Thursday, 26 May 2011

Air Brake System

Air brakes are used in trucks, buses, trailers, and semi-trailers. George Westinghouse first developed air brakes for use in railway service. He patented a safer air brake on March 5, 1872. Originally designed and built for use on railroad train application, air brakes remain the exclusive systems in widespread use. Westinghouse made numerous alterations to improve his air pressured brake invention, which led to various forms of the automatic brake and the subsequent use on heavier road vehicles.

Compressed Air Brake System

Compressed air brake systems are typically used on heavy trucks and buses (Note the difference between pneumatic brakes and pneumatic/hydraulic). The system consists of service brakes, parking brakes, a control pedal, an engine-driven air compressor and a compressed air storage tank. For the parking brake, there is a disc or drum brake arrangement which is designed to be held in the 'applied' position by spring pressure. Air pressure must be produced to release these "spring brake" parking brakes. For the service brakes (the ones used while driving for slowing or stopping) to be applied, the brake pedal is pushed, routing the air under pressure (approx 100-125psi) to the brake chamber, causing the brake to reduce wheel rotation speed. Most types of truck air brakes are drum units, though there is an increasing trend towards the use of disc brakes in this application. The air compressor air draws filtered air from the atmosphere and forces it into high-pressure reservoirs at around 120 PSI. Most heavy vehicles have a gauge within the driver's view, indicating the availability of air pressure for safe vehicle operation, often including warning tones or lights. Setting of the parking/emergency brake releases the pressurized air pressure in the lines between the compressed air storage tank and the brakes, thus actuating the (spring brake) parking braking hardware. An air pressure failure at any point would apply full spring brake pressure immediately.

In the Florida CDL Handbook , this process is described. Here is the section describing the service brake:

5.1.7 - The Brake Pedal

Brakes are applied by pushing down the brake pedal. (It is also called the foot valve or treadle valve.) Pushing the pedal down harder applies more air pressure. Letting up on the brake pedal reduces the air pressure and releases the brakes. Releasing the brakes lets some compressed air go out of the system, so the air pressure in the tanks is reduced. It must be made up by the air compressor. Pressing and releasing the pedal unnecessarily can let air out faster than the compressor can replace it. If the pressure gets too low, the brakes won't work.

These large vehicles also have an emergency brake system, in which the compressed air holds back a mechanical force (usually a spring) which will otherwise engage the brakes.Hence, if air pressure is lost for any reason, the brakes will engage and bring the vehicle to a stop.

Supply System

The air compressor is driven off of the engine either by crankshaft pulley via a belt or directly off of the engine timing gears. It is lubricated and cooled by the engine lubrication and cooling systems. Compressed air is first routed through a cooling coil and into an air dryer which removes moisture and oil impurities and also may include a pressure regulator, safety valve and a smaller purge reservoir. As an alternative to the air dryer, the supply system can be equipped with an anti freeze device and oil separator. The compressed air is then stored in a reservoir (also called a wet tank) from which it is then distributed via a four way protection valve into the front and rear brake circuit air reservoir, a parking brake reservoir and an auxiliary air supply distribution point. The system also includes various check, pressure limiting, drain and safety valves.

Control System

The control system is further divided into two service brake circuits: the parking brake circuit and the trailer brake circuit. This dual brake circuit is further split into front and rear wheel circuits which receive compressed air from their individual reservoirs for added safety in case of an air leak. The service brakes are applied by means of a brake pedal air valve which regulates both circuits. The parking brake is the air operated spring brake type where its applied by spring force in the spring brake cylinder and released by compressed air via hand control valve. The trailer brake consists of a direct two line system: the supply line (marked red) and the separate control or service line (marked blue). The supply line receives air from the prime mover park brake air tank via a park brake relay valve and the control line is regulated via the trailer brake relay valve. The operating signals for the relay are provided by the prime mover brake pedal air valve, trailer service brake hand control (subject to a country's relevant heavy vehicle legislation) and the prime mover park brake hand control.

Exposed Physical Structure

This example of the air brake consists of a physical structure on the exterior of a vehicle that will increase the vehicle's drag coefficient, and therefore slow it down. Air brakes of this sort are ineffective at normal road vehicle speeds, and therefore are reserved for vehicles which need to quickly decelerate from high speeds, such as race and high performance sports cars.

Many high performance sports and racing cars utilize air brakes in order to slow the cars down from high speeds. The Bugatti Veyron, one of the fastest production cars in the world,  features a rear spoiler which, at speeds above 200 km/h (120 mph), also acts as an air brake, snapping to a 55° angle in 0.4 seconds once the brake pedal is pressed, providing an additional 0.68 g (6.66 m/s2) of deceleration (equivalent to the stopping power of an ordinary hatchback).Top Fuel Dragsters and other drag racing cars that routinely reach speeds greater than 150 miles per hour use a physical air brake via a parachute(s) after the completion of a race.

In 1994, NASCAR introduced roof flaps to the cars, which are designed to keep cars from becoming airborne and possibly flipping. Following Rusty Wallace's crash at Talladega, Penske Racing designed the original roof flaps. NASCAR team owner Jack Roush helped improve on the design of the roof flaps, in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona, Florida, USA. During a spin, the car rotates it eventually reaches an angle where the oncoming air reacts with the profile of the vehicle in the same manner as a wing. If the speed is high enough, air flowing over this aerofoil shape will create sufficient lift to force the car to become airborne. To prevent this, NASCAR developed a set of flaps that are recessed into pockets on the roof of the car. As a car is turned around and reaches an angle where significant lift occurs, the low pressure above the flaps causes them to deploy. The first flap, oriented 140 degrees from the centerline of the car, typically deploys first. After flap deployment, higher pressure air is forced through an air tube which connects to a second flap, deploying it. This second flap ensures that, should the car continue to spin, no further lift will be created as the vehicle's angle changes. The deployment of these flaps eliminates most of the lift on the vehicle. The roof flaps generally keep the cars on the ground as they spin, although it is not guaranteed.

Railway Air Brake

On railcars, an air brake is a conveyance braking system actuated by compressed air. Modern trains rely upon a fail-safe air brake system that is based upon a design patented by George Westinghouse on March 5, 1872. The Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WABCO) was subsequently organized to manufacture and sell Westinghouse's invention. In various forms, it has been nearly universally adopted.

The Westinghouse system uses air pressure to charge air reservoirs (tanks) on each car. Full air pressure signals each car to release the brakes. A reduction or loss of air pressure signals each car to apply its brakes, using the compressed air in its reservoirs.


In the air brake's simplest form, called the straight air system, compressed air pushes on a piston in a cylinder. The piston is connected through mechanical linkage to brake shoes that can rub on the train wheels, using the resulting friction to slow the train. The mechanical linkage can become quite elaborate, as it evenly distributes force from one pressurized air cylinder to 8 or 12 wheels.

The pressurized air comes from an air compressor in the locomotive and is sent from car to car by a train line made up of pipes beneath each car and hoses between cars. The principal problem with the straight air braking system is that any separation between hoses and pipes causes loss of air pressure and hence the loss of the force applying the brakes. This deficiency could easily cause a runaway train. Straight air brakes are still used on locomotives, although as a dual circuit system, usually with each bogie (truck) having its own circuit.

In order to design a system without the shortcomings of the straight air system, Westinghouse invented a system wherein each piece of railroad rolling stock was equipped with an air reservoir and a triple valve, also known as a control valve.
* If the pressure in the train line is lower than that of the reservoir, the brake cylinder exhaust portal is closed and air from the car's reservoir is fed into the brake cylinder to apply the brakes. This action continues until equilibrium between the brake pipe pressure and reservoir pressure is achieved. At that point, the airflow from the reservoir to the brake cylinder is lapped off and the cylinder is maintained at a constant pressure.

* If the pressure in the train line is higher than that of the reservoir, the triple valve connects the train line to the reservoir feed, causing the air pressure in the reservoir to increase. The triple valve also causes the brake cylinder to be exhausted to atmosphere, releasing the brakes.

* As the pressure in the train line and that of the reservoir equalize, the triple valve closes, causing the air pressure in the reservoir and brake cylinder to be maintained at the current level.

Unlike the straight air system, the Westinghouse system uses a reduction in air pressure in the train line to apply the brakes. When the engineer (driver) applies the brake by operating the locomotive brake valve, the train line vents to atmosphere at a controlled rate, reducing the train line pressure and in turn triggering the triple valve on each car to feed air into its brake cylinder. When the engineer releases the brake, the locomotive brake valve portal to atmosphere is closed, allowing the train line to be recharged by the compressor of the locomotive. The subsequent increase of train line pressure causes the triple valves on each car to discharge the contents of the brake cylinder to atmosphere, releasing the brakes and recharging the reservoirs.

Under the Westinghouse system, therefore, brakes are applied by reducing train line pressure and released by increasing train line pressure. The Westinghouse system is thus fail safe—any failure in the train line, including a separation ("break-in-two") of the train, will cause a loss of train line pressure, causing the brakes to be applied and bringing the train to a stop.

Modern air brake systems are in effect two braking systems combined:

* The service brake system, which applies and releases the brakes during normal operations, and
* The emergency brake system, which applies the brakes rapidly in the event of a brake pipe failure or an emergency application by the engineer.

When the train brakes are applied during normal operations, the engineer makes a "service application" or a "service rate reduction”, which means that the train line pressure reduces at a controlled rate. It takes several seconds for the train line pressure to reduce and consequently takes several seconds for the brakes to apply throughout the train. In the event the train needs to make an emergency stop, the engineer can make an "emergency application," which immediately and rapidly vents all of the train line pressure to atmosphere, resulting in a rapid application of the train's brakes. An emergency application also results when the train line comes apart or otherwise fails, as all air will also be immediately vented to atmosphere.

In addition, an emergency application brings in an additional component of each car's air brake system: the emergency portion. The triple valve is divided into two portions: the service portion, which contains the mechanism used during brake applications made during service reductions, and the emergency portion, which senses the immediate, rapid release of train line pressure. In addition, each car's air brake reservoir is divided into two portions—the service portion and the emergency portion—and is known as the "dual-compartment reservoir”. Normal service applications transfer air pressure from the service portion to the brake cylinder, while emergency applications cause the triple valve to direct all air in both the service portion and the emergency portion of the dual-compartment reservoir to the brake cylinder, resulting in a 20–30% stronger application.

The emergency portion of each triple valve is activated by the extremely rapid rate of reduction of train line pressure. Due to the length of trains and the small diameter of the train line, the rate of reduction is high near the front of the train (in the case of an engineer-initiated emergency application) or near the break in the train line (in the case of the train line coming apart). Farther away from the source of the emergency application, the rate of reduction can be reduced to the point where triple valves will not detect the application as an emergency reduction. To prevent this, each triple valve's emergency portion contains an auxiliary vent port, which, when activated by an emergency application, also locally vents the train line's pressure directly to atmosphere. This serves to propagate the emergency application rapidly along the entire length of the train.