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The new track refurbishment technology that lasts longer than part replacements

1 Mar 2022, by Amy Sarcevic

A new mobile laser welding unit for manganese track-work refurbishment is soon set to touch Australian shores, after a successful entry into the United States heavy haul market.

The automated LaserWelder unit by Holland Rail Services restores manganese frogs and crossing diamonds to like-new condition, often outperforming and lasting longer than total part replacements.

Tensile testing of the laser additive material has demonstrated almost twice the stress and strain performance of MIG welding technologies. Meanwhile, cross sectional views of the welds have revealed significantly less porosity and lower heat input than in traditional repair work.

The company’s first field repairs were performed in 2019 and have shown three years of field service with more than 150 MGT of traffic running over the refurbished track so far.

Paul Lindemulder Senior Director of Product Development believes, in addition to its durability benefits, the tool will save rail operators significant sums.

“The typical mobile laser repair is about half the cost of a new frog, meaning it can save the railroad over $6,000 – $10,000 USD (approx. $8,000 – $14,000 AUD) when compared to the cost of a frog replacement. Moreover, the technology can extend the life of the frog two- or threefold; and – since trains can pass over the repaired section right away – there is less operational downtime. This can generate significant long term savings,” said Paul ahead of the ARA Heavy Haul Rail Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

The robotically-controlled technology works by casting a laser beam onto a manganese wire and the damaged trackwork, melting the wire to the surface, and building up a series of hard-wearing layers that protect the base metal. Given the quality of the metallurgy (manganese steel) a refurbished crossing diamond or frog could withstand significant pressure and even last longer than a brand new part.

“Frogs can take a real beating over time and incur high maintenance costs. The metallurgical properties of this technology will mean fewer part replacements and prevent the need for rail traffic to be slowed,” Paul said.

The technology has safety benefits too, with traditional refurbishment methods often emitting toxic smoke and posing health risks to track workers.

“Traditional welding fumes are somewhat dangerous to inhale. By contrast, we use an automated laser process which gives off minimal vapour and allows the operators to stand away so that it is much safer for the operators.

“Additionally, the robots we use can weld three or four time the length of a traditional repair process, meaning operators can step away and don’t have to stay hunched over. They can sit back and let the robot complete each layer without straining their backs,” Paul said.

Given the durability of the repairs, the technology also has extensive environmental benefits.

“The amount of energy that goes into casting a whole new track part is tremendous. Through automated laser additive repairs, we can take out bad sections and build back up with fresh metal, using a lot less heat than traditional welding methods; and over a much smaller production cycle than with total part replacements. This offers significant reductions in energy and resource consumption – both in the short and long term,” Paul said.

The technology can be deployed in a number of ways, depending on the operator’s physical set-up and operational requirements.

“It’s quite a versatile unit. We can deploy a mobile truck, either on the track or next to it, to allow robot access to the track. Alternatively the robots can be placed down with cranes,” Paul said.

Hear from Holland Rail Services at the ARA Heavy Haul Rail Conference, where Paul Lindemulder will talk more about the automated laser additive technique and give details on how his company is treading new ground with railroad technology.

This year’s event will be held virtually and in-person at the Ritz-Carlton Perth on 6-7 April 2022.

Learn more and register here.


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