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Project title

Feasibility of the use of autonomous robotics systems for wheelset reworking (COF-RAS-03)

  • Project number:

  • Topic:

    Vehicle Track Interaction
  • Status:


Project Summary

This project explored the use of autonomous robotic systems for wheelset inspection and maintenance, using 3D printing or additive manufacturing techniques.  It established an initial concept design and ascertained the scale of the potential benefits.

Project Abstract

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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, and the time taken to do this causes headaches for train operators who have to maintain train services. 

Instead of removing material, there is the prospect of using an autonomous robotic system to add material back on the surface of the wheel using 3D printing techniques (also known as additive manufacturing).  However, this is a relatively new process, and there has been little research and development into its use within the railway industry.

This feasibility study sought to establish an initial concept design for such a system, and to ascertain the scale of the potential benefits.  It found the use of additive repair techniques on wheelsets is potentially on a ten-year horizon due to the developments that need to be made in materials science etc, but developed a way to use low-cost sensors to create a detailed 3D model of the wheels and axles that could be used for path planning.

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