Vossloh ranks among the technological leaders in its fields of activity in rail infrastructure. Innovation plays a decisive role in ensuring that the Company remains competitive from a technological position. In the interest of locomotive safety, Vossloh’s products and services are subject to detailed technical specifications and standards that must be met. Before products and services for rail infrastructure are ready for market, they usually undergo several years of (further) development and testing, as well as complex approval procedures by independent testing institutions. Research and development projects at Vossloh are therefore usually scheduled to run for several years.
To satisfy the specific expectations of customers in individual market regions over the long term and reinforce its own competitive position, Vossloh uses a structured innovation management approach to continuously invest in the enhancement and optimization of its products and services. After reviewing its production processes, the Company is now implementing a range of measures which will provide ongoing efficiency gains, including new construction, modernization, increased automation and specialization.
One focus of innovation at Vossloh is digitalization as the link between hardware and services. The company uses specialized sensor systems to create smart infrastructure components which monitor load levels and the condition of the track. This data provides an indication of how worn these components are, making it easier to identify which maintenance strategies will be most effective, and when they should be deployed. This can reduce the risk of component failure – and thus partial infrastructure failure – during ongoing operations. Vossloh draws on the expertise of the Company’s business units to develop comprehensive solutions and uses its strengths as “rail track experts” to help customers manage their infrastructure.
Vossloh’s research and development efforts in 2020 focused on creating new products and services that provide a solution to the significant challenges currently facing the rail sector. This includes increasing the availability of rail tracks and developing solutions to deal with the consequences of the resulting increased load on tracks, such as wear and noise emissions. Vossloh also conducts research with a focus on extending the service life of infrastructure and infrastructure components and reducing their lifecycle costs. Vossloh possesses comprehensive expertise regarding rail as a complex mode of transportation. The Company uses this expertise to significantly improve the efficiency of rail network maintenance processes. Digitalization plays a key role in this. The focus is on intelligent railway systems and digital track monitoring. Vossloh’s solutions minimize disruption and lay the groundwork for increasing the amount of traffic on the rail network. In this way, Vossloh is contributing to an efficient rail infrastructure, which is a necessary prerequisite for the environmentally friendly mobility of people and the transport of goods (“enabling green mobility”).
The digitalization of rail infrastructure opens up new opportunities for Vossloh to create value with its products and services. Apps released by Vossloh combine measurements and track condition data, provide a quick overview of which routes require action and suggest suitable measures for repairing damage. Vossloh uses configurable IoT sensors to measure vibrations and provide data from different parts of the track (rail ties, frogs, point machine etc.). This data is validated and compressed, and then sent to the Vossloh Analytics Platform using a mobile phone network for analysis. The platform compiles data from measurement instruments and sensors in various infrastructure components with data from Vossloh railgrinders to provide an overall picture of the condition of the track. This makes it possible to prepare efficient forecasts for the predictive maintenance of the rail network.
In 2020, the R&D experts in the Core Components division continued to work on new solutions for increased noise and vibration protection. This included looking at ways to increase the elasticity of the 336V and 300 UTS rail fastening systems used on local transport routes. Both systems use cellentic intermediate layers. cellentic is a highly flexible elastomer. Components made from this material optimize the elasticity of the track. This reduces vibrations and protects the superstructure. Vossloh’s researchers also focused on under-sleeper pads, which provide a vibration-reducing base for concrete ties. Vossloh has also been researching the interaction between concrete ties and dowels as part of its efforts to make rails quieter. In 2020, the German Federal Railway Authority granted Vossloh’s application for its EPS project to enter operational testing. This project focuses on developing innovative composite ties for different applications. Vossloh’s experts have performed some basic research for a new generation of tension clamps and conducted experiments to investigate the relationship between the lateral rigidity of tension clamps and reducing track wear.
In 2020, the R&D engineers of the Customized Modules division also continued to test the new, ultra-resilient rolled steel CogX. The heat-treated laminated steel for frogs and switch points was tested in additional switch systems for trams and heavy-duty traffic. The material provides a higher level of resistance to wear and impact compared to existing solutions, and extends service lives by up to 30 percent. The Company also continued practical tests of an energy-efficient completely hydraulic point machine and the digitally controlled MIM-H point machine on high-speed routes. The COGISLIDE coating, developed by the Customized Modules division, was integrated into the production process. This makes it possible for coated switch rail chairs to be moved without lubrication. In 2020, the division entered into a strategically important partnership agreement with France’s national state-owned railway company SNCF for all of its switch development projects.
The Lifecycle Solutions division focused its R&D activities on milling machines, onboard rail condition measuring systems and software for evaluating and visualizing condition data, all with the aim of enhancing smart maintenance. New units were developed for high-speed railgrinders in 2020. These include units that increase the amount that can be removed per pass, and others that provide an immediate indication of grinding quality. The control system for high-performance milling was adapted to meet the requirements of a rail operator. Vossloh made changes to the sensor system used for multi-purpose milling so that these milling systems can also be deployed for switch points and stock rails. The division’s Logistics wing outfitted its fleet of freight cars with composite brake shoes (LL brake shoes). This braking system keeps the running surface of the wheels smooth, making them quieter than cars using standard cast iron brake shoes.