her to ascertain where there is a repair need. »Through this consistent data capture, detailed data about the condition of the railroad carriages are presented – and much more precisely compared to scheduled maintenance,« says Matthias Kurch, project manager at LBF.

Fraunhofer joint exhibition booth in Hall 4.1

Fraunhofer will present additional research and development accomplishments for rail technology at Booth 225 in Hall 4.1 from September 18–21, 2012. These extend from thermography testing of railcar wheels to innovative designs for transportation logistics and test methods for safety-critical railroad software through to a new test facility for wheelset axles.