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The DB Lab of the future

DB staff investigate digital processes at HOLM near Frankfurt Airport.

Digitisation is a topic that affects Deutsche Bahn across the board. In February 2017, Dr Jürgen Wilder, Chairman and CEO of DB Cargo, and Tarek Al-Wazir, Hesse’s Minister for Economy, Energy, Transport and State Development, officially opened DB’s Asset & Maintenance Digital Lab. The 100-square-metre facility is located in the House of Logistics & Mobility (HOLM), not far from Frankfurt Airport, and employs around 50 rail specialists, IT developers, data scientists and transformation experts. They are all working together to drive forward automation and digitisation topics relating to all aspects of vehicles and maintenance. They’re doing so by employing agile working methods: new ways of working that incorporate a constant exchange of information are being combined with smart project management methods. “The advantage of the lab is that experts from various disciplines are working together in one place in a very open and creative atmosphere,” says Katrin Höhne, Projects and Communication European Assets & Technology at DB Cargo. “Colleagues from different projects get to know each other, they find points of intersection, learn from each other, can exchange ideas directly and therefore more quickly.”

Leading the way in digitisation

 “As Europe’s biggest rail freight company we have to assume a pioneering role in digitisation. That is the only way we can remain a reliable partner for our customers in future,” says DB Cargo’s CEO Jürgen Wilder at the official opening of the lab. This opinion is also shared by many politicians. “It is important for DB to meet the challenges of increasing digitisation because the railways, as the most environmentally friendly transport mode, must remain competitive,” says Hesse’s minister Al-Wazir. “Digital technologies can make a significant contribution towards increasing the company’s capacity.” Rail freight transport is the lab’s current focus. Further projects on passenger transport and vehicle maintenance will follow later this year. Establishing good cooperation between experts from the various DB departments is hugely important. “The lab is a clear signal to our customers: it’s not exclusively a DB Cargo lab, but a DB lab,” says Fabian Stöffler, Vice President Asset Digitisation DB Cargo. “And with the findings from the work on site and their implementation in practice, we are aiming to initiate positive change in the supply chains of our customers. The services of the future are being developed in the lab today.”

Innovations in wagons and locomotives

The staff at the lab are currently working on innovation projects in the field of maintenance, and in vehicle provision and development. “Digital transformation in asset management and in maintenance covers intelligent vehicles, central data gathering and analytics, and process automation,” explains Stöffler. In future, there will be more flexible and condition-based maintenance for the wagons and locomotives, based on data. Intelligent sensors on the vehicles make a constant stream of data available, thereby making it possible to provide accurate diagnoses. This will allow maintenance improves availability and quality, and reduces costs. In addition to the intelligent locomotives, the first freight wagons were fitted last year with sensors that not only give the wagon’s current location, but also measure the humidity and temperature inside. By 2020, DB Cargo expects to be able to monitor all wagons and locomotives in Europe live via diagnosis data, which will represent a fundamental improvement in its processes. The staff at the lab will then start on new projects that promise to shape the future further.