The link between wind power and rail shipping is difficult to identify. Yet one company in Adelaide, Australia, developed a technology for wind turbines that applies to train cars too.
The device, called the Ping Monitor, utilizes a solution that combines acoustical analysis, machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to detect issues with wind turbine blades. It listens for sound-based changes in the blades caused by lightning strikes or erosion. The noises of a normally functioning wind turbine blade make up what’s called an acoustic signature.
A cone-shaped design protects the gadget’s microphone from interference with accuracy. Plus, it prevents damage to the components, such as rain or bird droppings. The listening equipment attaches to a wind turbine blade with magnets, and a dedicated solar panel provides power.
Proprietary algorithms measure and analyze any differences in the sounds made by a turbine. Accompanying low-earth-orbit satellite systems provide necessary connectivity, even in areas without Wi-Fi or mobile data coverage. Data is then uploaded to the cloud and evaluated again based on-site-and fleet-specific details. When applicable, maintenance professionals receive alerts about potentially faulty equipment.
Trials are underway
The device maker recently installed 55 detection devices on a wind farm in neighboring Victoria for a three-week trial. It also is planning to take the technology out of Australia and introduce it to wind farms in the United States — reportedly in West Virginia and Texas.
Trial tests should give a clearer indication of whether the Ping technology works as well as the company says. In March, the brand received a $170,000 grant from the Australian government to facilitate the commercialization of the product. The award came after Ping representatives spent six years in the research and development phase.
Reducing instances of rail freight car failures
On its website, Ping says its technology could be helpful for equipment checks associated with the agriculture, mining and defense industries and many others. Any company or industry dealing with moving parts could potentially benefit from it.
The company’s CEO, Matthew Stead, believes his company can reduce issues like freight car derailments. Instead of listening to turbine blades, the device could listen to wheel bearings on railcars. With trains going such long distances, there’s a risk of wheels seizing up, which can cause a derailment.
On trains, the brakes, doors and suspension systems rely on compressed air to work. However, contaminants like dirt can cause the air compressor to malfunction. One cubic meter of air contains 140 million dirt particles, 80% of which are too small for the intake filter to catch. Moreover, like wind turbine blades, air compressors can malfunction due to corrosion.
A regular maintenance strategy is the key. However, the Ping Monitor can catch issues that occur between scheduled maintenance. Inspections typically occur every year or two, but a lot can happen in that time. Getting more data could promote proactive maintenance decisions.
Assistance through the rail industry’s rough patch
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) is a leading organization that focuses on the rail freight industry. It releases a weekly press release detailing statistics for rail traffic data.
In the most recent September edition, the AAR confirmed total weekly rail traffic is down 4.8% compared to the same week a year ago. Metals and metallic ores, as well as grains, are some materials experiencing declines.
Union Pacific Corp., one of the primary companies in the rail freight sector, confirmed the industry’s downturn. In June, Lance Fritz, the Union Pacific CEO, verified the company saw an approximate 4% reduction in freight volumes for the quarter.
Fritz said that, although the economy was healthy, issues associated with bad weather and increased caution from rail shipment clients contributed to the decrease. No single solution will put the rail shipment sector back in a more profitable place. However, if rail freight companies use new technology like the Ping Monitor to become more proactive with maintenance, the associated information could equal increased savings.
Rail shipments and the wind turbine demand
Analysts say tax credits are spurring a boom in the wind power industry. The rising desire to adopt wind power also has resulted in more shipments of wind power equipment. While trucking companies transport wind turbine equipment, railway freight companies play a central role too.
Ping’s monitoring technology, which checks moving parts for failure based on sound, could be instrumental in slashing failure rates for wind turbines and other moving parts.
Wind technology and railcar monitoring could combine if turbine transportation companies also use the device. In any event, the technology could make the rail freight industry more reliable while boosting company profits.