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Brussels, 20 May 2014
The science of shaking: tracking vibrations to improve safety
Nervous about vibrations? When your car starts to shake for no apparent reason or when the plane rumbles during taking off or landing, does it mean there is a real problem? An EU-funded team analysed vibrations and developed a self-powered wireless sensor system that collects vibration information and prevents failures of machinery. This technology can dramatically improve safety in many of our day-to-day activities. A European railway company has already adopted the system, reducing service disruptions for passengers and cutting down maintenance costs.
Vibration is a daily occurrence in a vast range of machinery, not to mention in buildings, bridges and other infrastructures. It is a normal phenomenon: in most cases there is no reason for concern, but close monitoring is essential. Vibrations cause wear and tear and can lead to equipment or structural failure. Engineers within the WiBRATE project have come up with an innovative new technology to detect and analyse the underlying causes of vibrations in a wide range of applications. It consists of a self-powered wireless vibration control and monitoring platform that can be fitted to trains, civil engineering structures, energy installations such as petrochemical plants, and factory-floor machinery, in a matter of minutes. Part of the strength and uniqueness of the system is that there is no need for batteries: the sensor system converts the vibration into power. And all data is transmitted wirelessly.
The EU invested €2.85 million in the WiBRATE project to develop and test detectors. The sensor system is the brainchild of a consortium of research centres and companies, led by the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Less than two years into the project and the WiBRATE consortium has been rewarded with one of its first industrial contracts, from Southeastern Railways in the UK.
Vice-President of the European Commission @NeelieKroesEU, responsible for the Digital Agenda, says: "Europeans spend a significant part of their lives on public transport, and they want to rely on it! Our journeys should be safe, and as predictable as possible. This project can help make a difference - it is another example of how new technologies can improve our daily lives. With a boost from the EU, research teams are able to develop their best ideas. Then they can bring their findings to the market, for the benefits of citizens and businesses".
Keeping trains running on time
British Southeastern Railways installed the new sensor system on a number of its trains and found they worked impressively by delivering significant reductions in operational and maintenance costs – some €12 000 per train per year, as well as improving safety in helping identify premature failures. Train operators get real-time information on the health status of the trains, allowing constant monitoring and prevention. This, Southeastern says, reduces service disruptions for passengers and optimises the use of its assets.
The technology appears to have a breathtaking range of applications. "Imagine for example a factory where machines are equipped with intelligent sensors that detect impending failures by monitoring vibrations," says Prof. Havinga. "The sensors can be installed with minimum effort and cost. They create an ad hoc intelligent network that can supervise the machinery on a continuous basis and eliminate the labour-intensive process of periodic monitoring."
The project partners are moving fast to take their results to the monitoring and control market. This sector – which ranges from the alarm system in your house to the control and command equipment for a machine-tool in factory – represents 750,000 jobs in the EU. By 2020, monitoring and control revenues are forecast to grow to €143 billion, twice the amount mobile phones bring in (see study).
The WiBRATE project is coordinated by the University of Twente. Other partners are the Swiss university Universita Della Svizzera Italiana, Fiat’s research centre in Italy, IT giant Honeywell (India), mechatronics leader LMS International (Belgium), and the project’s SMEs: Inertia Technology (The Netherlands) and Perpetuum (UK), winner of the Southeastern contract.
WiBRATE project was awarded funding from the EU’s Seventh framework programme for research & technological development (#FP7 - 2007-2013). The new EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 #H2020 promises even more breakthroughs with €80 billion of funding available over the next 7 years (2014 to 2020).