How 3D inspection helps prevent train derailments

Guy ButtleSeptember 8, 20235 minute read

This text is based on an original Artec case study that can be read in full on

Railroad inspectors are busier than ever. Thousands of miles of aging railroad tracks have to be checked regularly. But only so much track can be visually inspected in a single day, and smaller defects, like tiny fractures, metal fatigue, as well as dimensional and positional changes, can go unnoticed.  

Yet defects could cause a lot of damage. Every year, thousands of train derailments occur around the globe. The impact on the property and infrastructure as well as disruptions in service can resonate for decades.  

With a clear need for a better solution, rail inspectors turned to 3D scanning. They’ve found the perfect match in the Artec Leo 3D scanner, Artec Studio, and Geomagic Control X 3D inspection software

How does it all work?  

In many countries, government regulations require quarterly or monthly in-person inspections of every section of track across a company’s rail lines.  

Many companies deploy automated, high-speed ultrasonic inspection solutions for detecting rail fractures and other anomalies and defects. When a questionable section of track is discovered, a railroad inspector can be dispatched to this location for an up-close and in-depth visual inspection. 

But there are limits to how much track an inspector can visit and reliably examine during a single shift. Visual inspections are also challenging from a documentation perspective, with each inspector deciding whether or not a rail component or section of track should be checked out. 

3D scanning enters the scene 

When time is tight, the combination of 3D scanners with 3D inspection software is tremendously useful.  

After seeing a rising level of demand from rail inspection specialists, 3D scanning and measurement solutions provider GoMeasure3D put 3D scanning to the test. They used a Leo in tandem with Geomagic Control X to document and process surface geometries of a rail track. 

Rail Inspection with Artec LeoGoMeasure3D’s 3D scanning specialist Art Pekun scanning a section of rail with Artec Leo. Image courtesy: Artec 3D

A rail inspector can use the Artec Leo to digitally capture and document entire sections of railroad tracks, including ties and ballast. The scans are in submillimeter color 3D, meaning that even tiny surface defects and irregularities will be revealed.  

The Artec Leo is a wireless and portable scanner, with a self-contained power pack and touchscreen display, giving inspectors the ability to capture section​s​ of the track in mere seconds.  

The scans can be compared with reference CAD models to check whether the rails or any of the other parts are within acceptable tolerances. 

For users demanding even higher levels of scan-to-inspection power and flexibility, Artec 3D offers seamless integration with the industry-leading solution Geomagic Control X. 

With one click, you’ll receive comprehensive inspection reports on one or up to dozens of scans, all generated behind the scenes, and ready for sharing with your colleagues, with management, insurance companies. 

Change-over-time monitoring

With Geomagic Control X and Artec Leo​,​ rail inspectors can easily do what aircraft manufacturers have been doing to test the long-term structural performance of wings and fuselages: change-over-time analyses. 

Such analyses will not only determine whether tolerances have been exceeded, or are on the verge of doing so, but also help ascertain whether the cause may lie elsewhere. 

For example, if the gauge (width) of the tracks begins to surpass acceptable tolerances over a period of months, it could likely be due to insufficient depth or drainage of the underlying track ballast. 

How Leo helps reconstruct railway incidents 

In the unforeseen event that a derailment or other rail accident occurs anywhere along the lines, rail specialists and investigators can depend on 3D scanning to lend a helping hand. Every section of broken track can be captured in minutes. 

The 3D models of the tracks can be used to document and analyze any derailment and impact points, as well as crush deformation, all of which will provide crucial insights needed for reconstructing every stage of the accident. 

Geomagic Control X for rail inspectionGeomagic Control X comparison of real-world scan data from Leo together with a CAD reference model.

3D scanning for reverse engineering legacy railway components in-house 

Railroad companies can further leverage Artec’s 3D scanners and Oqton’s 3D reverse engineering software for reverse engineering legacy parts and machinery. In the decades since they rolled off the assembly line, many thousands of components have stopped being manufactured. 

Oftentimes when a critical gear or valve, not to mention a complex assembly such as a gearbox, fails and cannot be found on the market, the most common, albeit costly, recommendation is to replace the entire machine. 

But with 3D reverse engineering, you can digitally capture these same legacy objects in minutes, ​and ​recreate them in CAD, and then in the real world, whether that’s via CNC milling, 3D printing, casting, or another medium. 

Whatever your industry, whether complete novice or a 3D scanning veteran, our software packages have you covered. Learn more about Oqton’s 3D scanning solutions and request a free trial


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