RSSB, via the Rail Research UK Association (RRUKA), launched a £250,000 competition calling for academic-led feasibility studies to apply Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) technology to the maintenance of rolling stock.
Proposals funded through this ‘call for research’ will develop blue-sky ideas about how to make use of robotic and/or autonomous systems to carry out rolling stock maintenance, servicing and inspections in order to reduce maintenance time and cost, and increase the reliability of inspections.
Luisa Moisio, Head of Research and Development at RSSB and RRUKA Industry Co-Chair commented: “A lot of the work which happens behind the scenes on the railway involves maintenance activities which require a high level of attention to detail in often dangerous conditions. This competition aimed to look at alternative options through the use of robotics and autonomous systems, to give universities the opportunity to learn more about the specific challenges facing the industry. We received a large number of high calibre proposals and look forward to seeing how the four chosen projects develop.”
Each of the four winning entries looked at some of the key challenges in rolling stock maintenance that the rail industry faces. These include; maintaining wheelsets after damage, manual inspection of wheelsets, servicing of fluids used on passenger trains and cleaning the front end of a cab.
- Cab Front Cleaning Robot, Cranfield University and Heriot-Watt University
This project will develop a prototype robot for train cab front cleaning. Current mechanised train washers cannot clean train front ends well because the train cab front nose often consists of complicated shapes. Therefore, train cab front ends are still cleaned manually, which creates a number of health and safety issues including working under 25kV overhead wires, working around electrified third rails, and working at height, especially during night in times of bad weather. The robotic train cab front cleaner will eliminate these issues as well as save cost.
- Enhancing and automating non-destructive testing techniques for railway wheel-sets, Southampton Solent University
The continued health of wheel-sets of rail vehicles is of exceptional importance for the safe operation of trains on our railways. This project aims to support the engineers carrying out the time-consuming and detailed manual inspections through the use of modern technology and automated inspection and testing processes. The project will look at how to combine cutting edge technologies to deliver a sensor system that will allow to detect smaller, hidden and potentially crucial defects in a faster amount of time. This will allow to turn carriages around faster through the depots while maintaining the high quality required for today’s train travel.
- Feasibility of the Use of Autonomous Robotic Systems for Wheelset Reworking, University of Birmingham
The wheels on trains wear over time and can be damaged if they lock up in slippery conditions. In order to maintain a safe railway, any damage needs to be removed, and this is currently done by using a lathe to take off the damaged surface layer. With repeated maintenance, over a period of time the wheelset becomes smaller until it reaches the point where it becomes too small to remain in service and has to be replaced. The costs associated with maintaining and replacing wheelsets are one of the prime elements of the cost of maintaining trains. Instead of removing material, this project will look at using an autonomous robotic system to add material back on the surface of the wheel using 3D printing techniques (also known as additive manufacturing).
- Robust Automated Servicing of Passenger Train Fluids (RASPT-F), Brunel University
This project will investigate the technological feasibility of developing a fully autonomous track-side system for completing the various externally-accessible ‘fluid’ service tasks on passenger train fleet. The system will be designed to be located outside the maintenance depot, and to be robust in the sense that it remains effective whilst coping with different rolling stock, different fluid functions and access locations, as well as resilient to inevitable adverse weather conditions. It will achieve considerable commercial benefits in terms of reducing train operating costs and reliability, improving servicing safety and freeing depot resources to focus on other maintenance tasks.
RAS was identified by the UK Government in 2012 as one of the Eight Great Technologies that support driving efforts to rebalance the UK economy and create jobs and growth. RAS technology has successfully been applied in a number of sectors to replace or assist humans in activities that fall under the “4Ds” – Dangerous, Difficult, Dirty and Dull – but has yet to be used in rolling stock maintenance. The use of these technologies has the potential to help the rail industry make a step change in the way rolling stock maintenance is carried out.
Press Release (375KB pdf file)
- Link to article on RSSB website
- Railway Gazette article (15 March 2016)
- Find out more about the competition