How many times have you been heading into a turn and felt a vibration, or heard a noise that was just unique enough to make your heart skip a beat? If you're like most racers you've had it happen to you at least a couple of times over your career. If you've been following Project G.R.E.E.N. closely (and judging by your emails, you have) you will recognize the name Sensors Inc.
It is the Michigan-based company that manufactures the PEMS or Portable Emissions Measuring System that was seen in the May '10 article, "Dynoing Our CT525." The 40-plus-year-old company specializes in developing innovative gas analysis technology, primarily for use in the transportation industry. But recently it has taken another leap forward and branched out into a new arena, one that will hold a lot of interest for oval track racers.
SRI International, an independent nonprofit research and development organization, has granted Sensors Inc. a global manufacturing and distribution license to develop a diagnostic system using SRI's vibration imaging technology. Sensors plans to use SRI's patented technology to create a new line of diagnostic systems for the automotive, power generation systems, and aerospace/avionics industries.
SRI's vibration imaging technology consists of a special camera and computer system that is able to "see" vibrations on the surface of objects in its field of view. The system can be used to monitor the mechanical health of a pipeline pump, machine, vehicle, wind turbine, or other structure from a distance without special lighting or wiring.
The concept of this technology is to apply it to most equipment with rotating parts, as unexpected vibrations usually indicate that maintenance or repair is required. In the automotive industry, the system can be used to indicate mechanical problems by detecting noises or vibrations. Sensors' CEO Dr. Andrew Reading sees it as rounding out his company's offerings. "Sensors Inc. can now complement its broad range of transportation emissions testing equipment with a system that expands our field of operation into the noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) arenas."
But on first pass he wasn't sure of its application in oval track racing. "I wasn't sure how important vibration analysis would be to a racer," said Reading. "But as I found out, it's extremely critical."
Until now, the only reliable and practical way of collecting vibration data was through the use of accelerometer sensors that are physically attached to an object's surface. Information from the fixed accelerometers must be communicated through wire harnesses or wireless networks to computers that are gathering and analyzing the data. As a data collection tool, that's neither practical nor cost effective for racers. However, SRI's vibration imaging technology does not require cables, wires, or special lighting, and can be located several centimeters to hundreds of yards from the actual object. That means the camera can be setup at track's edge during a test session and record significant amounts of data.
Another advantage to SRI's vibration imaging technology is that data collection is not limited to a few fixed points, like accelerometer-based systems. SRI's vibration imaging camera collects data from each pixel in the image taken, and from anything in its field of view. The technology is able to take accurate measurements on individual components ranging in size from a few microns to many meters.
Potential applications for the diagnostic system include testing machinery ranging in size from wind turbines, to trucks, to automotive subsystems such as transmission and braking systems in hybrid vehicles or shock and spring travel in a race car. The system has virtually infinite applications to a race team engaged in serious testing from the simplistic analysis of a front end vibration to simultaneously gathering data on the whole car's performance directly from on-track activities.
NASCAR Cup teams spend millions of dollars on seven-post shaker rigs that attempt to simulate on-track vibrations, chassis movement, flex, stresses, and other items. The SRI-Sensors system could serve as an alternative to the seven-post shaker. Plus, the SRI technology allows you to gather data in real time as the car is on the track experiencing actual race-like conditions.
To call the discovery of this technology for the oval track world exciting would be an understatement to say the least. It's groundbreaking and, remember, you read it here first in Circle Track magazine.