At Knorr-Bremse, innovations are a fundamental part of our corporate strategy and the keystone of our business success. Our goal is to continue developing products, systems and technologies that meet our customers’ evolving needs and deliver the highest added value. Our innovations set industry standards. Thanks to our technological excellence, in recent decades Knorr-Bremse has created many of the industry-defining innovations in the rail vehicle and commercial vehicle sectors.
The reliability and quality of our products are the result of stringent innovation processes, years of development work, and rigorous field testing. Systematic innovation management in relevant fields, with a constant eye to technological and societal trends, is vital for planning and steering customer-focused development projects. Thus in 2019, our Commercial Vehicle Systems division set up a whole new technology and innovation management process.
Strong expertise in the digitalization of products and systems is essential, both for successfully developing our existing portfolio and for introducing new business models. Cybersecurity plays a key role here. Smart, digital transportation solutions require a high degree of product security. Knorr-Bremse addressed this trend by setting up a global cybersecurity center of excellence in 2018, and is now maximizing the synergies between its business units by adopting common architectures and standardized working methods. Wherever possible, personnel from both divisions cooperate in joint working groups. At the level of foundational technologies, there is huge potential for leveraging cross-divisional synergies in, for example, simulations, sensor technology and artificial intelligence.
We have put a systematic patent protection program in place to protect our innovations and the fruits of our R&D activities. Our extensive patent portfolio encompasses both products and processes. We exercise our right to patent employee inventions and submit these for registration. In total, we currently hold or have applications pending for over 10,900 patents worldwide, spread across approximately 2,900 patent families. In our CVS division, the number of patents granted or applied for is approximately 7,500; the figure for our RVS division is around 3,400. Patents also include utility models (e.g. relating to braking systems for commercial and rail vehicles) in Germany and other countries, as well as a number of patents and utility models registered for foreign Group companies in foreign jurisdictions only.
In some cases, however, we have elected not to register a patent relating to certain secret process technologies in order to avoid disclosing particularly sensitive know-how. Our patent strategy is another area in which we benefit from leveraging the synergies between our two divisions.
Further information can be found in Knorr-Bremse’s “Innovations” magazine, which is published together with our Annual Report.
Rail Vehicle Systems Division
In the RVS division, our development activities have focused on identifying solutions to increase transportation capacity and availability, and also to operate vehicles more efficiently and sustainably with the aim of optimizing their life cycle costs. Efforts have centered above all on automated train operation (ATO), ecodesign, digital platforms and maintenance solutions.
Knorr-Bremse enables higher track capacity utilization on existing rail networks with our integrated Reproducible Braking Distance (RBD) concept. This aims to achieve a marked reduction in braking distance variance caused by different environmental and weather conditions or technical factors such as wheel diameters or tolerances in load sensing and friction values. This approach is primarily based on our new “WheelGrip Adapt” wheel slide protection system and improved adhesion management for wheel-rail contact. Our innovative CubeControl brake control family (formerly the EP2002 family) enables consistent high-precision braking; this is essential for scaling up automated train operation.
Key components for reliable, safe and efficient train operation include innovative entrance systems from our subsidiary IFE that reduce the time required for passengers to embark or disembark thanks to even faster door opening and closing times. And because it is subject to minimal wear, our novel LIFEDrive door operating concept delivers much higher fail-safety coupled with significantly lower maintenance costs.
Our Swiss subsidiary Selectron developed the Threat Detection Solution (TDS) to provide comprehensive protection for all digital applications. It employs a passive security element that monitors data traffic in all electronic systems without direct intervention, performs the requisite analyses either onboard or in the cloud if preferred, and sounds an alarm if necessary. Customers can also choose to have the data processed in a Security Operations Center (SOC). Thanks to the various layers of security built into all our electronic control modules as a matter of course in line with our defense-in-depth concept, Knorr-Bremse solutions boast state-of-the-art levels of cybersecurity. By acting as an early warning system, TDS can avert major attacks on electronic systems from the outset.
Our subsidiary Merak is a leading systems innovator in the field of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) for rail vehicles. With its clean[air] technology, Merak has developed a solution for air distribution, active and passive filtering and purification. It swiftly restores the air quality in trains and can significantly reduce any potential concentrations of airborne aerosols or pathogens. This technology is actively helping train operators around the world to provide safe and comfortable rail travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, and is making a vital contribution to restoring public trust in mass transit services.
The company Kiepe Electric has developed modular bridging technology that goes some way toward creating a carbon-neutral train. This involves equipping diesel trains with batteries to transform them into e-hybrid trains. On electrified track sections, trains can be powered directly via the overhead lines, consequently consuming much less energy. Compared with the 550 kWh consumption of a diesel-only train, this combination of overhead lines, traction battery and diesel generator can reduce energy consumption by between 20% and 25%.
In addition, Knorr-Bremse is continually expanding its network of investments in highly innovative startups.
Since March 2019, we have partnered with Israeli startup Rail Vision to develop obstacle detection systems for rail vehicles. Using sensors, artificial intelligence and deep learning, these systems identify and classify obstacles while the train is in motion, making a significant contribution to process optimization during, for example, shunting operations. SBB Cargo is currently testing a prototype that integrates electro-optical systems in shunting engines.
Through our partnership with Belgian startup Railnova, Knorr-Bremse is gaining access and insights into key operating and status data for locomotives. Sophisticated algorithms are used to identify and offer optimally tailored predictive maintenance services (for condition-based maintenance or CBM). With more than 2,200 rail-vehicle installations and revenues of € 4 million, Railnova has already become an established presence in the market for fleet management and CBM solutions for rail vehicles.
Commercial Vehicle Systems Division
In the CVS division, Knorr-Bremse’s research and development activities have focused on the industry trends of road safety, automated driving, e-mobility, emissions reduction and connectivity.
Complete control over the longitudinal and lateral forces exerted by and on commercial vehicles is a fundamental prerequisite for brake control, driver assistance (DAS) and automated driving (HAD) system solutions. With the acquisition of Sheppard in the USA and Hitachi steering systems in Japan, Knorr-Bremse has become one of the world’s three leading manufacturers of steering systems for commercial vehicles. The combination of Sheppard’s and Hitachi’s expertise in recirculating ball (RCB) steering systems with Knorr-Bremse’s global systems expertise represents an ideal platform for launching torque overlay steering systems (TOS), which are a key component in many driver assistance and automated driving functions. We are currently developing a range of different TOS variants to meet the needs of different markets and customers.
The latest generation of Global Scalable Brake Control (GSBC) technology is the successor to our well-known ABS and EBS solutions. This technology creates a reliable backbone for the coordinated longitudinal and lateral control of automated vehicles.
Knorr-Bremse is developing various functions for driver assistance systems (SAE Levels 1 and 2) which are already making a significant contribution to improving road safety. For instance, Knorr-Bremse TruckServices introduced the retrofittable ProFleet Assist+ blind spot assistance system, which makes unprotected road users safer by analyzing visual data from the vehicle’s immediate surroundings, especially in blind spots. This retrofittable, manufacturer-independent solution is based on camera technology from Intel subsidiary Mobileye, a global leader in the development of computer vision and machine learning technologies. In addition, our Ramp Dock Control System (RDC) is a driver assistance system for vehicles with trailers which uses ultrasonic sensors to initiate automatic braking by the trailer’s EBS when an obstacle is detected.
In 2018, Knorr-Bremse set up a technology joint venture with Continental AG to develop automated driving solutions (Level 3+). While Knorr-Bremse is responsible for systems integration and supplying redundant actuator systems for brakes and steering, Continental is developing various sensors, the vehicle environment model, a central processing unit and the human-machine interface (HMI).
The advent of e-mobility is set to fundamentally transform commercial vehicle system requirements. From traction, braking and steering all the way through to suspension, damping and system-level energy supplies, this transition is opening up many new opportunities for efficient and scalable technologies. To prepare Knorr-Bremse for the next generation of electric vehicles (EVs), we set up the eCUBATOR, an agile think-tank for future EV systems. This new development unit pools the Company’s interdisciplinary expertise in the field of e-mobility. As many as 60 in-house and external experts will be working on innovative solutions for the future at Knorr-Bremse’s Munich and Budapest R&D centers.