Laser measurement keeps HLI’s high-wide shipments on track
Author: Christine Grahl
Using the SafeLoad system enables HLI Rail & Rigging to transport over-dimensional loads by rail safely and on time, every time.
Across North America and in other developed regions around the world, a rise in power requirements is fueling demand for large heavy components, such as wind turbines, transformers and boilers. Because freight trains can easily carry heavy loads across long distances at a relatively low cost, rail is often the transportation mode of choice for these and other oversized, overweight structures. But moving “high-wide” or over-dimensional loads safely and cost-effectively presents enormous logistic hurdles. The physical limitations of infrastructure are compounded by increasingly stringent regulatory challenges that vary across different regions of the U.S., making detailed planning vital.
To obtain the required railroad clearances, the weight and dimensions of each load must be measured precisely. The weight is the easy part, often falling within one to 10 per cent of the information provided by the manufacturer. The dimensions, however, are a different story. The process of testing and disassembling large structures before shipment renders many drawings inaccurate or incomplete. New as-built drawings must be developed to ensure the load is within clearance. However, with the traditional approach of manual measurement using man lifts, tape measures and plumb bobs, shipment delays due to dimensional measurement errors and discrepancies are virtually inevitable.
Or are they?
That was the question facing Mike Scott several years ago. As partner and director of rail operations for HLI Rail & Rigging based in Spring, Texas, USA, Scott was certain there had to be a better way of capturing accurate measurements on the over-dimensional loads that make up the bulk of the company’s business.
“Our field supervisors excelled at placing a load on a rail car so that it matched the drawings and was within clearance,” Scott said. “But doing as-built measurements by hand took a significant amount of time and presented safety concerns. And if the railroad inspectors found any discrepancies during their inspection, which was also typically done by hand, the shipment could be delayed by as much as seven to 10 days as the load was reconfigured, resecured and remeasured. To me, that kind of delay was unacceptable.”
Consistent, repeatable measurement
Scott scoured the Internet and spoke with colleagues who directed him to a laser measurement and documentation system designed to eliminate or reduce the safety hazards, inefficiencies and inaccuracies of measuring high-wide loads transported by rail. Called SafeLoad, the innovative system had already streamlined the inspection and clearance of high-wide loads at several Class I railroads.
Using a patented targeting system and method that references all height measurements precisely to the top of the rail and all width measurements to the centerline of the rail car, along with a high-precision laser, the SafeLoad system provides consistent, repeatable measurement accuracies that can’t be achieved with manual measurement methods. Intuitive software guides users through the measurement process. The efficient workflow walks users through a consistent, logical process that establishes a standard operating procedure throughout the railroad industry. The system eliminates or reduces climbing on railcars, loads or ladders, eliminates the risk of human error in taking and recording measurements, and reduces measurement time by at least 50 per cent compared to manual methods. Additionally, it provides instant access to comprehensive clearance reports, which streamlines the authorisation process. Measurement data can also be automatically transferred from the field to the office, and a real-time dashboard allows management personnel to view and monitor measurements as they happen.
This was the solution Scott had been looking for. In December 2014, HLI purchased its first SafeLoad system and transformed its over-dimensional transport business into a highly efficient, extremely accurate operation.
“As long as we follow the guidelines in our certification, it’s foolproof,” Scott said. “The laser measurement system sets us apart in the industry by enabling us to provide outstanding service and confidence.”
Outstanding safety, accuracy and efficiency
The investment immediately proved valuable. One client contacted HLI about a shipment of turbine components in Albany, New York, USA, that was at risk of being delayed due to a discrepancy noted in an inspection. Using its SafeLoad system, HLI quickly measured the load and provided documentation showing that it was within clearance, enabling the shipment to proceed on schedule.
Another client in Monterrey, Mexico, needed an as-built of a boiler on a rail car. With laser measurement, HLI was easily able to determine that the load was outside of clearance. HLI’s fast service enabled the client to make the necessary adjustments before the load was secured to the rail car, which provided a significant savings.
“Our clients love that we come out with a laser and measure their loads,” Scott said.
As demand for high accuracy and efficiency increases, HLI’s approach is creating a ripple effect across the entire rail industry.
“Our standard practice is to send a supervisor out with the rail inspector, laser measure the load, and have the inspector spot check what we measured,” Scott said. “The inspector discerns and approves what we’ve measured, the report goes in, and that process takes hours instead of days. It’s so efficient that now the inspectors are beginning to ask for laser measurement.”
Scott, who has recently purchased a second SafeLoad system, believes it’s only a matter of time before laser measurement replaces manual measurement for all high-wide load documentation. Until then, he’s happy to offer HLI’s clients a technological advantage in transporting cargo by rail.
The SafeLoad system provides consistent, repeatable measurement accuracies that can’t be achieved with manual measurement methods, making it ideal for measuring high-wide loads.
Laser measurement with the SafeLoad system enables HLI to quickly and easily determine whether a load is within clearance. Being able to make any necessary adjustments before a load is secured to the rail car provides a significant savings.
No more lengthy delays reconfiguring, resecuring and remeasuring a load after inspection—laser measurement with the SafeLoad system streamlines the process to a matter of hours.
The SafeLoad system uses a high-precision laser along with a patented targeting system and method that references all height measurements precisely to the top of the rail and all width measurements to the centerline of the rail car.