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Digitalisation for more transparency

The digital transformation is empowering DB Cargo to respond better to its customers’ needs, providing more quality and better service.

Technological change in the digital age has long been placing new demands on companies in the rail freight transport sector. At the same time, new technologies are also creating new opportunities for the industry. Above all, digitalisation is expected to improve reliability and create transparency.

We can push the industry forward with new solutions to ensure more freight is transported by rail.

(Steffen Bobsien, Senior Vice President Assets & Technology, DB Cargo AG) 

Targets for the future of rolling stock

DB Cargo is harnessing digitalisation to pursue very specific objectives: bringing transparency to the transport process and improving the predictability of downstream process steps for customers. Both goals mean higher quality and better service during transport.

“For us, digitalisation is quite clearly a lever we can use to better meet the requirements of our customers. It also means we can push the industry forward with new solutions to ensure more freight is transported by rail,” says Steffen Bobsien, Senior Vice President Assets & Technology, DB Cargo AG. “Engineers, developers, data scientists and digital transformation and logistics experts join hands with their colleagues from DB Fahrzeuginstandhaltung, DB Long Distance, DB Regio, DB Systel, DB Systemtechnik and external partners at the in-house amspire Lab to ensure that innovative ideas from the realm of automation and digitalisation are converted into digital solutions for the future,” says Fabian Stöffler, Vice President Asset Digitisation. Digitalisation and automation are core elements of DB Cargo’s technology and innovation strategy.

The objective is to achieve a digital transformation for rolling stock and maintenance and to support and automate train operations by introducing new technologies. This effort is aimed at improving capacity utilisation and enhancing the availability of rolling stock and production resources. In parallel, DB Cargo is constantly focused on measures to improve energy efficiency.

Technical equipment

All DB Cargo’s freight wagons will be fitted with state-of-the-art radio and sensor technology by 2020. 
The customers benefit directly from the ability to use GPS tracking, from RFID/NFC marking and from status detection using temperature sensors, impact sensors for vehicles hauling sensitive cargo and information on load levels (full/empty detection).  More than 13,000 wagons have already been equipped.  “In a world of advancing digitalisation, customers today expect a high level of service. They want information about the location, delivery time and condition of their freight,” explains Gerrit Koch to Krax, Head of Wagon Intelligence.
“ArcelorMittal Eisenhüttenstadt views innovations as the key to the future and the sustainability of the steel business. That has spurred a keen interest in developing pioneering technologies for the freight wagons that we use. We therefore view the development of smart freight wagons, which feed non-stop information to users on their location and condition, as a great stride into the digital future of rail freight transport. Fitting freight wagons with RFID technology generates opportunities for our company to improve our loading and shipment process.  By collaborating closely on wagon intelligence with DB Cargo, we are hoping to unleash synergistic effects for both companies,” says Sebastian Hagen from Transport Logistics at ArcelorMittal Eisenhüttenstadt.

DB Cargo delivers the data almost in real time. Control rooms, maintenance personnel and train operators can put this information to work for efficient logistics and route planning. That helps customers be more exacting and precise in planning their supply chains. “The new opportunities offered by wagon intelligence have already helped us considerably enhance transparency about the locations of our freight wagons this year. This especially assists dispatchers with international transports or detailed local processes for which there was formerly a lack of detailed information. We have also succeeded in using digitalisation to automate some manual processes, freeing up time for us to engage in discussions with customers and solve problems,” says Christian Hackelberg, Head of Product Management Finished Vehicles, DB Cargo Logistics GmbH. 

Algorithms and data analyses

The Asset Intelligence Centre, a central data and analysis platform from DB Cargo’s amspire Lab, brings together all the data recorded by the sensors on locomotives and wagons or by camera systems on the track. This “Internet of Things” platform generates a wealth of information out of operational data and damage reports from locomotives and freight wagons, which ultimately benefits all production processes and operational dispatching. The objectives include increasing the capacity utilisation of rolling stock and improving the availability of the fleet through optimal predictive maintenance.

The digital fleet management (DFS) software platform sets the stage for the gradual automation of optimised workshop selection and maintenance planning for locomotives. The maintenance planning and commissioning process is to be thoroughly transformed by digital technology to keep time-consuming activities to a minimum. Digitalisation also holds the potential to overcome another challenge in 2019: the shortage of skilled workers. A dearth of skilled operational personnel, from train drivers, to shunters, to wagon inspectors, is forcing companies to funnel investments into new technologies to remain effective. “Employees are not just receiving technological support; many job profiles are also being further refined. That makes DB Cargo more appealing to employees,” says Bobsien. The continuous change wrought by digitalisation offers many companies a double advantage: stronger performance for customers and rosier prospects for employees.