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AutoScan – Rail inspection by autonomous systems

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AutoScan (AutoScan – Rail inspection by autonomous systems)

Reporting period: 2017-06-01 to 2018-09-30

There are hundreds of thousands of kilometres of rail track in Europe, of which, each year thousands are found to be broken. Broken rails are the biggest cause of derailments, leading to loss of life and major disruption to services. Annual maintenance costs for member states of repairing broken rails are a significant part of on going life cycle costs. With the rapid increase in train traffic, train speeds and load carried, there is an urgent need to optimise the maintenance regime and increase reliability of rail infrastructure. The purpose of the Autoscan action is to enable more frequent and convenient inspections of rail track aiming to significantly reduce lifecycle costs by enabling more efficient flaw detection and intervention. One significant operational advantage is the reduced need for personnel to spend time in the hazardous track area and therefore improving the safety. Acting through various joint industrial projects, the consortium behind this action has developed an autonomous robotic evaluation system that performs non-destructive testing (NDT) of railhead for accurately detecting defects, their position and size so that accurate assessment and scheduling of repair work can be made by the network operator. The overall objective of AutoScan is to increase the efficiency of railway track defect inspection through the launch of RCF Scanner: an autonomous, efficient and affordable inspection system that is lightweight and therefore easily deployable. The proposed solution will reduce the time required to undertake inspection, therefore reducing the time that personnel are exposed to the potentially hazardous railway environment. The technical specification of the system will lead to increased accuracy and repeatability of detection of defects in the rail head.
The overall objectives of the project are:

• Exploit a rapid non-contact ultrasound NDT technology (EMAT) capable of accurately sizing faults detected for large area scanning and robotic ACFM raster scanning for more detailed defect characterisation
• Enhance an existing, autonomous lightweight prototype inspection cart capable of identifying track faults through a rapid detection system.
• Demonstrate the capability to operate the cart autonomously and remotely
• Undertake real world testing at trial site representing typical railway infrastructure and challenges and validate approach.
• To demonstrate autonomous operation for the cart, with ability to detect and record a variety of defects with required accuracy
• Implement a suitable commercialisation strategy

The primary objectives of the project for users resulting from the commercialisation of AutoScan are:
• Improved levels of safety due to increased probability of detection of defects
• Reduce track maintenance costs
• Increased availability of the network due to increased reliability and a data driven maintenance regime
• Extended asset life time and reduced Life Cycle Cost, as cracks occur during service may be detected at an early stage in their growth cycle, allowing an RBI approach
• Track access time reduced and therefore personnel safety increased

All of the technical objectives of the project have been met. The consortium partners are in the process of delivering the operational objectives for stakeholder companies.
The partners initiated the project by reviewing engagement with stakeholders and establishing the specific operational challenges and capturing the requirement of the end users (in addition to the well-known and growing demands on the European railways). The next phase of the entailed the enhancement of the various sub-systems of the proposed solution. This activity required the expertise and experience of the various consortium partners in system development and testing. The conclusion to the development phase required the integration of the sub-system components into a working solution ready implementation in the challenging rail environment. On conclusion to the activity the ‘RCF Scanner’ product was launched. During the project execution the partners performed various project management and exploitation activities that underpin the development and commercialisations actions. IN the final stages of the project the Autoscan consortium collaborated to sell the product to the railway market.

The results achieved are:
• Commercialisation of autonomous rail evaluation system – RCF Scanner product released
• Commercialisation of robotic scanning mechanism with ACFM integration interface
• Commercialisation of EMAT rail inspection system
• Commercialisation of remote control system for autonomous rail evaluation system
• Dissemination and exploitation activities related to project execution

The project has resulted in a fully functional autonomous rail evaluation system that has been rigorously tested in a representative railway environment. The consortium is now in the process of exploiting the system by entering into discussions and arrangements with a number of rail stakeholder and supplier organisations and rail maintenance organisations.
The project was considered to be ground breaking at launch as there were no fully autonomous systems available in the market at the time. The ability of the cart to autonomously detect and then classify defects through a detailed raster scanning technique is novel. This opens the market for improved levels of information about the locations and extent of defects detected in the rail. The controlling application provides a visualisation tool for mapping defect onto infrastructure maps and models. The cart forms a platform for user configured payloads allowing the operator to acquire the cart as a tool and plug their own equipment into it.

• Improve safety and preventing incidents due to track defects
• Detection of hidden defects. Inspection time reduced
• Reduce infrastructure costs by extending the life cycle of rail tracks, and reducing inspection frequency
• Reduce track inspection intervals through effective analysis of track conditions
• AutoScan can provide analysis of health, safety, environment, and business risks of ‘active’ and ‘potential’ mechanisms causing wear and failure, provide a probability of failure and the consequences.
• Improve scheduling; avoiding unplanned maintenance and network disruption
• AutoScan will allow early flaws to be detected and monitored so that preventative maintenance can be scheduled and unplanned maintenance reduced.

Social Impacts
Safety is an important consideration in railway maintenance. There is an EU wide pressure to meet EU Common safety targets (CSTs) - measures of risk allowing assessment of whether the current safety levels of the railways in the Member States are maintained. The ERA 2014 safety report25 shows that the number of employee fatalities – 46 - in 2012 was the highest ever recorded the economic burden of fatalities and of serious injuries was €1.5 b, in 2012. AutoScan is a fully remote controlled system removing the hazard of personnel on the track. AutoScan also reduces the number of required inspections by facilitating an optimised risk based inspection (RBI) and maintenance approach.
The AutoScan Concept