2016 Winner: Innovation In Information And Communications Technology Sponsored By TELUS
Using Sensors to Increase Safety in Rail Transportation
Calgary’s TransRail Innovation Group (TRIG) is revolutionizing a century-old industry with the introduction of new technology. TRIG’s new XLOAD™ electronic sensor brings safety in rail transportation to a new level through its radar technology and unique capabilities.
This increased level of safety affects not only the rail transportation workers, but also the environment. “What XLOAD™ does is allow workers to see inside these rail cars, which otherwise they can’t do,” explains Rob Tasker, CEO of TRIG. “These rail cars carry toxic goods, and opening them exposes the workers and the environment to hazardous materials.”
Seeing inside rail cars is important to determine if all materials have been removed. Without this ability, errors often occur which can be damaging and expensive.
“Filling rail cars is like filling a coffee pot,” says Tasker. “If there is a large amount of remaining material that you don’t know about and you put in a full load, then it’s going to overfill. This can be damaging to the surrounding environment, and is extremely costly to clean up,” he explains.
XLOAD™ minimizes these errors by allowing workers to accurately monitor the levels of remaining materials (known as the ‘heel’) in the rail cars during the loading and offloading process. XLOAD™ reads the heel within 1% accuracy using through specialized radar technology which can measure materials ranging from crude oil to benzene.
This new technology improves safety, saves money and time, and easily surpasses the performance of previous rail car measurement techniques such as the dipstick method.
Creating such an innovative product wasn’t an easy task and TRIG faced many obstacles throughout the development of XLOAD™. One such struggle was figuring out how to make XLOAD™ capable of surviving in the unique conditions that rail cars are exposed to.
“Rail cars travel thousands of kilometres through many different weather conditions, and have no source of power,” says Tasker. “Therefore, XLOAD™ had to be resilient enough to survive, and had to be engineered to draw minimal power and operate for three to five years before running out of battery power.”
The extensive regulations of the rail transportation industry also caused some strain on product development. TRIG has to ensure their technology won’t spark or cause a fire when exposed to flammable material. “To meet this standard we had to undergo intrinsic safety testing, which is the highest certification that says your product cannot cause a fire when around flammable liquids,” explains Tasker.
One of TRIG’s biggest challenges was achieving a high level of accuracy in their heel measurements. Rail cars carry a variety of materials, some of which make it difficult for measurement techniques to get an accurate reading due to low energy reflection or material foaming. To solve this, TRIG paired XLOAD™ with radar technology and used adaptive algorithms and processes to maintain accuracy.
XLOAD™ is only in field trials currently, but is already an unparalleled innovation in the rail transportation industry. Building on this success, TRIG plans to expand its capabilities to include other sensors to measure temperature and pressure as well.