Custom Machine Design Case Study


Industry: Heavy Equipment/Rail Maintenance & Repair/Mining
End Users: CSX, BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, Arcelor Mittal Mines Canada
Solution: Expanded capability of existing rough terrain equipment to work on and off rail

PROBLEM:
For years, rail maintenance groups have struggled with the ability to efficiently and effectively perform maintenance and repair tasks - including both access to areas on and around the tracks and transportation of maintenance equipment to and from the area to be repaired/maintained. Most of the same technology has been in place since the 1940s, and dependence on this outdated technology and methodology has cost the industry in financial terms as well as in a lack of consistency and reliability. In many cases, maintenance equipment and machinery are one-of-a-kind and custom-built, so reliability and consistency, even among the equipment itself, is not a given.

One hi-rail equipment supply company decided there had to be a better way, and Vallmar Engineering was brought into the conversation with the goal of improving quality, increasing safety and decreasing costs when it comes to repair and maintenance in the hi-rail industry.

CONSIDERATIONS:
The Vallmar Engineering team started with a thorough evaluation of hi-rail maintenance and repair to gain a full understanding of the existing challenges faced by the industry. Specially, the team was out to discover why this had not been addressed before, what the costs were and what other barriers were involved in maintenance of the current machines used in rail tracks repair and maintenance situations.

This discovery process unveiled several major challenges:
1. Most equipment was custom-built, which meant there was no consistency when these machines needed repair themselves - causing major issues related to both costs and time.
2. Outdated methodology held that the most efficient mode of transporting these machines to the repair/maintenance site was by rail - loading the machine on a flat rail car, transporting it by train to the site, working from the flat bed or utilizing a crane to move it to wherever it was needed, then doing it all over again to get it back home.
3. Because of this outdated methodology, then, the time and costs associated with even minor repair were far greater than they should be.

Vallmar Engineering then invested its years of experience with mechanical, electrical and hydraulic engineering to find a solution to this long-term problem. The team had to create 3D CAD models for more than 3,000 individual components at accurate scale and material properties. The work was based off of original engineering plans of these decades-old machines. Once drafted, these 3D CAD assemblies enabled the Vallmar Engineering team to analyze a variety of possible solutions in a virtual setting, answering all the "what-ifs" that came up. This included consideration of detailed safety and other industry regulations involved in such a project.

All of this was done with the client's goals in mind: improve quality, increase safety and decrease cost.

SOLUTION(S):
The solution was a friction-powered machine that works on both rough terrain and on rail. Powered by its own engine and rotation of the existing tires, this Friction Drive Rail solution allows existing machines to become rail-ready through consistent components and applications. It provides flexibility to adapt to the need various capabilities and wide accessibility of the equipment and OEM accessories to fit the repair/maintenance need. In addition, this process also generated several future opportunities, as well, including hydrostatic-powered, hybrid system and all-electric solutions.

RESULTS:
- The company obtained three new OEM designs and several new patent applications after working with Vallmar.
- The company also decreased the machine's delivery time from about 20 weeks to 8 weeks.
- Direct manufacturing costs for the owner decreased significantly because of the custom machine design work done by the Vallmar team.