A quieter life

The FUTUre RAil (FUTURA) project is creating brake discs that are not only cost-effective, safe and green, but will also improve the quality of life of those living near railway tracks

The FUTUre RAil (FUTURA) project was awarded EU support under the Horizon 2020 call for the Fast Track to Innovation Pilot (FTIPilot-1- 2015). This call targets relatively mature new technologies, concepts, processes and business models that need the final development steps to enter the market and achieve wider deployment.

The FUTURA project will contribute to three key objectives within Horizon 2020:

  • Safety and security;
  • Health and environment;
  • Cost-effectiveness of rail freight transport.

FR 148 bThe main objective of the FUTURA project is to provide the final development steps to facilitate the market launch of the Divided Rail Freight Brake Disc (DRFB disc). This will help to improve the safety and quality of life for more than 55 million EU citizens who live or work near railway tracks.

The project consortium brings together four partners from three different countries. The partners are leading European companies which are recognised specialists in their fields:

  • KOVIS (Slovenia) — development and production of brake discs, axle boxes, brake pads and brake shoe holders for rail freight rolling stock;
  • OMNIA (Slovakia) — production of steel forging parts and hubs for railways;
  • ZX-B (Czech Republic) — development, production, servicing and leasing of freight wagons;
  • VUD (Slovakia) — development, laboratory research and testing for all modes of transport.

Brake technologies
Today there are essentially two competitive technologies available to reduce the running noise of freight wagons: the low-noise K block and the non-divided brake disc. Although the non-divided brake disc is the better option (as it ensures higher safety, lower noise levels and less vibrations), in practice it is fitted to less than ten per cent of vehicles, because it is too expensive. The FUTURA project is seeking to address that problem.

The specific objectives of the FUTURA project are to achieve a 10-15 dB noise reduction, an 11 per cent shorter braking distance, 11 per cent greater efficiency, 14 per cent less vibrations, 21 per cent lower mass, seven per cent less accidents, 12 per cent less damage of freight, 50 per cent longer life cycle of wheels and a 13 per cent lower life-cycle cost for the disc. For an operator with 1000 six-axle wagons, the lifecycle savings would amount to €5,838,000 in comparison with K-block and €9,840,000 in comparison with the non-divided brake disc. The DRFB disc will contribute considerably toward increasing the volume of freight transported by rail, which is more environmentally friendly than alternative modes such as road and air.

The DRFB disc provides significant added value for both operators and owners of freight wagons, with improved technical features, a reduction in disc weight, increased life cycle, lower wagon maintenance costs and reduced noise. The FUTURA project is expected to result in significantly higher safety and security in rail freight transport, improved cost-effectiveness, reduced noise levels, a positive environmental impact and an increase in the private sector’s investments and innovation activities.

The total available market size for the product is around €12 billion per year, with key target markets as the EU, USA, Canada, Russia, China, India and Brazil. The aim of commercialising the product is to capture seven per cent of the global market share in the production of brake discs for rail freight wagons.

All of these advantages were acknowledged by the European Commission, illustrated by the FUTURA project receiving funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programe FR 148 cunder grant agreement No.700985.

Market research
The railway industry is facing several challenges. One of the most important challenges is railway noise, especially the noise emitted from freight trains. Not only because freight trains run more frequently in the sensitive night period, but also because freight trains are about ten times noisier than modern passenger trains.

Over the course of the project the consortium partners participated in and visited 11 international exhibitions dealing with rail transportation throughout the world with the purpose of introducing DRFB prototypes, and the findings and results of laboratory tests and information from testing in real environments to the professional public. The most important event visited was InnoTrans 2016, where the greatest interest was observed. The FUTURA project was also presented at ExpoRail in Mexico City, the Middle East Rail-International Conference and Trade Exhibition in Dubai, Transport Logistic in München, Iran Rail Expo in Tehran, Czech Railday in Ostrava, APTA Expo in Atlanta, Elmia Nordic Rail in Jönköping, AusRail in Brisbane, Rail+Metro China in Shanghai and Trako in Gdansk.

The consortium was very active in the field of faceto- face dialogues with relevant regional, national, EU stakeholders, decision makers and suppliers. More than 50 face-to-face conversations were performed with potential customers all over the world.

To increase the awareness of the FUTURA project, promotional material that included EC guidelines about mentioning the co-financing party, was prepared. This promotional material was distributed at all events within the FUTURA project.

To introduce the goal of the project, the consortium partners also co-operated with different local medias. The wider public was informed via articles published in local newspapers, broadcast on TV and radio channels, and presentations were made in elementary and secondary schools.

For the professional and scientific public, three conferences and an open week were organised, where the development and test results were presented.

From the consortium’s research and attendance at international fairs, it can say with some certainty that there is a huge potential for its DRFB discs in the European market, especially in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France, where, due to an EU Directive, the noise level of freight trains must be reduced to between 8-10 dB by the year 2025. In Germany and Switzerland the aim is that by 2020, 80 per cent of all freight wagons will be classified as ‘silent or nonnoise making’.

Prototype optimisation
From a technical point of view the development of the new generation of brake discs is finished. The laboratory tests are completed and all the specific objectives were obtained. In this final stage of the project, a new generation of DRFB discs, the fourth and fifth prototypes, will be ready to be launched on the market.

With the fourth prototype, the focus was on safety, thermal performance, lowering vibrations due to accurate connection of crown and hub as well as further reduction of mass of DRFB disc. A new mounting design, which enhanced torque transfer capability and reduced the possibility of vibrations (caused by unbalance) was introduced. Stresses induced in the brake disc, caused by thermal expansion were reduced, as this design allows expansion in radial direction, thus increasing safety and decreasing stopping distance.

With the fourth design, mass was lowered by 22.7 per cent, and air resistance was decreased by 21 per cent in comparison with initial DRFB disc. From market analysis, face-to-face dialogues with potential buyers and producers of freight wagons, as well as from information received while attending international fairs, the consortium discovered that a great interest for narrower DRFB disc exists. Based on this research data, the decision to design narrower disc of 110 mm with same properties as the one with 170 mm wide was made. With this fifth prototype, mass was lowered by 34.5 per cent, and air resistance was decreased for by 34 per cent in comparison with initial DRFB disc.