Every year, autumn leaves cause slippery railway tracks. The Amsterdam start-up Laser Precision Solutions (LPS) is working on a solution to this seasonal problem. That is why LPS applied to the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) for Proof-of-concept funding.
Many trees lose their leaves following a spectacular display of colours. While certainly a beautiful sight, all those falling leaves regularly cause inconvenience.
"It doesn't take long for train tracks to become dirty", says Ben Medendorp, LPS CFO. "Apart from falling leaves, rust, oil and waste also leave a slippery layer on the tracks. That slippery layer reduces the friction that is required between the wheels of the train and the tracks, resulting in slipping and sliding wheels. Because of this, the train use more energy to move forward and additional maintenance becomes necessary. Moreover, it can result in dangerous situations, since slipperiness increases the train’s braking distance. You can compare it to cars driving in the snow."
Measuring and lasering
"We are developing 2 products", Medendorp explains. "The TriboMeter measures the slipperiness of the train tracks. It provides real-time data on the friction between the train and the tracks and can be mounted on any type of train. This allows the railway operator to see where slipperiness exists and the exact degree of slipperiness. Trains can accordingly adjust their speeds, so that they waste less energy and avoid unsafe situations."
Optimum level of friction
LPS does not merely detect the problem, it also aims to resolve it. "Our LaserTrain uses lasers to remove the slippery top layer from the tracks and thus maintain an optimum level of friction. We mount the laser under a train, which can move slowly while the laser cleans the tracks. Thanks to the information provided by the TriboMeter, the laser knows exactly where the tracks are slippery." The company applied for R&D tax credit (WBSO) for both products.
Burden of proof
Railway operators around the world are enthusiastic about this development, but LPS needed a little help to get to this point. Medendorp: "Obviously, investors and customers first want to see whether your product works before investing in it. That’s tricky for us, because the costs of a demo version are already very high. Fortunately, we were eligible for Proof-of-concept funding from RVO.nl."
"With the Proof-of-concept funding, we were able to construct a 4x4-metre scale model to demonstrate how our products function. That was just what we needed to become an interesting prospect for market parties. We are currently working on a large pilot in New York. Multiple European railway operators, including NS in the Netherlands, are keeping a keen eye on our progress. I hope that we will be operational in many of those countries by 2020."
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