The mobile underfloor inspection 'MUFIG'

AI inspecting ICEs: Deutsche Bahn develops E-Check using robotics

The mobile underfloor inspection 'MUFIG' Deutsche Bahn AG / Oliver Lang

Deutsche Bahn is investing 55 million euros in an “E-Check” process to inspect ICE trains using AI and robots to supply the ICE with fresh water and pumping out the wastewater. The first ICE plant to be using equipped with the new technology is Cologne-Nippes. Together with DB board member Michael Peterson, Federal Minister Volker Wissing visited the Cologne-Nippes ICE plant this Thursday.

After Cologne-Nippes, the Berlin, Dortmund, Hamburg and Munich ICE plants will also introduce the E-Check process by 2025. Deutsche Bahn aims to make its maintenance and inspection process faster and more efficient this way. The DB fleet is growing and on average, the operator puts three new ICE trains into operation every month. With the E-Check, the specialists in the plants are relieved of standard tasks and can concentrate on demanding tasks such as repairs, says DB.

Michael Peterson, DB board member for long-distance passenger transport: “Thanks to E-Check, we can virtually create the capacity of an entire ICE factory. This means that the trains will be back in service for our passengers more quickly. With E-Check we are also facing the challenges of a growing fleet and the increasing shortage of skilled workers.”

The mobile underfloor inspection 'MUFIG'
The mobile underfloor inspection ‘MUFIG’

The inspection process

In the E-Check inspection process, the ICE train runs through a camera gate, which takes only around five minutes for a 374-metre-long XXL ICE with 13 cars. Optionally, a mobile underfloor device can also be used to inspect the underside. An AI evaluates the recordings. Any deviations from the target condition that are identified are reported to the technicians in the factory. A technician checks the image and decides whether there really is an error. A work order is then automatically sent to the workshop staff’s tablet.

The technology is able to detect both the smallest deviations such as a screw that is no longer properly seated, a need for repairs, as well as “cosmetic defects” such as damaged pictograms on the outside of the train.

Special robots, called ‘cobots’ are responsible for supplying the ICE with fresh water and pumping out the wastewater. The robots are able to fully automatically recognise the position of the connections on different types of trains. It moves along the ICE, opens the flap above it and attaches the appropriate connection piece. Once the supply or disposal is finished, the robot independently removes the nozzles, closes the flap and moves to the next trolley.

A mobile robot supplies the ICE with fresh water and pumps out the waste water
A mobile robot supplies the ICE with fresh water and pumps out the waste water

The entire E-Check process with water supply and disposal takes one and a half hours, which is half as long as it takes for personnel to complete this task manually. “This project shows the power that lies in the combination of digital technology and human expertise: employees are relieved and at the same time the maintenance capacity of the site increases by 25 percent”, says Volker Wissing, Federal Minister for Digital and Transport who visited the site this week.

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Author: Esther Geerts

Former Editor RailTech.com

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