© DB AG (Jochen Schmidt)

Digital transformation

The IoT stack for interconnected trains

11/2017 – The Internet of Things is growing rapidly – even at Deutsche Bahn. Here, the DB IoT Cloud is providing for more efficiency, standardised framework conditions and standards, as well as flexible expandability across all business units. For DB Cargo, this is an ideal starting point for digital transformation.

Everything’s interconnected: devices and machines communicate with each other and exchange information and data. Whether it’s in private households where smartphones control house lighting – or in industries where processes are automated. The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is thus more than just a catchword: it has become part of our everyday life.

At Deutsche Bahn, IoT is one of the driving forces behind digitalisation. It facilitates customers’ mobility, makes assets more intelligent, makes processes more productive and allows new business models to be created. It’s no wonder, as the range of uses is virtually unlimited. Sensors that exchange data over the internet are already being use to monitor lifts. But that’s just the beginning.

Jörn Petereit manages an organisational unit founded specifically for IoT as part of an internal startup at DB Systel. Together with his team, he develops IoT solutions for the DB Group. After initial success, one of the largest projects to date is now lined up: in collaboration with DB Cargo, measures are being developed to make freight transport fit for the future. And there’s a good reason for this. There’s not only a political desire to shift freight transport more and more from road to rail – it’s also economically and ecologically worthwhile. As Europe’s largest freight operating company, DB Cargo is significantly advancing this development and relies on the Internet of Things when it comes to vehicle fleet management and maintenance. At DB Cargo, IoT is used for intelligent locomotives and freight wagons, central data collection and analysis, and process automation.

The ideal basis

The cross-business-unit DB IoT Cloud hereby acts as a linking element by providing the DB Group with internal and external IoT technology across the entire digitalisation chain (from individual sensors or devices through to the world of applications and processes). The goal is always to enable IoT use cases in the business units, leverage economies of scale in the Group and achieve competitive advantages, particularly in core business.

The DB IoT Cloud forms the basis on which services, devices and internal and external partner technology can communicate with each other.

© DB Systel

A perfect solution for the digital strategy of DB Cargo. In the past, dedicated server structures were still traditionally used for general IT projects. “That was the typical approach: we buy servers, set up services and get them running. However, we realised that we’re limited in what we can do here”, says Mathias Thomas. At DB Cargo, he’s project manager for digitalisation of freight transport. This involves making locomotives and freight wagons intelligent using IoT technology: in the future, recorded data will be transmitted via the internet to the DB IoT Cloud, where it will be automatically analysed and further processed. Thanks to modular components, the IoT Cloud enables various functional requirements and use cases to be modelled and rapidly implemented – and in a future-proof way. “We need to enhance functions on a regular basis”, says Mathias Thomas. “In the past, it wasn’t always easy for us to achieve this flexibility in a timely manner.”

However, business development can lead to changes that require a fast and flexible response. The DB IoT Cloud allows flexible use of modular components, individually or in combination, in widely varying IoT projects. The DB IoT Cloud serves as a central technology hub with which internal and external partner technology and platforms (such as IBM Watson, Siemens MindSphere or GE Predix) can be integrated via API in a secure and flexible way.

New technology is tested, and if necessary, even replaced.

Mathias Thomas, DB Cargo

The IoT solution is therefore expandable as needed and enables independent scaling of individual functions. This is also shown by the successive connection of trains to the cloud. To ensure that data recorded for all locomotives and freight wagons can reach the DB IoT Cloud, the rolling stock of DB Cargo is gradually being equipped with the necessary technology. By the end of 2019, all 2000 locomotives will be equipped, and by the start of 2020, the 70,000 freight wagons, too. The DB IoT Cloud is already now processing the data recorded and – thanks to its scalability – is growing along with the requirements of DB Cargo without any problems.

Shifting away from silos

Here the team of Jörn Petereit assumes, above all, the role of enabler and integrator. The tasks are diverse: besides the translation of very special requirements into a concrete IoT scenario, there’s also a need to define solution approaches, implement them in the DB IoT Cloud, ensure end-to-end service operations and avoid silo solutions within the Group. As it’s not just DB Cargo that needs support in the digital transformation, “we’re using DB IoT Cloud as a basis to create a holistic solution and value proposition for the DB Group”, says Jörn Petereit. This includes hardware, communication, platform services and partner integration, through to development of applications. “We want to become the single point of contact for all relevant IoT projects in the DB Group, whereby our initial focus lies on railway production capabilities”.

© DB Systel GmbH (Jörn Petereit)

We’re using DB IoT Cloud as a basis to create a holistic solution and value proposition for the DB Group.

Jörn Petereit, DB Systel

Already with the kick-off in March 2017, numerous IoT projects were realised and consolidated in the DB IoT Cloud. The modular-based system is paying off: within just half a year, the DB IoT Cloud was set up for future processes of DB Cargo and is forming the foundation for implementing the digitalisation strategy at DB Cargo.

IoT is more than networking

At first glance, many see the Internet of Things as just connecting hardware to the internet. Yet IoT has much more potential in the context of the DB IoT Cloud. Products can be enhanced with innovative features to distinguish them from the competition and generate added value for customers, for example, as part of new digital offers. The operational efficiency of own products can be increased, as just a small percentage rise can often impact costs and revenue significantly.

Maintenance and servicing of products can be evolutionised, ranging from reactive maintenance (something breaks and needs repairing) to predictive maintenance (using data to repair the problem before it arises) or even prescriptive maintenance (reporting the problem in advance and using “self-healing powers” of the product through software by directly influencing the physical environment, e.g. reducing the kilometric performance until the next maintenance work). Ultimately, IoT can be used not only to create new product versions and variants – for example, using data – but also to develop completely new products.