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Actuators keep Sperry Rail on track

Actuators keep Sperry Rail on track

Customised actuators have dramatically improved the accuracy and lifespan of Sperry Rail’s pioneering ultrasonic positioning signal, used to inspect railway tracks for irregularities.

Since the first rail floor detector was invented by Dr Emler Sperry in 1927, actuators have always played an important part in positioning and regulating the detector. However, as modern trains have advanced, so too has the demand for greater accuracy and precision and it is here that the traditional ball screw actuators, used on Sperry trains for years, began to experience difficulties.

As the leading rail safety company across Europe and Asia, Sperry Rail’s trains operate in some of the most challenging rail conditions in the world and are required to retain maximum precision and accuracy across hundreds of kilometres per day. Sperry Rail chief operating office Alastair Veitch explains: “We use a technique called ultrasonic inspection. The motion of the train body as it travels down the track works against us, because we’ve got to get an ultrasonic signal down the centre of the web of the rail. If we’re one or two millimetres out, we don’t get any signal.”

If that wasn’t demanding enough, Veitch adds that the hazardous locations and challenging terrain that Sperry trains are required to operate in proved to be too demanding for the existing ball screw actuators, which soon began to fail. Looking for a solution, he turned to Olsen Engineering, which was able to supply a complete packaged solution that not only included 500 advanced Exlar roller-screw actuators, customised to Sperry’s unique application, but also the drives, software technology, complete installation and dedicated support by the Olsen Engineering team.

Due to their innovative roller screw design, the customised Exlar actuators that were fitted to all Sperry trains proved to be far more accurate and repeatable than their ball screw predecessors, while the product’s rugged, robust design dramatically reduced maintenance requirements. Veitch comments: “Out of the five years that we’ve been working with Olsen and out of between 5-600 actuators [in the field], we haven’t had a single one fail. In China we can run from –40°C to +60°C in the space of a day. It’s a very hostile environment that these actuators are working in and they’re absolutely brilliant.”

On his experience of working with Olsen Engineering, Veitch adds: “I came to Olsen with the problem and they really supported us through it. It’s the relationship that’s the key. Any time that we have a problem we get an answer, we aren’t left hanging around waiting which is good because we can’t afford to. They deliver a quality product and they’re prepared to adapt and help you meet your end goal.”

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