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Smart traffic barriers: Stop, and go!

Viewed from above, China's expressways often look like ant trails. Toll station business is booming. At the same time, they are the most unpleasant bottleneck for flows of traffic. The barrier expert NorthWest Devices alleviates these traffic jams with adaptable, reliable and durable barrier systems for every toll station, including a drive solution from ebm-papst.

In China, almost all expressways have tolls. Therefore, business is booming in toll stations, which control access to the longest network of expressways in the world. However, at peak times, they also lead to record-breaking traffic jams. And the number of cars on the road continues to increase. Access is controlled the traditional way: with toll booths and barriers.

“I have been working in this area of expressway infrastructure with my Chinese company let’s technology for almost 20 years,” says Jin Chaodong, who is also CEO of NorthWest Devices, a specialist in toll barriers based in Canada. “The market is very stable and large in China. That is why, in 2016, I decided to use the Canadian spin-off company NorthWest Devices to focus specifically on vehicle barriers.” According to his research, every Chinese province buys around 300 vehicle barriers every year, whether they are new ones or replacements for older systems. Extrapolated, this is likely to be around 7,000 to 8,000 units per year in total. Jin Chaodong bet on a new development, and won. But what was crucial for it to succeed on the market?

According to research of NorthWest Devices, every Chinese province buys around 300 vehicle barriers every year. (Photo | NorthWest Devices)

Compact drives enable delicate barriers

“We found out that many things depend on our barriers’ drive,” Chaodong explains. “We needed a particularly small gear motor with high torque. To control our barriers individually, it was also important for us to obtain sufficient information from the motor.” ebm-papst was able to fulfill all three requirements at the same time.

Our aim was to develop barriers specifically for toll applications where reliability, durability and minimum maintenance work are of the utmost importance.

Jin Chaodong, CEO of NorthWest Devices

The size is primarily down to the appearance of the vehicle barriers. There is no room for a large drive in a small housing, but this is essential for the barriers’ space-saving construction and their delicate design. Nevertheless, the motor needs sufficient power and endurance to open and close the barrier arm, which is over three meters long: “Our aim was to develop barriers specifically for toll applications where reliability, durability and minimum maintenance work are of the utmost importance,” says Chaodong. “Barriers with drives that you install once and then no longer have to think about because they control access smoothly.”

Intelligent motor for every situation

No matter whether during quiet or particularly busy periods: Barriers should open and close precisely at all times. (Photo | NorthWest Devices)

However, the most important requirement was the intelligence of the motor: “Our aim was to be able to check and change the speed of the motor at any time so that we could adapt to any toll situation,” says Chaodong. The barriers should open and close precisely at all times – at quiet times at night in Beijing, in particularly traffic-intensive rush hour periods, or at the start of the vacation season in Shanghai – to control the flow of traffic as effectively as possible and to reduce traffic jams. Information about the position of the motor, the barrier beam, the voltage and torque, for example, were key to achieving this.

Ten years without a drive change

“NorthWest devices approached our American subsidiary with these requirements at the perfect time,” explains Stefan Rötzer, Market Manager Industrial Drive Technology at ebm-papst. “Our newly developed Optimax 63 planetary gear series from St. Georgen was a perfect match.” In conjunction with the powerful VDC 3 49.15 drive unit with K4 electronics, it ensures very fast opening and closing cycles of up to 0.7 seconds each, with a service life of 10 million cycles. When viewed in the context of China’s toll stations, that means ten years of use without replacing the drive, with one car every 30 seconds. The field standard is only around half this amount. The DC external rotor motor is maintenance-free within those ten years.

Our motor enables various speed and torque profiles.

Stefan Rötzer, Market Manager Industrial Drive Technology at ebm-papst

The programming options also meet the barrier manufacturer’s requirements: “Our motor enables various speed and torque profiles. As desired, NorthWest was able to respond to the very special requirements of each toll station,” explains Rötzer. “With AC, that would mean buying a separate motor for every individual customer requirement.” And another advantage of DC technology is that, in the safety extra-low voltage range of 24 to 48 volts, contact does not necessarily mean danger to life.

The right barrier for every toll station

“At the moment, we have three kinds of barriers on the market for use on expressways,” Chaodong explains. “They have a 0.7-second, 0.9-second and 1.3-second opening and closing speed. That covers all the needs of toll stations.” For the coming year, NorthWest Devices is planning an additional product range to be even more efficient and precise. “I am looking forward to continuing the great collaboration with ebm-papst.”


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