The potential and challenges presented by major trends such as digitisation, automation and lifecycle services are being discussed across sectors and have made inroads in the rail industry as well. In this context, tec.news talked to Axel Schuppe, General Manager of VDB (Verband der Bahnindustrie in Germany) about developments, perspectives and goals for Germany and German-speaking regions.
Dipl.-Ing. Axel Schuppe, born in Berlin in 1963, completed his studies in electrical engineering and information technology at TU Chemnitz. Prior to becoming Managing Director of the German Railway Industry Association (VDB) e.V. on April 1, 2005, his professional career took him to AEG-Westinghouse, Adtranz and Bombardier Transportation.
tec.news: Predictive maintenance, the recording of key status or condition data, etc. – service functions in the railway sector are nothing new. Is a technological transformation also occurring here, in the age of Industry 4.0?
Correct, those types of lifecycle services and service orientation have long been relevant for railways and coupled with the technology lifecycle. Even going back to the development of the first generation of ICEs, data collection and retrieval played an important role in our segment – using proprietary technologies. Now, in the age of IoT, IT standard technology is available that is simpler and orders of magnitude more efficient. This entails many advantages. However, we operate in a fairly sensitive environment where the security of IT solutions has the highest priority – so this poses a challenge for us as well.
Even going back to the first generation of ICEs, data collection and retrieval played an important role.
tec.news: Currently, digitisation and its associated paradigms are ubiquitous. What are the perspectives in the railway industry? What is the current state of things, and how do you see things developing?
We see the first steps in this direction in instances where availability is a service that’s sold in the railway industry. This type of train operation is already customary in England but is still in its infancy in this country. A prime example for us is the Rhein-Ruhr-Express. The maintenance contract put out to tender by thetransport association includes the incentive "availability guarantee" for the trains. The business model thereby includes the provision of a guaranteed service, trains that are always functional. This particular point has unleashed innovation in terms of digitisation. A "digital twin" of the train, a digital depiction parallel to the real train on the rails, knows about the train’s state at all times, so that maintenance or repairs which become necessary can be optimally scheduled by the train operator virtually "unnoticed”.
tec.news: Rail is a system that, to put it simply, consists of vehicle and infrastructure. What about the digitisation of the infrastructure?
This really is a particular challenge that we have to face and one for which persuasive political work is highly sought after today. Our rail vehicles in Germany are for themost part more innovative than the infrastructure on which they’re operated. Infrastructure is funded by the state. Digitisation costs money and brings huge economic effects. It’s important to develop financing instruments and a legal framework in order to make a technological hub. But the lead times of ordinance and legislative changes are enormous. It’s clear that there is a great potential to increase efficiency here. Nevertheless, there are very positive examples, e.g. subway line 3 in Nuremberg, which runs fully automatically, even in mixed operation. Here you’ve got a system that’s been implemented within an existing infrastructure and that allows normal driving and fully automatic operation. Likewise, the high-speed line Berlin-Munich, which was put into operation at the end of last year, where the trains can virtually run without signals along the route with the modern ETCS control system.