60 years of VTG – discovering innovations
Rail freight wagons have constantly become bigger, better and safer over the last 60 years. Technological advances and innovations are primarily to be found in the detail
It is not only the technology department at VTG that is responsible for new products. In fact, it is the customers who represent the start of a process of innovation, with their needs and wishes being determined through market research. Employees from all divisions as well as various foreign subsidiaries also work together in VTG’s innovation management process to develop marketable products and services rapidly from new ideas. Listed below are numerous examples of innovations generated over the last six decades.
At first glance, all rail freight wagons of one type look the same. Unlike in the automobile industry, where the design of a model changes almost every year, rail freight vehicles seem to offer nothing new in terms of how they look. It is only when you look more closely at the detail that you see the actual technological advances and engineering skill that has gone into a vehicle. A wagon is made up of hundreds of individual parts, each subject to continual development and improvement. It is because of this that sophisticated braking systems can ensure multi-stage, continual braking, that state-of-the-art fittings are designed for the exact freight being transported and that unloading is simple due to modern hydraulic and pneumatic systems.
The right wagon for every requirement
VTG currently offers 1,000 different types of wagon to its customers, including those from the foodstuffs, chemical, mineral oil, agricultural and paper industries. The company has the appropriate wagon design for all types of freight: wagons with stainless steel and aluminium tanks for transporting chemical products, high-capacity, sliding wall wagons for automotive parts, and paper products and open freight wagons with steel walls for transporting coal, gravel and scrap. The key to VTG’s success is adherence to the company’s principles of safety, reliability and quality when developing a new wagon. The clarity afforded by this approach means that VTG can also meet the global challenges of sustainability, energy efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Well on track with customers
From development and production to everyday deployment on the railway and, indeed, all the way to maintenance, VTG accompanies a wagon at every stage of its life cycle. By collaborating closely with industry, the company knows its customers’ needs, making it able to respond rapidly to new requirements and continually pinpoint where improvements are needed and implement these. One example of this is the Iron Curtain: the opening up of the markets in eastern Europe and Russia posed new challenges for trade and industry. The rail networks of the former Soviet Union generally had wider-gauge tracks than those of western Europe. VTG’s engineers came up with the solution of a simple bogie change for the CIS wagons, transforming them from standard to wide-gauge wagons.
The most important factor for VTG’s engineers is safety, meaning protecting people and the environment. The railway has always been known to be a reliable mode of transport, and this is one reason why a whole array of highly sensitive goods can be transported only by rail and not by road. With its Crash Protected Rail Tank Car (CPR) – developed in 2002 – VTG increased the railway’s lead in terms of safety. This tank wagon has specially designed buffers with special deformation elements and a more stable underframe. Protective shields also serve as an additional crumple zone. This effectively prevents damage to the vehicle and tank and any discharge of the load in the event of an impact.
One innovation (for chemical goods) for which VTG is responsible in fact dates back to the 1960s. This involves the coating of the inside of wagon tanks with enamel, enabling safe transportation of acids that would otherwise penetrate a standard tank within hours.
A matter of efficiency
Another key factor after safety is the efficiency of a vehicle: wagons should be able to transport as many goods as possible at the lowest gross weight possible, while loading and unloading should take no longer than necessary. Since 1998, there has been a “rolling pipeline” on Norway’s rail network – a train that can be completely loaded and unloaded in one operation. With this innovation, VTG has created real added value: there is no time-consuming loading of each individual wagon, which is a considerable plus in terms of time and logistics for customers from the mineral oil industry.
The newly developed compressed gas wagon Volume112 is also impressively efficient, with the same length and weight as its predecessor but 2 cubic meters more load volume. The chemical company Evonik uses the wagons to transport various compressed gases. The total payload can be utilized to the greatest effect. Word got round about this fast, and other customers from the chemical industry have since ordered the Volume112.
Another example for innovative development is the British Ecofret. This development is on wagons for container transports that were designed to transport more containers in a block train as it is possible with conventional container flat wagons today. Therefore Ecofret is a great gain in economical and ecological terms.
“Whisper brakes” against noise pollution
A current challenge is that those living near railway tracks are increasingly complaining about the noise of rail traffic. However, achieving lasting noise reduction involves the entire wheel/wagon system and the track. VTG has been installing a K-block in every new wagon since 2007. This part of the brake, made of composite materials, can significantly reduce the rolling noise of wagons and thus also freight trains. Moreover, VTG is developing and testing new noise protection components on the wagon itself in collaboration with industry partners. For example, the company is working with the rolling bearings manufacturer SKF and the component developer ContiTech AG on developing the Gigabox bearing and suspension system for reducing acoustic emissions from freight wagons.
Strategic innovation management: sights set on the freight wagon of 2025
And the way VTG works internally also applies to its dealings with third parties. Strong collaboration here is also pointing the company towards future success. In the working party “White Paper on Innovative Rail Freight Wagons for 2030”, VTG has got together with other organizations, including Deutsche Bahn, the Swiss SBB, the company Knorr-Bremse, BASF and two universities. They are pursuing one common aim: designing the freight wagon of the future.
Version: October 2011