Generic railway track (Photo Martin Winkler from Pixabay)

EUROPE: The automation of heavy machinery and development of exoskeleton technology for track workers were showcased when the STREAM R&D project held its concluding event in Tarragona in Spain on June 8.

The 33-month collaboration between seven partners from six countries was co-ordinated by IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia and funded through the Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking within a budget of €2·7m.

The first workstream covered the development of a control platform to convert traditional heavy-duty hydraulic machines, such as excavators, to move and complete manipulation tasks autonomously.

A demonstration at the Port of Tarragona was performed using an automated workflow based on GNSS/BIM models. The time spent on a sample operational task was reduced from 17 min to less than 11 min.

The second workstream focused on the deployment of a wearable active exoskeleton for track workers installing cable conduits along a section of line under possession.

Trials were carried out in several stages, covering lab testing, a simulated environment and a demonstration in an operational environment. Some 15 staff took part in the trials, collecting about 100 h of user data.

Participants carried heavy concrete blocks of 20 to 30 kg. There was evidence of a 50% reduction in the risk of physical overload and injury, with fatigue reduced by up to 15%-30% and back muscle activity found to be reduced by about 20%.

The system can transmit online ergonomic evaluations, environmental conditions staff status and geolocalisation data, and an IoT connectivity tool developed by project partners STAM and IIT enabled real-time data transmission for monitoring and responsive mitigation actions.

STREAM Project Partners

  • IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italy, coordinator)
  • Tampereen Korkeakoulusaatio (Finland)
  • STAM (Italy)
  • Novatron (Finland)
  • Grenoble Ecole De Management (France)
  • Comsa Sau Es (Spain)