The integrity of the wheel is very important for the safety of railway. In this paper a laserultrasonic diagnostic measurement procedure has been designed for the inspection of the train wheels with the aid of a FE-model simulating the ultrasound propagation within the wheel itself. The laser-ultrasonic method exploits an air-coupled ultrasonic probe that detects the ultrasonic waves generated by a high-energy pulsed laser. As a result, the measurement chain is completely non-contact, from generation to detection, this making it possible to considerably speed up the testing set-up time and make it more flexible. This is an important advantage with respect to the conventional NDT technologies currently applied to train component diagnostics, as contact phase array methods. Laser ultrasonics is a complete remote technique since both the laser source and the receiving probe are installed in the proximity of the wheel directly on the bogie and therefore it is a more flexible technology with respect to standard techniques applied for wheel train diagnostics, as phased array. The applications of laser-ultrasonic technique available in the state-of-the-art work with high energy ultrasonic waves to guarantee good signal to noise ratio. Therefore, conventional laser-ultrasonic systems operates under ablative regime that assures high energy ultrasonic waves generation. On the other hand, the ablation produces damages on the surface of the component inspected. In this paper, it has been demonstrated that it is possible to work with lower energy waves, i.e. in the limit between ablative and thermo-elastic regime, if the experiment is properly designed on the basis of a numerical model. This operation regime allowed to guarantee a material removal below the threshold admitted in rail wheel application. The diagnostic procedure developed has been applied for the inspection of train wheels provided by the Italian railway company Trenitalia, on which dominant wheel failure cracks have been expressly created.
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