Vossloh is a technological leader in the rail infrastructure segments in which it operates. Innovation plays a decisive role in ensuring that the Company remains competitive from a technological standpoint. In the interest of 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 (further) development and testing for several years, 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 and reinforce its own competitive position, Vossloh adopts a structured approach to managing innovation by continuously investing in the development and optimization of its products and services. In 2021, a Group-wide innovation playbook was drawn up and approved, and a Group Innovation Committee was also set up. Vossloh intends to increase collaboration across business units to develop new products, services and business models, make decision-making processes more efficient and structured, and ensure that customers and suppliers – with their specific expertise – are involved more closely in research and development processes. After reviewing its production processes over recent years, 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 intelligent infrastructure components which monitor load levels and track condition. 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 used. This can reduce the risk of component failure – and thus partial infrastructure failure – during ongoing operations. In the future it will be able by using artificial intelligence to detect wear patterns, predict the failure of track components and prevent these failures by planning maintenance measures ahead of time. Vossloh uses its in-depth knowledge of the rail track as a system to address its customers‘ main requirement “track availability” and develop comprehensive solutions in partnership with all of Vossloh’s business units.
Vossloh’s research and development efforts in 2021 focused on creating new products and services that provide solutions to the major challenges currently facing the rail sector. This includes increasing the availability of rail tracks and developing solutions to deal with the consequences resulting from the 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 in order to reduce lifecycle costs. Vossloh possesses comprehensive expertise on rail as a complex mode of transportation. The Company is able to leverage this expertise to significantly improve the efficiency of rail network maintenance processes. Digitalization plays a key role in this. The focus is on intelligent rail systems and digital track monitoring. Vossloh’s solutions minimize disruption and lay the groundwork for increasing the amount of traffic on rail networks. Vossloh is therefore helping create more efficient rail infrastructure, which is essential for the environmentally-friendly mobility of people and 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 bring measurement and track condition data together, 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 machines, 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.
In 2021, the R&D experts in the Core Components division continued to work on new solutions for improved noise and vibration protection. These projects focused on the 336V rail fastening system installed on local transport routes, which is currently being trialed by the Melbourne metro system. This system uses cellentic intermediate layers. cellentic is a highly flexible elastomer. Components made from this material help optimize the elasticity of the track. This reduces vibrations, dampens structure-borne noise and protects the superstructure, particularly when installed in combination with the EPS (engineered polymer sleeper) composite tie developed by Vossloh. The composite tie is now available for a variety of applications and completed a number of real-world tests in 2021 in Russia, Bulgaria, Italy, Germany and elsewhere. Vossloh’s experts began investigating new thermoplastic materials for the Company’s own synthetic components and developing new tension clamps. The team also intends to improve the service life of specialized tension clamps in stretches of track which are used particularly heavily. Vossloh launched a project in partnership with a major rail company with the aim of increasing the service life of a clamp to 2.5 billion metric tons of load.
In 2021, R&D engineers in the Customized Modules division 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 and fully hydraulic point machine and the digitally controlled MIM-H point machine on high-speed routes. The COGISLIDE coating developed by the division went into production after many years of successful trials. Slide chairs in switches coated with this material can be moved smoothly and easily without lubrication. Work began on developing an energy-efficient heating system with improved performance that can be tailored to both high-speed and also conventional routes. Customized Modules has a strong and reliable partner in France’s national state-owned rail 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 even more condition data – all with the aim of enhancing smart maintenance. New units were developed for high-speed railgrinders in 2021, including units that increase the amount that can be removed in high-speed grinding or provide an indication of grinding quality (section and longitudinal profile and absence of cracks). The control and sensor systems of mobile, VTM performance milling and VTM compact milling units were adapted to meet new requirements. Changes to the compressors and suction unit made it possible to collect more of the metal chips produced during milling. The division is systematically investigating alternatives to diesel and petrol-powered locomotives due to increasing customer demand. Vossloh is trialing the use of battery-powered electric motors and overhead lines. At the beginning of 2022, Vossloh was awarded the contract to deliver the world‘s first emission-free high-speed railgrinders for use in the Shenzhen subway network. These railgrinders combine a HSG-city with an electric traction unit.