The inventor with many inventive steps. By Rosie Hardy
Every locomotive produced by GE Transportation includes several patented inventions by rail engineer, Ajith Kumar. In fact, Kumar has proved to be a prolific inventor and he is listed as an inventor in almost 800 GE patent applications and patents filed around the world.
One particular invention developed by Kumar is protected in the UK and other European countries by European Patent 2813409 B. The invention relates to a system and method for determining the friction between a rail vehicle and the rail tracks. By monitoring the friction at the wheel-rail interface, this invention allows operators to assess the effectiveness of a friction modifier that has been applied to the rails. Controlling the friction leads to improved safety and reduced operating costs.
The friction modifier may be a lubricant that helps to reduce friction and thereby lessen the wear of the wheels and rails, and also decrease fuel costs. Alternatively, the friction modifier may be a substance, such as sand, that is utilised under certain conditions to enhance the adhesion between the wheels and rails and provide safer travel.
The invention protected by the European patent monitors friction by obtaining creep measurements and tractive/braking measurements of a rail vehicle at different locations, as it travels along the track. The creep measurement may be based on the amount of slippage of one or more wheels. If wheel-to-rail adhesion is insufficient or lost then the wheels may slip excessively, and lead to spinning, sliding or skidding. The other measurements may be based on the tractive and braking efforts of the motor. The creep and tractive/braking data are then processed to determine tribology characteristics indicative of the degree of friction attained at the different locations along the track. The effectiveness of a friction modifier that has been applied to the rail tracks can subsequently be determined from these tribology characteristics. For example, it is possible to establish how well the friction modifier has spread along the rail track, which is the most suitable type to use, and if the rail track has an insufficient or an excessive amount of friction modifier. By monitoring the friction, a management plan for a rail track can be developed and implemented to optimise the travel of the rail vehicle.
It is reported that Kumar believes he is a successful inventor because he enjoys solving problems. He explains that the development of new products is not instantaneous. Instead, it relies on him first spotting a technical problem and then finding a solution. In a video about his achievements, Kumar’s colleagues describe how he is skilled at reducing a problem to its simplest form.
The European Patent Office also considers the ‘problem-and-solution’ approach followed by an inventor when assessing the patentability of an invention. A patent application must describe an invention in a way that makes it clear that a solution has been found to a technical problem. An invention is considered to have an ‘inventive step’ if the solution found by the inventor is not obvious with respect to what is already known.
Given Kumar’s extensive patenting success, he is clearly an inventor who has made many inventive steps!
Rosie Hardy is a patent attorney at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers LLP.