There are currently two primary wayside detection systems for monitoring the health of freight railcar bearings in the railroad industry: The Trackside Acoustic Detection System (TADS™) and the wayside Hot-Box Detector (HBD). TADS™ uses wayside microphones to detect and alert the train operator of high-risk defects. However, many defective bearings may never be detected by TADS™ since a high-risk defect is a spall which spans about 90% of a bearing’s raceway, and there are less than 30 systems in operation throughout the United States and Canada. HBDs sit on the side of the rail-tracks and use non-contact infrared sensors to acquire temperatures of bearings as they roll over the detector. These wayside bearing detection systems are reactive in nature and often require emergency stops in order to replace the wheelset containing the identified defective bearing. Train stoppages are inefficient and can be very costly. Unnecessary train stoppages can be avoided if a proper maintenance schedule can be developed at the onset of a defect initiating within the bearing. Using a proactive approach, railcars with defective bearings could be allowed to remain in service operation safely until reaching scheduled maintenance.

The University Transportation Center for Railway Safety (UTCRS) research group at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) has been working on developing a proactive bearing condition monitoring system which can reliably detect the onset of bearing failure. Unlike wayside detection systems, the onboard condition monitoring system can continuously assess the railcar bearing health and can provide accurate temperature and vibration profiles to alert of defect initiation. This system has been validated through rigorous laboratory testing at UTRGV and field testing at the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI) in Pueblo, CO. The work presented here builds on previously published work that demonstrates the use of the onboard condition monitoring system to identify defective bearings as well as the correlations developed for spall growth rates of defective bearing outer rings (cups). The system first uses the root-mean-square (RMS) value of the bearing’s acceleration to assess its health. Then, an analysis of the frequency domain of the acquired vibration signature determines if the bearing has a defective inner ring (cone) and the RMS value is used to estimate the defect size. This estimated size is then used to predict the residual life of the bearing. The methodology proposed in this paper can assist railroads and railcar owners in the development of a proactive and cost-efficient maintenance cycle for their rolling stock.

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