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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

Editor-in-Chief

Tel: +49 (89) 636-32221

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Urban Mobility

On Track to Tailor-Made Locomotives

The photo shows the Vectron AC variant during a test trip in Bergfors, Sweden, in February 2012

Until recently, rail operators that needed electric locomotives to handle changing needs were faced with three to four-year delivery times and long approval processes for every minor change. Siemens’ new, modular system for its Vectron all-purpose locomotive has radically changed the picture.

Although most good ideas stand out because they are simple, that doesn’t mean they aren’t the result of a huge amount of effort. A good example of this is a new future-proof modular concept developed by Siemens Locomotives and Components. Although outwardly simple, the concept was the result of innumerable in-depth discussions with engineers, customers, buyers, and suppliers. The company’s goal was to use the experience it had gained with the well-known Eurosprinter locomotive family to create an electric locomotive that could be manufactured more cost efficiently than previous models while offering the same or improved functionality.

Siemens also wanted to fill gaps in its lineup of purely AC and DC locomotives and substantially increase the system’s versatility for customers. New standards had to be taken into consideration as well. Interdisciplinary teams and supplier workshops enabled the new idea to mature. The result was the Vectron all-purpose locomotive, which, according to Ulrich Fösel, a product manager at Siemens’ locomotive unit, sets Siemens apart from the competition: “The Vectron concept,” he says, “combines large-scale production with the ability to make individual customizations.”

In concrete terms, this means that Siemens’ plants in Munich and Graz, Austria, can produce frames, driver’s cabs, vehicle bodies, chassis, and bogies for stockpiling on a continuous basis. This ensures that production capacity is sufficiently exploited in the fluctuating locomotive business. Each component has a specific area within the locomotive’s machinery compartment, which is individually equipped as soon as a customer places an order.

Customers can change orders as little as six months before delivery. Not only can they change train control systems and extras such as rearview cameras and country-specific pantographs, they can also alter basic features such as the power system and the locomotive's output.

Standardized Modules

“In the past, each locomotive or model series was developed and manufactured in line with the customer’s individual specifications,” explains Fösel. That’s because some countries use direct current (DC) for their trains, while others use alternating current (AC); voltages can also be different, as can network frequencies. Depending on customers’ wishes, Siemens created direct current, alternating current, or multi-system locomotives with widely varying train control systems and components in the machinery compartments. For each project, the company not only had to create separate cable harnesses, for example, but also draw up individual plans for the manufacturing process and select different locations for the electrical and mechanical components in the vehicle body and for the train control system antennas underneath the bogies. In the final step, each locomotive variant had to go through a laborious approval process that could take years.

“In 2010 we began doing things differently with the Vectron,” says Fösel. That’s because, once the Vectron platform had been approved, the company only needed to have changes accepted – rather than the entire product. This greatly accelerates the approval process. “Every component has its specified place, which enables it to be easily replaced like the parts in a construction kit,” says Fösel. Does that mean that it would only take you a few days to convert an alternating current locomotive into a multi-system one or a 160 km/h freight locomotive into a 200 km/h passenger locomotive? “Yes,” replies Fösel. “You can also retrofit a diesel-powered shunting module that would enable a locomotive to shunt freight cars at container terminals or sidings without needing overhead wires.” This lets customers configure their own locomotives from standardized, prefabricated modules, or retrofit existing vehicles. Empty spaces within the locomotives are filled with ballast so that the frame remains balanced and sufficient adhesive weight is applied to the rails.

“Thanks to this modular construction, we can provide customers with products that adequately meet their wishes without having to develop the vehicle from scratch. It results in huge cost benefits that are by no means restricted to the customer,” says Fösel.

Moreover, the Vectron’s simple interface concept enables components to be replaced during a locomotive’s entire service life of at least 30 years. This also applies to obsolete components that are no longer deliverable or have been made more efficient thanks to the application of new technologies.

Short Delivery Times and a high Level of Flexibility

This is precisely the kind of flexibility that Europe’s railway companies and leasing firms need in order to respond to rapidly and frequently changing traffic flows and transport orders. That’s why short delivery times have become a precondition for ensuring flexibility in fluctuating transport situations. In addition, providers of cross-border freight transport in Europe need to be extremely flexible due to the wide variety of train control systems and power supply networks currently in use. Railway operators used to have to buy or lease new locomotives at short notice if they wanted to transport goods in other countries. Thanks to the new Siemens concept, Vectron locomotives can now be retrofitted for new networks without having to spend much time in workshops.

Another advantage of the concept is its maintenance friendliness. Because the Vectron’s steel front is only screwed on, it can be quickly replaced after an accident and does not require welding. Its modular cabin even allows the Vectron to be configured as a double locomotive or as a power car for the push-pull trains common in countries such as Italy and the United States. 

Last but not least, Siemens offers maintenance services and a reliable long-term spare parts supply that help reduce lifecycle costs and ensure the vehicles’ economic operation in an increasingly competitive environment.

The Vectron clearly sets Siemens apart from the competition. “The platform serves as a common basis for direct current, alternating current, and multiple-system locomotives, and is very versatile. It is unique on the market and nobody else has anything like it,” says Fösel. The platform’s high level of modularity also extends to train control systems.

Since the commercial introduction of its modular platform, Siemens has supplied European companies with more than 70 Vectron locomotives in a wide variety of equipment versions. To date, customers have placed orders and options for over 300 locomotives.  Vectron has also been identified as a particularly innovative concept at Siemens, where it has been awarded the company’s prestigious Top+ Award. In October 2014, the locomotive unit received the award in the Innovation category for the Vectron platform. Among the main reasons given by judges were the platform’s future-proof concept, its great flexibility, and its short delivery times. On its path to success, the Vectron is thus quickly picking up speed in a variety of ways.     

Friedhelm Weidelich