THE IAF international track technology exhibition will finally return to Münster in northern Germany this month, five years since the last event. And with Plasser & Theurer set to show no less than 18 machines of all shapes and sizes, there should be something to pique the interest of all attendees to the Austrian manufacturer’s exhibit.

One of the highlights which is sure to turn heads is the Unimat 09-8x4/4S BR Dynamic E³, which has been designed specifically to maintain high-capacity tracks and turnouts.

Following two years of development and 11 months of construction, which was not disrupted by the Covid pandemic, the new 90m-long machine comes in at 278 tonnes when fully loaded, has a top speed of 100km/h, and a 120m turning radius. The machine is modular and is the latest example of the constellation layout associated with Plasser & Theurer’s machines, with this particular Unimat equipped with three rail lifting units, a tamping unit, ballast regulator, and profiling and stabilising units.

The inaugural machine also features several new innovations, which the manufacturer believes will help to improve the speed and efficiency of maintaining high-capacity turnouts.

The new machine features a continuous tamping unit equipped with Plasser & Theurer’s split head technology. All of the eight work unit segments can be lowered and put into action separately when tamping turnouts and are adjustable for diverging track as well as one or two sleepers. They can also be locked together when forming a tamping unit for conventional track. Crucially, the train only requires the possession of a single track, meaning the adjacent track can remain open for operation.

From the lead tamper’s position, three screens are available to supplement the conventional view of the tamping unit.

One of the most noticeable new features is the location of the cab for the two tamping operators. Rather than having separate cabs to optimise their view of the tamping process, the operators are in a single cab from where they no longer tamp just using their own eyes. 24 digital cameras are available to provide a clear view of what is happening outside of the machine at multiple angles, helping to optimise the tamping process and reduce the chance of a mistake. In addition, 10 analogue cameras are fitted to offer additional views of other equipment located throughout the train and to improve safety of operation. Air is blown against the cameras to prevent dust from covering the lens and obscuring the view.

The assistant tamper has the option to view multiple cameras at once, going from an overview to a two or four-screen split. For example, cameras monitor the rail lifting equipment while a rolling camera looks ahead under the machine at what is coming so that the operators can respond accordingly. From the lead tamper’s position, three screens are available to supplement the conventional view of the tamping unit. These screens can offer two or four split views each while the tamper can benefit from a visual overlay on these screens, with green indicating when it is safe to tamp and red when it is not.

The operators’ work is also aided by the Automatic Lead Computer (ALC). A screen in the cab displays the suggested lifting and alignment numbers and how often and how deep to tamp. PlasserSmartTamping - The Assistant application can similarly provide support when tamping complicated turnouts. The AI-based self-learning systems suggests actions based on standard regulations and specifications. The operator presses a button to accept the suggested operation and can override this at any time. The intention is to simplify the work process with Plasser & Theurer recognising that their customers are facing increasing issues with recruiting and retaining the skilled staff require for the job, which can take months and years to perfect.

The lead tamper is able to view three screens to supplement the conventional view of the tamping unit, which can view a feed from 24 digital cameras and 10 analogue cameras.
These screens can offer two or four split views each.

The data harnessed by the ALC is collected by track measuring vehicles and Plasser & Theurer’s Data Recording Process. This information is fed to the system via a cloud-based machine-to-machine interface. Onboard the machine, this data is used to present a visual representation of track conditions, helping the operator to see what issues there are ahead of the start of a track possession and informing and optimising the actions performed by the machine via the ALC. This data can be supplemented and enhanced by an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), which is fitted to the rear cab of the machine, and can effectively measure track condition when working at up to 60km/h. The unit also shows that remedial work has been done correctly and that it will stand the test of time. Incorporating the IMU directly into the machine is a unique development. However, Plasser & Theurer expects it to become quite common in the future.

Sitting in the same area improves communication between the two operators. And with the machines operating at no more than 62dB - equivalent to two people having a conversation in a room - the operators do not need to wear headsets. The cab is also noise insulated, further improving the working environment.

Indeed, working conditions are a major consideration throughout the machine. The added comfort is noticeable when stepping into the cab. Air-conditioning and heating control optimises the ambient temperature, while the operators have access to mobile phone charging and power points, a refrigerator, and a radio. Elsewhere, a separate meeting area with a table and seating for six people is equipped with screens offering an overview of the train. A kitchen and a toilet are also available onboard, which are especially important when spending a lot of time onboard performing what is a demanding job.

Maintenance of the machine itself is also supported by the PlasserDatamatic 2.0 digital application, which holds real-time information on machine condition, which can support condition-based maintenance measures and planning of specific maintenance activities. Operators can also directly access the spare parts catalogue via a QR available in the cab of the train.

Ballast regulator

Another two operators oversee the machine’s ballast regulator. Ballast is collected and stored in a 5m² storage unit located adjacent to the regulator and a 4m² unit at the front of the train. The regulator itself is fully adjustable to the needs of the operator and the track. In a first, rather than two separate sweeping units for wood and concrete sleepers, which requires the machine to stop operating to allow manual replacement, the new ballast regulator will feature an adjustable sweeping unit for either sleeper. The adjustment action is performed from the cab, eliminating the time and effort required to reconfigure the machine.

The E³ diesel-electric hybrid concept has been improved significantly for the next generation machine, offering around a 20% more efficient transfer of energy as well as reducing the cost of turnout tamping operation by up to €170 per hour compared with diesel operation and conventional single unit machines. The low levels of noise emissions from E³ also makes the machine suitable for use in urban areas and at night.

Rather than two separate sweeping units for wood and concrete sleepers, which requires the machine to stop operating to allow manual replacement, the new ballast regulator features an adjustable sweeping unit for either sleeper.

Both drive systems generate the hydraulic pressure required to operate all onboard equipment and Plasser says it has reduced the level of hydraulic oil used in the latest machine by 80%. Only linear movements now rely on traditional hydraulics with rotational movements powered electrically.

Following its unveiling in Münster, the Unimat 09-8x4/4S BR Dynamic E³ will be tested by prospective customers ahead of being available for hire from Franz Plasser Railway Construction Machinery Renting.

Other highlights from Plasser & Theurer’s exhibit at IAF will include the latest generation of its APT 1500 mobile rail welding robot. The new design features an approximately 35% lighter welding held while the sensor system has been reduced to just the essential elements, simplifying operation and maintenance.

In addition, Plasser & Theurer will also present plans for an expansion of its customer service offer. The company is set to open a new European Distribution Centre in Linz in July, providing a centralised distribution hub for spare parts supply to customers. The manufacturer will also tout its new Used Machine segment, through which prospective customers will be able to purchase used machines directly, and its retrofitting service. Plasser says this is one of the fastest growing areas of its business and it enables existing customers to refurbish their existing machines and install more of the latest technologies, including those in use on the Unimat 09-8x4/4S BR Dynamic E³.