After fabricating Jugnu, the country's tiniest satellite launched last month, Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur graduates have now come up with a matchbox-sized device to monitor wear and tear of railway tracks and prevent derailment.
The new device is aimed at replacing a bulky, box-like contraption that is currently used by Indian Railways.
"Our device is a supplementary system for monitoring track health, making it simpler to integrate with the existing railway infrastructure," said Kshitij Deo, M.Tech in mechanical engineering, who developed the device with three others from the vibration and dynamics lab of the IIT.
For Railways, safety is important as thousands of trains use around 114,500 km tracks of its network - the world's fourth largest. With regular use, the tracks develop cracks and fissures, including problems linked to loose nuts and bolts at the joints. If the tracks are less firmly anchored on the soil, it could lead to derailment.
All these faults can now be detected in real time and recorded automatically to prevent derailment thanks to the oscillation monitoring system, a cutting-edge device weighing just 100 grams.
The device has been designed and developed by a team of IIT-Kanpur's mechanical engineering graduates, under the guidance of N.S. Vyas, professor and head, mechanical engineering, and the Railways' Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), Lucknow.
The device, based on micro-electro mechanical system, can monitor track health more comprehensively and enable efficient track maintenance.
"The extremely handy package locates and logs track faults accurately with the help of the GPS (global positioning system), eliminating human errors and making train journeys safer. It has a battery life of 10 hours and can be recharged by USB port on computers," said Deo who developed the device with three others from the vibration and dynamics lab under Vyas.
On the other hand, the existing railway monitoring equipment is bulky and operated manually, with two people being required to feed the location into the bulky device.
It is mounted on a special coach, the oscillation monitoring unit. Since it forms part of a small train, the exercise cannot be undertaken frequently. Track clearances have to be sought and the routes planned and finalised in advance, said Deo.
"The biggest challenge lay in engineering a device that could pinpoint faults with a high degree of precision while simplifying use with a drastically reduced size. We did manage to reduce the number of buttons to one as against 50 required on the keypad of the railway equipment," said Deo.
The device once placed on the floor of a running train's coach measures and records vibrations. Any fault or irregularity on the tracks changes the pattern of vibrations. The device feeds all such data and locational faults into a fingernail-sized data storage card with the help of a GPS receiver.
If the vibrations cross a certain threshold, especially in case of a critical fault, the device alerts engineers with audio-visual signals (beeps and flashing LEDs). Post- journey, the storage card is retrieved from the device and plugged into the computer for reading the track's actual condition and analysis by the railways.
The plan is to install at least three-four such devices on trains running on each route to monitor each track on a regular basis.
The project grew out of a visit by the director of the RDSO to IIT-Kanpur. "We were demonstrating a similar vibration measurement instrument developed by us. In subsequent meetings, the project was finalised and we designed the device in close coordination with RDSO officials," said Deo.
"The project took a year to fructify, involving some 25 field trials on trains, including Shatabdi and Rajdhani Expresses. The RDSO has been optimistic about the project. Many times we actually walked on the track to verify faults as predicted by the device," recalled Deo.
After the successful completion of the first phase, the RDSO is keen on going ahead with the second phase and testing the device on trains in all the railway zones. If its performance is found satisfactory, it would be approved by the Railways.