Hitachi Rail Maintenance has recently taken delivery of a Flir Systems ThermaCAM T400 for use in maintaining the new trains that will serve the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
Travelling at speeds of up to 140mph, the new Hitachi train that will serve the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will cut the journey time from Ashford to St Pancras to just 37 minutes. Based on the iconic Shinkansen (Bullet Train), it has 24 wheel-sets, 16 of which are driven. This ensures exceptional power and the ability to meet timetables even with 25 per cent of the traction equipment isolated.
The first consignment of the planned 29 trains is now in the UK and the focus is on building the support and maintenance structure to ensure these trains provide a quality service. Central to this is a young and enthusiastic maintenance team headed by the Hitachi Rail Maintenance Engineering Manager, Dan Barrett. It is his job to oversee the development of the maintenance programme, as the team's knowledge of on-board systems develops. And Hitachi Rail Maintenance is certainly investing in the latest technology to complement the programme.
Non-intrusive condition monitoring is a very important element of this. For example, at the company's engineering depot at Ashford an MRX system has been installed that automatically measures wheel profiles and shoe gear thickness. Thermography was another "˜must have' as far as Dan was concerned and, as a result, Hitachi Rail Maintenance has recently taken delivery of a FLIR Systems ThermaCAM T400.
Barrett states: "I have worked for other organisations that have not used thermography and have suffered repeat failures as a result." He cites checking the integrity of cable fixings on high-voltage jumper cables as a typical example. These inter-vehicle cables from the secondary windings of the transformer terminate in sealed and watertight junction boxes. "Having to undo those boxes just to check the fixings are torqued to the correct value is time-consuming and often fault-inducing. Without thermography there is no alternative, as, if a bad termination is not rectified, the contact will burn out and that will incur significant parts and labour cost. Using the ThermaCAM T400 this job will take seconds. All we need do is look at the thermographic image of cable for tell-tale signs of a loose connection - it is such an effective technology."
The inspection of high-voltage connectors is another early application for the camera. Traditionally contactor tips would be replaced, regardless of their condition, every six months. Barrett says: "It is an arbitrary task. Using thermography we can actually see if the replacement is necessary and we do not need to disturb a system if it is working fine."
Other planned applications include: checking for loose connections and intermittent faults on relay panels and terminal bars; monitoring motor temperatures - specifically around bearing casings on blowers and HVAC fans; and checking high-resistance contacts on third-rail shoe gear cabling to prevent "˜burn-up'.
Naturally the portfolio of thermographic applications at Hitachi Rail Maintenance will grow as the team becomes fully conversant with the technology. The camera has been purchased for the maintenance facility and, as a result, a programme is now in place to train all technicians to use the camera and, most importantly, to interpret its findings against benchmarks.
Barrett adds: "As we learn more about the technology, we will apply it to more tasks. At Hitachi Rail Maintenance we will maintain our trains in the most effective way possible and that means spotting problems early. This camera is a very effective tool and if it saves us just one cable burn-up, it will have paid for itself."
The Flir Systems camera was Barrett's first choice. He had seen other ThermaCAM models in action and was impressed with their performance. The ThermaCAM T400 is the very latest model in this predictive maintenance range. Launched in the UK only a matter of months ago, this mid-range camera is designed for the advanced and frequent user of infrared.
This model benefits from the integration of thermal and visual imaging, and there is a clever overlaying facility called thermal fusion. This allows the automatic and seamless transition of images from thermal to visual and vice versa while retaining all measurement functions in both view modes.
In addition to thermal and visual imaging, Hitachi Rail Maintenance was also attracted by the camera's large touch screen, which is said to be an industry first. This allows sketching with a stylus and speedy text entry via the touch screen QWERTY keyboard, thereby enabling the vehicle car identification number to be embedded on the infrared image. This ensures all the information is to hand for report generation.
Barrett concludes: "We are really looking to this investment to help us maximise equipment life, drive reliability and reduce unit downtime. We want our service to be second-to-none, and thermal imaging has an important part to play in helping us achieve this."