All Trains Are Running

Feature Article | April 9, 2008 by Johannes Frevert

Effective support from reliable software is an absolute must for maintenance at Deutsche Bahn AG (DB AG), which performs a variety of crucial operations activities. “Yes, maintenance is a support process, but maintenance and repair play a central role in the smooth use of vehicles,” says Christian Markowitz, director of IT request management at DB Fernverkehr AG. Maintenance processes are time-critical. They must run as quickly as possible outside of the train schedule because delays in maintenance mean late arrivals. But despite the time pressures, DB AG must adhere to a variety of technical and legal requirements related to train safety, and it must document all its procedures and results.

Automatic diagnosis

In Germany, everyone is familiar with the red double-decker trains in regional transportation and the flagship of the German railroad, the Intercity Express (ICE). Maintenance of DB AG’s 130,000 rail cars includes routine inspections and unscheduled maintenance. To identify current damage and calculate the time required for normal maintenance, information on the condition of vehicles is essential. ICE trains transmit diagnostic data and mileage by radio at regular intervals. The condition of other vehicles is determined manually during operations or in the repair facilities.

A universal data gateway, a data hub that DB AG developed on its own, receives the measurement data from the trains. The gateway uses filters and translation to turn the incoming information into a format that the central maintenance software at DB AG can use. This integrated maintenance system (ISI in its German abbreviation) is based on SAP R/3. DB AG enhanced the standard functions of SAP software – like master data management and materials management – with its own development, the so called “damage notification”. The maintenance requirements are determined analyzing the measurement data and displayed within the damage notification.

Any damaged part must be repaired. The schedule for routine maintenance is derived from a set of rules stored for maintenance planning. This approach ensures, for example, that the pivot mountings on ICE trains are regularly inspected every 20,000 kilometers. The need for maintenance for a given train or component is displayed in a work list in the damage notification in real time based on the periods and mileage stored in the rules.

Everything is ready

Scheduling in ISI coordinates which train rolls into a plant. Those responsible for train travel and for maintenance determine the time, the special vehicle, and the plant used in maintenance. All plants know which maintenance work lies ahead and how much time is available, so they can schedule the personnel ahead of time and ensure the required material is on the track when a train pulls into the plant.

Plant managers print work orders for mechanics directly from ISI. Special work documents ensure a good overview of required tasks. Traffic-light icons in the damage notification enable users to weigh damage; operational safety has the highest priority. “Some of the work orders are printed directly on the tracks to make the employee’s path as short as possible and utilize holding time optimally,” says Markowitz. When the work is completed, the technical condition of the vehicle is documented in ISI, and the train is released. Other time-critical tasks are then performed, such as confirming the work performed and settling costs in ISI.

Integrated scheduling and processing with ISI improves flexibility and transparency. The required maintenance for each vehicle is subdivided into individual packets according to the rules and assigned to an order. That approach enables employees to perform complex maintenance in several smaller steps. As a result, the railroad can use even short holding times for maintenance. A complex task that consists of several packets that build on each other can be handled in successive stops so the available holding times in various plants can be used optimally. That means that vehicle safety is always guaranteed.

With a central and complete overview of all vehicles, ISI maps the entire maintenance history. That makes it easy to recognize increased failures of specific parts or abrasion on vehicles. It also enables DB AG to adhere to all related legal obligations. According to law, all maintenance documentation must be stored for at least 10 years – not only in ISI, but also in an archive linked to the system.

Controlling investments

ISI stores each maintenance activity as a product to which it assigns specific material and time resources. Depending on the technical equipment of a plant, activities can last various lengths of time and involve different costs. For example, it’s faster and cheaper to replace a pivot mounting when the plant has equipment that lets it make the exchange without having to lift the car. The actual time can be compared with the planned time in ISI, providing important key figures that the railroad can use to control investments.

Since its implementation on March 9, 1998, maintenance at DB AG with SAP R/3 has been a good experience for the railroad, and ISI has become the largest system of its kind in Europe. Approximately 6,600 users access it every day, and the productive database is about 2.5 TB. Four hours of downtime are scheduled each month for system maintenance, but the railroad rarely needs all that time. “We are quite satisfied with SAP R/3 in daily operations. Availability is very high,” says Markowitz.

Setting a course for the future

For the future, the maintenance area of DB AG will upgrade to SAP ERP in July 2008. After the upgrade, maintenance will use the same release level as the central systems of DB AG. Since the beginning of the year, internal orders have been settled with SAP ERP, and the leading group system will also be upgraded to SAP ERP. “With the upgrade, we will catch up so that we can be at the same level as other areas in terms of interfaces,” says Markowitz.

The move to SAP ERP lays the foundation for decommissioning the parts of ISI that were developed in house. “We want to move the functionality and reliability of our own developments to the SAP standard. That means lower operating costs,” says Makowitz. Use of SAP ERP also means long-term maintenance and good monitoring – essentials for a high-availability system that works with time-critical tasks.

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