Knorr-Bremse is focused on driving forward the digitisation of the rail sector. Together with Swiss Asset Intelligence specialist Nexxiot, based in Zurich, Knorr-Bremse is about to bring a new suite of smart products for connected passenger and freight trains to market. With these solutions, Knorr-Bremse is creating the basis for high-growth digital business models in the areas of connectivity, cloud solutions, and software as a service.
Knorr-Bremse AG executive board member Dr. Nicolas Lange, who has global responsibility for the Rail division, said: “The rail industry is asking for solutions that will enhance cost efficiency, operational efficiency, and reliability. Digitisation and data management technologies offer enormous opportunities in this respect. With the smart solutions we’re presenting with Nexxiot, we’re creating a new level of connectivity for our braking and other systems that will help our customers to improve the productivity, availability and punctuality of their rail services.”
Nexxiot AG CEO Stefan Kalmund : “Together, Knorr-Bremse and Nexxiot are shaping the future of the rail industry. Our partnership will help the industry to achieve the levels of efficiency and reliability that are already taken for granted in other transportation segments. As a key technology partner, Nexxiot is proud to be accompanying global market leader Knorr-Bremse on this pioneering journey.”
Knorr-Bremse digital products vice-president Dr. Maximilian Eichhorn: “In less than 18 months, our focused collaboration with Nexxiot has seen the development of market-ready products for outfitting new train fleets and retrofitting existing fleets. Among other things, we’ll be able to leverage the potential of real-time operating data to make precise statements about the condition, performance, and maintenance requirements of our systems. This means more trains on tracks and fewer trains in workshops, a major benefit for our customers.”
Three-pronged digital solution: new hardware plus smart cloud service
To develop the products, the two partners intelligently combined Knorr-Bremse’s systems expertise with Nexxiot’s proven competence in IoT. The innovative workflow, which involves collecting operating data, transferring it to the cloud and turning it into useful knowledge, is based on three products:
- Knorr-Bremse Node: The adapter is connected to the control units of systems, such as braking, entrance, climate control and coupling systems, where it gathers data on parameters such as noise, geolocation, temperature, energy consumption, and shocks or vibrations. Each Knorr-Bremse Node then sends the data by Bluetooth to the second new piece of hardware, the Knorr-Bremse Hub.
- Knorr-Bremse Hub: The Hub aggregates the data streams from the Nodes attached to the various system controllers and sends them to the Nexxiot Cloud via the cellular network (in the future, via the rail vehicle’s own bus). Thus the Knorr-Bremse Hub acts as the gateway between data nodes and the cloud.
- Cloud Services: Artificial intelligence and algorithms are used to analyse the data streams and turn them into specific insights. Customers can call up information on the location, condition, performance, maintenance requirements and potentially imminent malfunctions of vehicle systems and components via user-friendly dashboards, so they can more efficiently plan the operation and management of their train fleets.
Digital solutions for outfitting and retrofitting fleets
The large number of Knorr-Bremse systems installed worldwide is a source of huge business potential for the company. Over 130,000 units of the CubeControl brake control system alone are currently in operation around the world, as are more than 100,000 climate control systems produced by Knorr-Bremse brand Merak. A significant proportion of these systems are capable of being upgraded with the new solutions. When equipping new vehicles, this can be done directly via the systems’ control unit software.
Attractive, high-growth business models
Knorr-Bremse will start rolling out the products in 2024, creating the basis for a range of digital business models. Alongside the Knorr-Bremse Node and Knorr-Bremse Hub hardware, customers will benefit from scalable data services enabled by the Nexxiot Cloud ecosystem. These will be provided via subscription models (software as a service) charging a monthly fee, or via pay-per-use models. With these digital solutions, Knorr-Bremse’s Rail division aims to generate annual revenues in the lower double-digit million-euro range by 2025, a figure expected to steadily grow in years to come.
Major customer projects already underway
The new technology is already being used in several customer projects involving predictive maintenance. Examples include the data interface between hardware and the Nexxiot Cloud, currently in use by rail freight operator VTG in the UK. Starting in 2024, 50 freight cars will be equipped with the technology. New York Air Brake (NYAB), Knorr-Bremse’s rail freight subsidiary in the USA, has partnered with customers in the US freight transportation sector to install Knorr-Bremse Nodes in brake control systems on freight trains, enabling them to communicate with pre-installed Nexxiot technology. These projects underscore both the innovative character and market maturity of the solutions, customised versions of which will be available starting in 2024.
In May 2022, Knorr-Bremse invested €60m in the acquisition of a strategic minority stake in Nexxiot. The companies have also concluded a comprehensive cooperation agreement to rapidly progress digitisation and connectivity in the rail sector by creating advanced solutions, with the ultimate aim of contributing to sustainable, reliable, and efficient rail mobility.