An interview with Markus Gross, ZF Friedrichshafen AG

Markus Gross, Head of Product Line Rail Drive Systems at ZF Friedrichshafen AG, discusses how their products can help the rail industry move forward in a digital era and what’s in store for the company in the future.

To what extent do you think rail assets must become more ‘connected’?

Passenger and freight traffic services are running at increasingly shorter intervals: The logistics industry is booming; towns and cities heavily rely on rail to achieve climate targets. At the same time, society and industry are increasingly going digital. All of which places greater demands on speed and reliability, while also giving rise to new business segments. Rail transport must not be allowed to lag behind here. With its cross-industry networking expertise and its intelligent mechanical systems, ZF can help rail vehicle manufacturers and transport operators master these challenges.

What makes the Smart Typeplate so innovative?

The Smart Typeplate is a compact component that will substantially improve reliability. This innovative product consists of an RFID chip that ZF has integrated into the transmission type plate. The name, material and identification number as well as the technical details of key components are linked to this digital typeplate, which also records the operating hours. That guarantees correct identification and documentation of the component condition, thereby increasing transparency and efficiency. Thanks to the Smart Typeplate the operator can view the stored data on the product when bringing the rail vehicle into the maintenance depot and record recent repairs – all paperless thanks to the cloud-based service. This makes it easier to see which trains require maintenance. The Smart Typeplate simplifies communications between operators, customers and maintenance service. More importantly, this reduces or eliminates idle time and downtime, which in turn lowers ongoing operating costs. It is the first step in using a single system to monitor all key components in the entire driveline by intelligently networking mechanics, electronics and digital technologies. The successful pilot, which we conducted together with operator Freiburger Verkehrsbetriebe in 2017/2018, is testimony to this development.

Why do you think it is important for the rail industry to utilise data analysis tools?

Rail transport can become more reliable, more efficient and safer with extensive data analysis. That is something passengers and customers alike appreciate, and it promises to enhance the industry’s image. ZF is developing the ‘connect@rail’ concept to that effect. ‘connect@rail’ is an innovative system which, thanks to integrated sensors and advanced data analysis tools, paves the way for all-round condition monitoring. It not only monitors the condition of vehicles smartly and transparently, but does the same for the infrastructure. Various sensors record parameters such as vibrations, oil quality and temperature behaviour in transmissions, provide information on the actual operating hours of individual components and check the condition of traversed track sections by measuring deflections and irregularities. A platform developed by ZF then reliably transfers the collected data and information in encrypted format to the ZF Cloud – a digital platform, which is suitable for many users thanks to the cloud-to-cloud ecosystem. Operators can view the analysis and recommended courses of action based on the above data from the ZF Cloud using a computer or mobile device. Also, they can optimally schedule maintenance dates and respond to the most diverse situations individually and flexibly. That guarantees reliable operation of the rail vehicle and helps better manage the entire fleet.

What’s next for ZF’s solutions and how will the organisation adapt to benefit the future rail sector?

In the first quarter of 2019 the Smart Typeplate and infrastructure monitoring will be deployed for the first time with a customer in trams operated by the Austrian local transport operator Graz Linien. To monitor the entire driveline, we intend to cooperate with other manufacturers, including Schaeffler. We are also looking into the possibilities of IoT and artificial intelligence, such as with our ZF ProAI supercomputer. This is the most powerful control box on the market. With these kinds of products, we are driving forward the wide-ranging digitalisation of the rail sector – and can link the industry with other forms of mobility and mobility services.

After graduating in Engineering Management, Markus Gross began his career in the Industrial Technology Division of ZF Friedrichshafen AG in 2008. Markus has held several positions in Controlling, Purchasing and Servicing before being appointed Director of the Group’s Rail Drive Systems Product Line in 2019.

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