What WVCO is Giving Thanks for This Season

Happy Thanksgiving from WVCO

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and appreciate what we’re grateful for in our lives. As this cherished holiday approaches, we got to thinking about what WVCO is most grateful for.

As a family-owned company, we are grateful for the many relationships our company has enjoyed through the years with our employees, distributors, customers and partner organizations. We recently asked them to share what they appreciate about Willamette Valley Company and the responses were overwhelming. Here are just a few below.

From all of us at Willamette Valley Company, we wish you all a very happy and joyous Thanksgiving and holiday season!

What is in store for Rail in 2018?

Rail

Photo Source: American-Rails

“We feel very good about the future and look forward to next year. We are committed to provide superior service to our customers, and with the volume growth momentum still ahead of us, we see good growth opportunity. A major focus as we move into 2018 is putting more of our resources in place: the people, the equipment and the capital investments.” — Canadian National President and CEO Luc Jobin

What’s the state of the rail industry in 2018? Today’s modern railroads face diverse and unique challenges in daily maintenance projects. There is a lot to be optimistic about in the coming year for rail, though at the moment it is a cautious optimism. A strong U.S. economy and increased consumer confidence could potentially bring new investments and policies that would positively affect all levels of infrastructure throughout the country.

Overall, 2017 was a good year for the rail industry, with the ASCE’s report card giving it the only strong grade of its infrastructure report card. NASDAQ also reported strong growth for railroads in the third quarter due in part to improved focus on deliverables like coal.

Of course, there are challenges to overcome that could impact the industry. Some lawmakers have called for budget cuts, stating that trains are not profitable. National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) President and CEO Jim Mathews responded by saying “those in Congress who believe that passenger rail is not profitable are mistaken. What they don’t see is the big picture. A robust national–and international–intermodal transportation system is crucial to economic growth, especially in those rural and less wealthy areas where travel options are already limited.”

Uncertainty with the North American Free Trade Agreement could also be a factor that greatly impacts the rail industry. Railroads such as the Kansas City Southern that deal heavily with Mexico could potentially feel the repercussions of the deal falling through.

Union Pacific’s Lance Fritz highlights Mexico is a strong business opportunity. “Despite uncertainty around NAFTA, we consider our Mexico business an opportunity that could benefit some of our submarkets. Union Pacific moves 70 percent of U.S. freight-rail shipments to and from Mexico through gateways at Brownsville, Laredo, Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas; Nogales, Arizona; and Calexico, California. We support trade that helps the U.S. and Mexico economies grow.”

As new infrastructure plans and investments are revealed, the railroad industry’s future will become clearer. We hope it’s a bright one.

About WVCO’s Railroad Division
The Willamette Valley Company’s Railroad Division is the industry leader in providing innovative new products and application systems for today’s railroads. The Railroad Division’s proprietary product, SpikeFast®, has quickly become the most sought-after and reliable product for plugging spike holes.The Railroad Division also offers other railroad tie products for wood and concrete ties, and unique application systems to accurately and consistently apply proven products.

Sources:

https://www.globalrailwayreview.com/article/63203/expanding-passenger-rail-u-s-economy/

https://www.globalrailwayreview.com/news/62949/report-amtrak-cuts-cost-billions/

http://www.nasdaq.com/article/railroad-industry-outlook-december-2018-cm886615

http://www.progressiverailroading.com/rail_industry_trends/article/Outlook-2018-For-Class-I-railroads-moderate-growth-is-the-best-guess–53413

A Look at Infrastructure’s 2017 and 2018

US Infrastructure

Photo Source: Inhabitat.com

As 2017 comes to a close it’s the ideal time to reflect on the year and look towards the future. Specifically, the present and future of the United States’ infrastructure.

In the views of many, 2017 could have been a better year for infrastructure.The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)’s 2017 report card gave infrastructure a national grade of D+.This grade is based on a total average of individually graded categories, such as aviation, schools, drinking water, and energy to name a few. The one category where infrastructure is succeeding is Rail, the highest rated category at a B rating. Find the grading breakdown of the report card here.

ReportCard

Image Source: ASCE

So how can infrastructure improve in 2018? The ASCE offers several solutions to raise the grade. One such improvement is for leadership to be emboldened. As ASCE President Dr. Norma Jean Mattei puts it “we need our elected leaders – those who pledged to rebuild our infrastructure while on the campaign trail – to follow through on those promises with investment and innovative solutions that will ensure our infrastructure is built for the future.”

Another such solution offered would be to increase sustained infrastructure investment, specifically from 2.5% to 3.5% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2025. Their third recommendation would be to ensure that infrastructure is more resilient and sustainable in order to prepare it for the future.

Will these solutions be implemented? It may be too early to say. The current administration has promised to announce their infrastructure plan and will reveal spending for the next few years. If the promise of $1 trillion worth of infrastructure investment is true, then it is very possible we may see the report card grade improve drastically in the coming years. One thing is certain: 2018 and the new infrastructure plan will bring drastic policy changes that will be felt throughout all facets of infrastructure.

Sources:

https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

https://www.asce.org/templates/press-release-detail.aspx?id=24013

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/363813-trump-to-release-infrastructure-plan-next-month-report

 

Positive Train Control Means Increased Rail Safety Measures

Rail systems get millions to improve safety

Rail systems get millions to improve safety

Last spring, the  U.S. Department of Transportation announced it would grant $197 million in funding for rail systems to implement the new rail safety measures called Positive Train Control.

Positive Train Control, or PTC, has been described as something of an “air traffic control” center for trains. PTC makes use of GPS satellites, radio towers, and ground sensors in order to better read a train’s speed and location. One such added benefit of this technology is that it can detect if a train is going too fast and allow on board computers to slow it down or stop it all together.

PTC

Photo Source – The Press Enterprise

“The number of passengers depending on rail has increased dramatically, which means PTC is needed now more than ever,” said Patrick Warren, FRA Executive Director. “This funding will get us closer to PTC implementation on some of the most significant railroads in the country that transport several million passengers to and from work every day.”

PTC systems are designed to prevent certain train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zones, and trains routed to the wrong tracks because a switch was left in the wrong position. The grants under this program will be used to install PTC technology, including back office systems and wayside, communications, and onboard hardware equipment associated with railroads’ PTC systems.

“Millions of people rely on our nation’s commuter railroads and Positive Train Control will help ensure safe and reliable service,” said FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes. “Today’s announcement means that commuter railroads can move forward with the implementation of an important rail safety feature.”

Of course, a project of this scale and scope has been met with some hesitation. Some fear such a system could higher transportation costs in addition to redundancies that could potentially result in layoffs. Though the debate continues whether implementation is fiscally wise or will managed, few can deny that such a tech will not be a strong tool in helping prevent accidents caused due to human error.

To view a list of when railroads predict that they will achieve full PTC system implementation, visit Railroads’ Planned Timelines for Full Implementation of PTC TechnologyExternal Link.

Sources:

New Technology Coming To Help Make MARC Trains Safer

Rail systems get millions to improve safety

Regulators and railways spar over Positive Train Control, a controversial safety system that won’t arrive in time

Meet John Zuspan, “the Track Guy”

 

Photo Source University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Photo Source University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We must build and maintain the track structure the right way or Railroad Safety, Quality, and Integrity will be compromised and this great industry will (literally and figuratively) derail.” – Excerpt from Track Guy Consultant’s Mission Statement.

Event-goers of NRC-REMSA 2017 Conference earlier this year are no doubt familiar with John Zuspan; not only did he present a seminar on “Means and Methods for Direct Fixation, Low Vibration Track & Embedded Track” (a talk on the means and methods for DF, LVT, and embedded track construction), he was honored and inducted into the NRC Hall of Fame.

Throughout his 40+ year career, John Zuspan has worked in the various complex roles that make up our railroad industry. This journey first began with a job as a track laborer for Atlas Railroad Construction, where Zuspan learned first hand the tangible, physical requirements of railway assembly.  This knowledge would serve him well in his next role, Superintendent for Slattery/Skanska. Zuspan’s work ethic and drive resulted in his elevation to Director of the Track Division. Vice President for Balfour Beatty Rail was the next post Zuspan assumed, estimating and managing budgets for several large scale railway projects and being responsible for hundreds of track workers across three boroughs.

It’s no exaggeration to say that John Zuspan has an inside knowledge of all complex facets that make the railway industry run. This passion and perspective, gleamed through a decades of work, would lead to his next endeavor: Track Guy Consultants.

Track Guy Consultants granted John Zuspan the opportunity to give back to the railway industry through workshops, seminars, track inspections, safety training, and other services for railroad firms and employees. Stanley Beaver, Safety and Environment Director at Balfour Beatty Rail, sums up the impact of Zuspan’s work:

“Without John’s help, many individuals and small businesses may not have succeeded. Very often his help comes without charge in the form of advice and encouragement. John is never too busy to take time to help individuals working through complex issues.”

For his decades of service towards improving the quality of railways and railway employees, as well as his on-going passion to offer the tools and information new generations of railway workers can use, we name John Zuspan our Featured Innovator of the Month. We look forward to hearing more from him in the future!

Note: John Zuspan does not work for nor is he affiliated with  Willamette Valley Company. 

Sources:

Track Guy Consultants

RT&S

If you can think it you can print it! How 3D printing is revolutionizing the rail industry.

UnionPacific3D

Photo Source: 3D Printing Industry

“We can make design tweaks and have a new version ready within hours, plus the prototype never leaves UP. Additionally, it ensures a complete design before we move into expensive tooling or long lead times for molded parts.” – Royce Connerley, Union Pacific Senior System Engineer

It’s no exaggeration to say the 3D printing is a technology with boundless potential. With medical industries, housing, manufacturing, and hobbyists using the tech for printing in ways never before possible, it is no surprise that the railway industry too is turning to 3D printing for solutions.

For a bit of a background, 3D printing is the use of machinery to print components/materials. These materials can be plastic, metal through powder printing, and much more.

Union Pacific, for example, is using 3D printing for railroad machine vision technology. Machine vision loosely refers to the using of imagery for automatic inspection or analysis. Furthermore, Union Pacific is 3D printing remote controlled devices to track rail equipment.

In Europe, Deutsche Bahn has begun to use 3D printing in their actual train assembly. As Uwe Fresenborg, CEO of DB Fahrzeuginstandhaltung states: “For the maintenance of our vehicles we need immediately available spare parts. Our trains are expected to roll, 3D printing helps us in doing so. Printing is faster, more flexible and cheaper than conventional manufacturing processes, and the vehicles are available again in a very short time and are used for our customers.”

3D-Druck_02

Photo Source: 3D Printing Industry

Beyond creating parts for trains, Deutsche Bahn has employed 3D printing to increase the overall experience of customers, such as by 3D printing metal pieces with braille for disabled customers and individualized handicap signs for handrails. As the program develops we can anticipate seeing more 3D printing components throughout Europe and beyond.

It’s safe to say that 3D printing will revolutionize not only rail but all manner of transport industries with its benefits to customer quality of life, safety testing, part replacement, and machine vision. As more industries adopt the technology we can expect to see even greater breakthroughs still.

Sources:

RailJournal: DB steps up 3D printing of train components

3D Printing Industry: Union Pacific 3D printing for railroad machine vision technology

3D Printing Industry: Deutsche Bahn extends use of 3D printing to “revolutionize maintenance”

Featured Innovator: Dr. World Nieh Demonstrates the Need to Think Small to Achieve Big Ideas in Wood Products Industry

World Nieh, Photo Source IUFRO Division Conference

World Nieh, Photo Source IUFRO Division Conference

“So CLT is available now. Cellulose nanomaterials are about five years away. In 10 years, new products from the three major polymers of wood. Beyond 10 years, use your imagination. Anything can happen.” – Dr. World Nieh

When thinking about about wood, it’s easy to get caught up in the big picture: all-wood high-rises, CLT panels, Wood Energy. But sometimes, to really make a breakthrough in a field, you have to think small. In Dr. World Nieh’s case, that means thinking on the nano-level.

Dr. World Nieh is the Forest Products National Program Lead in the U.S. Forest Service’s R&D Deputy Area. He also represents the Forest Service in the National Nanotechnology Initiative, co-chairs the Biomass R&D Board inter-agency Conversions Workgroup, and co-chairs the inter-agency Sustainable Nano-manufacturing Signature Initiative.

These days, Dr. Nieh’s work is focused on developing new uses for wood such as cellulose nanomaterial technologies and low-rise buildings and bridges. But let’s take a step back and define what we mean when we say cellulose nanomaterial. Cellulose is an organic compound often used in the production of paperboard and paper that the USDA Forest Service defines as:

“Cellulose nanomaterials are primarily isolated from trees and other organisms; are naturally occurring polymeric materials that have demonstrated great promise for commercial applications across an array of industrial sectors; are renewable and environmentally sustainable; and have the potential to be produced in large volumes (i.e., millions of tons per year).

The commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials has the capacity to create hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs, particularly in rural America. The United States is currently in a good position to become a leading global source of commercial cellulose nanomaterials innovation, production, and use”

Some of the benefits of cellulose nanomaterials, as outlined by Dr. Nieh, include:

  • – Better potential to control flow properties when compared to synthetic materials (such as when used with pen ink).
  • – Safe for human body use in biological applications.
  • – Light weight yet strong (particularly of interest in the automobile industry.

As indicated in the Forest Service definition, Cellulose nanomaterials has the potential to be used in a variety of fields, a point which Dr. Nieh elaborated in his interview with Pallet Enterprises.

“Nanotechnology has become one of the hottest areas of research and development in wood utilization globally,” says Dr. World Nieh. “For example, in Japan, a certain type of cellulose nanomaterial is already used in gel ink for ballpoint pens as a thickener because it performs better than existing chemical products. Oil drilling (for mud removal and maintain well pressure), fruit coating (improve shelf life), concrete (improve strength), packaging (better surface quality for printing, better barrier properties) and products for the food industry (nontoxic) are a few examples of large volume cellulose nanomaterials markets.  In 10 years, we may be able to lower the cost of producing cellulosic liquid transportation fuel so everyone in the supply chain can make a profit.”

Dr. Nieh earned his Ph.D. from Mississippi State University, M.S. from Virginia Tech as well as studying at the Polymer Science Department of the University of Southern Mississippi. He is a member of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Forest Products Society (FPS), the Society of Wood Science and Technology (SWST) and the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI).

For his ongoing work to help guide the vision of the U.S. Forest Service Forest and his ongoing research into potential long term breakthroughs in the wood industry, we name Dr. World Nieh our Feature Innovator of the Month!

Dr. World Nieh does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.

Sources:

http://www.iufrodiv5-2017.ca/

http://www.techconnectworld.com/

http://www.palletenterprise.com/

 

Railroad Day on Capitol Hill

Capitol_at_Dusk_2

In a few short weeks, advocates and representatives of the Railroad Industry will make their annual journey to Washington DC to make their messages heard by lawmakers. This important annual event, Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, is taking place on March 2nd, 2017, at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown, 999 9th St, NW, Washington, DC.

With the ever-shifting political climate, it’s more important than ever to be heard.  As anyone who has taken part in the event before knows, it’s the most effective way for the railroad industry’s message to be reached by Congress and can only succeed if everyone turns out in order to present a unified industry.

New Dome Railroad Day Logo - 2017

The event takes place over the course of one day with appointments, meetings, and events all organized in order to communicate the important role that the railroad industry plays in America’s economy, improving our country’s role in global marketplace, and our ongoing success in helping the environment.

Attendees of Railroad Day will have the opportunity to speak directly with decision makers and help promote real change. “Railroad Day is our single most impactful day of the year with Congressional leaders,” said Linda Darr, president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, of 2016’s Railroad Day. “We had the opportunity to address issues of importance to our industry and the shipper customers we serve.”

Attendance is open to all Class I, II, and III railroad personnel, shippers, state and local government representatives, as well as members from the supplier community with an interest in furthering the political goals of the railroad industry. To learn more, please visit www.aslrra.org.

Photo Credit: By Martin Falbisoner – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, www.commons.wikimedia.org

NRC-REMSA 2017 Wrap Up

NRC-REMSA2017

Photo Source: REMSA Twitter

Last month, a team from Willamette Valley Company’s Railroad Division had the privilege of traveling to Boca Raton, Florida to meet with industry representatives and officials at the NRC-REMSA 2017 Conference and Exhibition. This year’s event proved once again to be an unparalleled opportunity for WVCO and other railway businesses to connect directly with professionals representing all segments of the industry. We appreciated the opportunity to listen to your questions and concerns about the growing number of challenges this industry faces and introduce you to our wood-tie remediation and other repair products.

NRC-REMSA

The annual NRC Conference and NRC-REMSA Exhibition encompassed more than 1,000 attendees, 150 exhibitors and over 25,000 square-feet of meeting space. It was a pleasure to join the many other members of the railroad industry; including service firms, manufacturers, suppliers and contractors to answer questions about our railroad products and POLYQuik Roadway Repair materials, Joint Fillers and Light-Rail Grout. Other participants of the conference/exhibition included: Union Pacific, SANDAG (San Diego), Genesee and Wyoming, Caltrans, CSX, California Rail, LA Metro, Alaska Railroad, Norfolk Southern, Canadian National, New York MTA, Watco, OmniTRAX and many others.

Speakers

Event-goers had the chance to take in seminars from key individuals in the railway and transportation industry. Rob Castiglione, the Staff Director of Human Performance Program for the Office of Railroad Safety FRA presented “Overview of FRA Part 243 Minimum Training Standards Final Rule,” where he expanded on training requirements for all railroad employees and contractors who perform safety related work, the history of the rule, and the role of associations like NRC.

John Zuspan of Track Guy Consultants presented “Means and Methods for Direct Fixation, Low Vibration Track & Embedded Track,” a seminar on the means and methods for embedded track construction.

Jerry Power’s seminar on “Overview of FRA Part 219 Drug & Alcohol Regulation for Maintenance-of-Way Workers Final Rule”  covered  the scope of FRA’s alcohol and drug regulations to cover employees who work in railroad maintenance.

Lastly, Lesa Forbes, Senior International Trade Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service, spoke on new opportunities abroad and how US Commercial Services can help your firm expand your international business.

HallOfFame

Photo Source RT&S

The event also saw the induction of new members into the NRC Hall of Fame, Ron Brown, John Zuspan, and Rick Ebersold. The three were honored for their work in NRC, REMSA, and the railway industry as a whole.

Below are some photos of NRC-REMSA 2017, courtesy of REMSA’s Twitter page.

NRC-REMSA2017

Photo Source: REMSA 2017

NRC-REMSA2017

Photo Source: REMSA Twitter

WVCO was proud to take a part in NRC-REMSA 2017 and look forward to taking part once again next year!

Sources:

Railway News

NCRMA

RT & S

Nora Ayanian sees a future of autonomous robot coordination

Nora Ayanian

Photo Source Tumo

“Teams of humans are exceptionally good at coordination. Teams of robots, however, are clumsy at coordination, requiring extensive communication and computation.” – Nora Ayanian

There’s no denying it, robots are incomparably skilled when carrying out a specific given task, even if that task requires some light improvisation. The same can’t be said, however, when robots are forced to worked together; the overlap in work either results in extra work on the programming side or redundant/ineffective task management on the robot side. But what if robots could coordinate themselves autonomously depending on what the other robots are currently doing? It may sound like something out of Westworld, but this is exactly the question that Nora Ayanian is working to answer.

Nora Ayanian, assistant professor and Director of the ACT (Automatic Coordination of Teams) Lab at USC, endeavors to make robots and robotics a very real part of everyday life. “I want to make robots easy to use and have them everywhere,” said Ayanian, “they should be accessible, user-friendly and interactive so you can have them in your house and in your car. Right now, robots are really difficult for novices to use.”

Despite her passion for the robotic, her goal to achieve robotic automation would require researching a much less predictable source: people. By developing an online multiplayer game with funding from the National Science Foundation CAREER award, Ayanian was able to study the ways that humans can coordinate together when presented with very little information or communication tools. This research would prove invaluable in defining an automated coordination system for robots and allow to them to “think” of solutions for problems based on the activities of the greater robotic team.

Though automated coordination could certainly be applied to groups of identical robots with identical programming, Nora Ayanian believes that diversity, both in terms of team and of the robots themselves, is the key to solving complex tasks.

“The way we solve multi-robot problems right now is to uniformly apply one control policy to all of the identical robots in the team. For example, imagine we’re trying to monitor air quality with a team of physically identical aerial robots. If we considered all the factors that could affect the problem, the robots, and their capabilities, we might have too many factors to consider and our problem would be intractable,” wrote Ayanian in a blog post for Justmeans.com. “Imagine that same team of aerial robots assisted by robots on the ground. The robots on the ground could provide additional information such as temperature, position, topography, and satellite communications via hardware the aerial robots might not be able to carry. They could also perform computation, telling the aerial robots where to go and mapping the air quality, allowing the aerial robots to use more of their on-board energy for sensing.”

The contributions Nora Ayanian has made to the field of robotics don’t just end with the vast potential of her research, they are also every present in the new generation of roboticists she inspires and works alongside in her role as Director of USC’s ACT lab. We are incredibly excited to see what Ayanian’s work means for the future of robotics and dub her our “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

Note: Nora Ayanian does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is she affiliated with our company.

Sources:

https://www.technologyreview.com/lists/innovators-under-35/2016/

http://www.justmeans.com/blog/diversity-in-the-it-industry-is-key-to-solving-global-problems

USC News: New USC Viterbi professor sees robots in future

USC News: Two USC Viterbi researchers named among top ‘Innovators Under 35’