When Niko Nittka and Martin Kemper and their team took part in an in-house hackathon at Deutsche Bahn two years ago, they merely wanted to demonstrate what is possible with the Internet of Things. So within a few hours they had created a prototype solution for more efficient utilization of meeting rooms: room sensors automatically recognise the occupancy of meeting rooms and indicate to personnel where meeting rooms and think tanks are still available. SmartBooking was born – and simultaneously giving the starting signal for much more. The high tempo of development of intelligent sensor solutions was maintained: the team has since been named sQubic, or S3, which stands for Smart Sensor Services. The aim is to equip existing infrastructures at Deutsche Bahn with innovative sensor technology. To this end, the sQubic team is collaborating closely with the IoT/M2M department of DB Systel with Zero One Data, the data analytics specialist, but also with the experts from the respective business units, in order to develop corresponding solutions for optimising work processes.
The rapid digital development is playing into their hands: thanks to the use of new technologies, sensors today are often completely wireless and therefore very economical to install. Instead of complicated wiring to the sensors, small standard batteries are used which generally last for several years. The LoRaWAN radio standard, specially developed for the Internet of Things, permits a simple, efficient and highly scalable data connection for many applications.
The LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) wireless network consumes very little energy and functions across large distances. It also features optimum building penetration, even through concrete ceilings. In cities the distance between transmitter (sensor) and receiver (gateway) can be up to five kilometres, while in rural areas a range of up to 40 kilometres is achieved. Due to the low energy consumption – and depending on the volumes of data to be transmitted – battery-operated sensors can attain a service life of up to 10 years.
From meeting room to depot shed
In the Frankfurt Silver Tower and at the Marktstrasse site in Berlin the technology is used to install DB Buttons at workplaces, which enable users to check in and out at the touch of a button. In the first quarter of 2019 the SmartBooking solution is being expanded to more than 1,500 workstations and well over 200 rooms. S-Bahn Hamburg is convinced of the value of this concept and will shortly equip 60 workplaces with SmartBooking.
With personnel counters that have been installed for DB Real Estate in various DB office buildings, it is, on the other hand, possible to determine for later evaluation exactly how many people are in a building at any time. The capacity utilisation data, for example, is of great benefit for the planning of new buildings. The same technology is also used for DB Sales in Travel Centres for continuous measurement of visitor numbers.
With the DB Buttons that are used for checking in and out of a workstation, employees in the ICE maintenance depots in Munich and Griesheim also order their materials for topping up distributed materials stores. Together with the Frankfurt Griesheim maintenance depot, the sQubic team is currently developing a solution to enable the availability of different materials (such as brake blocks, contact strips, filter mats and similar) to be determined automatically using sensor technology. Delays when processing maintenance caused by lack of materials should thus become a thing of the past.
Battery test for a longer life
At DB Energy as well, sensors and LoRaWAN should in future ensure that the quality promise of Deutsche Bahn is upheld: in its own 8,000 kilometre traction network, current is transmitted at a non-standard frequency. For the overhead line, the traction current must be transformed down from 110 kV to 15 kV in the substation. In order that the controller in the substation also functions during a power failure, large emergency battery units have been installed for the standby supply. These must be regularly checked, maintained or even replaced on site.
In a joint Proof of Concept by DB Energy and DB Systel, the temperature and level of the batteries will be monitored by sensors in the substation as from 2019 and the corresponding data made available in the DB data network by LoRaWAN via the DB IoT Cloud. For the purpose of the test, a LoRa gateway has been set up at the Karlsruhe site. The values provide information on the health of the battery and on whether the end of its service life has been reached. “During maintenance, we can not only save the expense of new batteries, but also time, as previously personnel had to drive around the region in order to check the battery condition”, says Ingo von Ammon, Project Manager at DB Energy. Deliberately, no finished product ready for roll-out is installed in the first phase. “It is not mandatory that the sensor technology used is that which we later use nationally”, explains Martin Kemper from DB Systel. Because the test might possibly reveal that the market is offering more attractive solutions.
If we have to send out a colleague every time just to read out the values, that has nothing to do with Digitalisation 4.0.
And that is just the beginning of the collaboration with DB Systel. For example, at many stations electricity meters are installed in positions which are difficult to access for reading. The data from the electricity meters is used for billing the metered amount of energy. “If we have to send out a colleague every time just to read out the values, that has nothing to do with Digitalisation 4.0”, says Ingo von Ammon. “We have a great many ideas and are now investigating how these can be combined. It makes absolutely no sense if we operate as a lone wolf in this field. I am pleased that we do not have to start at zero, but instead can benefit from the work carried out at DB Systel.” Completely in line with the corporate philosophy: together we are stronger than if we try to make it alone. So even the smallest sensors are looking after something quite big.