Canadian innovation improves global rail industry safety

January 25, 2011— Oakbank, Manitoba

IDERS Incorporated

Railways need a new system to measure strain and temperature on continuously welded rail (CWR) in order to better manage these values to ensure safe operation of freight and passenger rail. A new sensing technology was required, and IDERS Incorporated was the right firm to do the job. 

IDERS and the STFPro

Founded in 1991, IDERS is an electronic design and manufacturing company, working in a multitude of industries, designing a wide variety of electronic systems currently operating in over 80 countries worldwide. Their business and operations are divided into three components: contract engineering, contract manufacturing and products.  As a result, IDERS has built a technically diverse workforce and is well positioned for work on a diverse set of projects.

STFPro portable

STFPro portable

Recently, IDERS has focused on creating a Rail Strain Management Technology.  The technology was adapted from a wholly new type of strain sensor developed by the University of Manitoba’s Dr. Douglas Thomson for bridge deck monitoring.  IDERS used this technology and evolved the sensor to develop the required technology specifically for the rail application.  This extensive research was then spun off to two smaller projects: the Rail Strain Measurement System, and the High-Speed Rail Strain Interrogation, both supported by the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). The resulting product is known as SFTPro, taking its name from the railway requirement to better manage ‘Stress-Free Temperature’

Reaching to NRC-IRAP for assistance

For technical and research guidance and financial assistance on these and other projects, IDERS began working with NRC-IRAP.   IDERS’ relationship with NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs), like Patrick Sheedy, has opened many doors for the firm.  Through his extensive network, Mr. Sheedy was able to connect IDERS with the NRC Centre for Surface Transportation Technology (NRC-CSTT).  NRC-CSTT was able to provide IDERS with significant insight on the rail industry, and has been working with IDERS to develop industry tests and commercialization plans.  Mr. Sheedy also connected IDERS to a funding program in Manitoba, and played an advisory role resulting in an additional $100,000 investment.

The Rail Strain Measurement System can be used across a railway’s entire installed base of continuously welded rail, in order to manage stress-free temperature.  The technical solution had to be robust for long-term operation, accurate over the life of the product, practical to cover tens of thousands of track miles in different terrains, and at the same time be cost effective and require minimal labour to use and maintain the system.  Their second project, High-Speed Rail Strain Interrogation, developed high-speed wireless interrogation, rail temperature measurement and sensor id/calibration input. 

This innovative technology has captured the attention of the industry, enabling IDERS to establish partnerships with VAE Nortrak and Pandrol Vortok for global distribution channels.  Currently, the technology is in use in Canada, Europe, Australia and the United States – and training is underway for additional expansion into South America, Africa and the Middle East.

From left to right: Vivian Sullivan, Director, NRC-IRAP Prairies Region, David Fletcher, Vice President, IDERS, and Bradley Brown, President, IDERS

From left to right: Vivian Sullivan, Director, NRC-IRAP Prairies Region, David Fletcher, Vice President, IDERS, and Bradley Brown, President, IDERS

Concrete results of the collaboration

“Quite simply, without the support from NRC-IRAP, IDERS – and, I suspect many other Canadian technology companies – we could not have undertaken our R&D programs, programs which we rely on to drive exports and growth” said IDERS President Bradley Brown.  NRC-IRAP’s ongoing collaborative efforts with IDERS and the advisory services of NRC-IRAP’s Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs), like Patrick Sheedy, have been essential to the success of their projects and the growth of their firm.  “In our industry it is difficult to separate technical from business strategy.  Patrick’s guidance in the technical domain has opened more and better strategic business opportunities”.

IDERS’ first project with NRC-IRAP in 1998 was through the Youth Employment Program (YEP) followed by financial assistance towards IDERS’ paper currency validation system project.  Since then, IDERS has collaborated with NRC-IRAP on a total of 9 projects – a mixture of YEP and project funding.  Through their collaboration with NRC-IRAP, IDERS has created 15 new engineering and engineering management positions. 

In 2010, the National Research Council of Canada presented IDERS with a Canadian Innovation Leader award, given to a small- or medium-sized enterprise (SME) that demonstrates specific advances in research and development within its industrial sector.  

IDERS’ bright future

Confident in their future, IDERS has recently moved into their newly custom constructed 18,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility.  This confidence comes from sales expectations based on technology and intellectual property built up within the firm, partially through collaboration with NRC-IRAP.  IDERS plans to further commercialize their research and development and exploit the new technical capabilities that NRC-IRAP has invested in. 

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