Smart Sensor System for Monitoring Railcar Braking Systems

As railroad loads get heavier, speeds get faster, and the demand for service quality and safety increase, the ability to monitor and process information about the health of a myriad of components of the rail transportation system increases correspondingly. In the particular application demonstrated here, smart sensors are used to directly monitor braking forces applied on a railcar. Although the technology to perform this has existed for many years, the ability to apply it has been severely constrained by the cost of the hardware, the extensive preparation required to apply instrumentation, and the infrastructure required to monitor and process the information. The objective of this Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis (IDEA) project was to build a system that will be low-cost and maintenance free. This is only possible by using consumer rather than research and engineering technologies. To meet this challenge the investigators developed a product comprised of three subsystems: a sensor for measuring forces, a wireless network for communicating the information so that some action may be taken, and an energy harvesting device, in lieu of conventional batteries, to make the system maintenance-free. Prototype sensor systems were fabricated and extensively tested. These tests all demonstrated that the sensor system was able to detect the application of forces to a brake beam. Tests in revenue service demonstrated the reliability and durability of the system in the electrical, magnetic and mechanical loading environment typically encountered by a railcar. A coupled electrical, magnetic and mechanical model of a power harvester was constructed and employed to design a power harvester for this application. Tests were conducted on a prototype harvester. Field tests to measure the vibration of a brake beam were conducted to determine whether ambient vibrations on a moving car could reliably drive a power harvester. These tests showed considerable variability in the vibration environment that will have to be considered in the final design.

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  • Supplemental Notes:
    • This HSR-IDEA project was conducted by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Distribution, posting, or copying of this PDF is strictly prohibited without written permission of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials in this PDF are copyrighted by the National Academy of Sciences. Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved
  • Authors:
    • Socie, Darrell
    • Barkan, Christopher P L
  • Publication Date: 2008-6


  • English

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Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01145897
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: HSR-IDEA Project 51
  • Files: TRIS, TRB
  • Created Date: Dec 4 2009 10:57AM