Under the spell of the tiger
Indian success story: Michael Thiel, CEO Frauscher Sensor Technology, and Alok Sinha, Managing Director Frauscher India, discuss the location's progress since 2013. It is the story of a successful strategy that uses know-how and openness to successfully meet specific needs.
Frauscher India has already celebrated its fourth anniversary. What does that feel like?
Michael Thiel: In a word: amazing! After four years of hard work in India, this has confirmed that the decision to open a dedicated location here was absolutely the right one. At the time, we had already gained some experience in this market and were aware of the potential, but we were also fully aware of the risks. So I was all the more delighted when Alok agreed to support our entry into the market and to manage the business for Frauscher in India. Today I can say that the Indian market is in fact just as impressive and unique as we keep hearing about over and over again from many sources. Perhaps we even initially underestimated the possibilities which we have here. The market volume itself is huge and the Indian government has also drawn up impressive infrastructure plans for the future, which will have a big impact on the railway and metro networks. When it comes to our customers, we have also noticed a soaring interest to continue to press ahead with innovative developments.
Alok Sinha: That's right, yes. The potential that we discovered as a company is in fact even greater than we initially thought. This of course also meant that we were faced with unexpected challenges. The progress which Frauscher India has made, however, also shows how well we mastered these tasks. Within a few years, the location grew from two to more than 100 employees and we've increased our order backlog to 40 million euros. We have expanded our business to three locations across the country. We have established a production facility for axle counting systems and set up a dedicated R&D team which is working on the marketspecific adaptation of existing products and the development of new solutions. So far our products have already been certified by the RDSO [Research Designs and Standards Organisation, Ministry of Railways, Government of India – ed.] in India and by a series of other railway operators in Southeast Asia.
Does India differ substantially from other markets in which Frauscher is active?
MT: In principle, each of our markets is unique in its own way. In India however, the railway is immensely important. That's why, from a strategic point of view, this market is extremely important. In many ways however, the country presents special requirements which we haven't yet come across anywhere else. These include cultural differences which in particular affect the way in which one conducts business. You have to keep reminding yourself of these differences and challenges again and again. This ultimately gives you the opportunity to enhance your product portfolio. The role which the Indian market takes on for us is certainly reflected in the agility with which our global team has approached their tasks here.
What have been the most important accomplishments achieved to date in the Indian market?
AS: The largest project to date was implemented with MRVC [Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation Ltd. – ed.]. 1,600 detection points were used to create 1,200 track sections spread across 19 stations. This is also the largest scope of delivery which Frauscher has ever provided in a single project. In addition to this, Frauscher India was able to make a name for itself in the metro sector. Virtually all projects which are implemented in this segment are now reliant on our axle counters. There are currently around 1,300 detection points in use on the respective lines. We have also been selected as a partner for the “Dedicated Freight Corridor” projects. These infrastructure undertakings include more than 9,000 detection points used to set up a signalling system along more than 1,600 kilometres of track. One of the latest projects where our components are being used is in Hyderabad. The design, provision, installation, testing and commissioning of the axle counting system were realized within less than two months. Thanks to the high flexibility and short throughput times, we were able to help our customer meet their deadline for this project.
Frauscher India has also been able to establish itself in the metro sector.
The project in Mumbai also marked the start of Frauscher's entry into the Indian market?
AS: Yes, that's right – but from a technical perspective, it proved at the same time to also be a particular challenge. The main focus of this project was to maintain operations on Mumbai's urban railway lines even when tremendous rainfall caused floods during the monsoon season. Around 200 of the 1,600 detection points installed are in sections where we are dealing with very extreme conditions. On top of that, the measurement of vibrations and shocks when trains passed produced figures in places that exceeded 2,000 g. The material which had been used to install the trackside components was in part unable to withstand such loads. Developing a suitable solution based on analyses in the field was also made more difficult due to the immense traffic volume of more than 1,200 trains a day.
How did you ultimately overcome these challenges?
AS: To be honest, it took quite some time to develop a satisfactory solution. At first, the initial approaches looked verypromising. But then problems started again after a few months, so we continued to work on alternatives and on the stability of the individual components. In the end, the structure of the rail claw system was completely optimised in order to increase its stability. At the moment we're also working on the further development of the wheel sensor RSR180, which is used in Mumbai. Using improved materials and adapting the inner structure should also further increase its durability. For the installation of sensors in places which are severely impacted by very heavy shocks, we have enhanced our portfolio with a specially developed mounting assembly.
The Frauscher location in India is growing steadily.
Apart from that, have there been any other requirements that Frauscher has been able to provide a technological solution for in India?
AS: One topic which also resulted in the enhancement of our portfolio is the handling of so-called trolleys. For this, we refined the Counting Head Control CHC principle which allows a freely definable number of dampings from a wheel sensor to be suppressed. This function is used on rail networks around the globe and has been optimised to meet the requirements of Indian Railways. In the meantime however, another scenario was identified that was not yet covered. It occurs when a trolley is used in a track section which has already been occupied by another track vehicle. Working together with the RDSO, the Frauscher development team came up with a relevant adaptation of the CHC function. The damping of sensors from trolleys can therefore now also be suppressed even if the track section is already occupied. The resulting solution was also tested straight away on site in close collaboration with RDSO to ensure it was suitable for the Indian rail network, and can now be used here. And so we have now developed a reliable and strong solution for a market-specific problem which perfectly meets the requirements in the rail network of Indian Railways.
Indian Railways plans to extensively modernise the existing signalling system. This will lead to a massive demand for axle counting products. Will Frauscher be able to cope with such demands?
AS: The capacity of the production plant in India, with which Frauscher also backs the “Make in India” initiative since opening three years ago, currently allows an increase in production of around 10,000 detection points a year. This corresponds to the projected needs of Indian Railways. But in 2018, we want to further extend the production facility in order to be able to meet the increasing demand from the market. At the same time, the technical skills of our employees will be promoted. This will allow them to offer optimum support for various matters.
How are Frauscher products perceived these days in the Indian market?
AS: Our axle counting products differ substantially from the systems of other providers thanks to a series of unique selling points. This includes the options to mount sensors to the track without the need for drilling work, without having to install any active electronics near the track or being able to establish an automatic failover, i.e. a hot-standby structure, via redundancies. Another feature is surely the innovative diagnostic tools which we provide with our axle counters. These characteristics and features were also for example listed in a letter from the Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety, who recommended the implementation of our components to Indian Railways.
The railway in India is immensely important.
And what role do the new Frauscher Tracking Solutions FTS play in India?
MT: India is classed as one of the core markets for this system, which is based on Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS), since it can offer potential solutions for the fundamental requirements of Indian Railways. This includes the monitoring of train and infrastructure components and the detection of unauthorised movements in certain areas. In pilot projects which are implemented in close collaboration with Indian Railways, we check the relevant characteristics of the FTS. Together we want to develop a system which facilitates the ongoing real-time monitoring of different components and the transfer of relevant information for the planning of preventive maintenance, or the execution of acute maintenance works.
If we cast an eye to the future, what can we expect, especially with regard to the collaboration between the two largest Frauscher sites?
AS: In a global company such as Frauscher, it is extremely important to use different communication technologies in order to be able to work together across borders and time zones, transfer know-how and use the skills of individuals accordingly. Furthermore, we are convinced that a direct exchange between our experts through regular visits to different locations around the globe is of vital importance. This also increases the feeling of being part of one big team.
MT: And this is how we wish to continue to expand our position of leadership in the coming years in the fields of axle counting and wheel detection in India and other global railway markets. With the ongoing implementation of a comprehensive digitisation strategy, we want to not only continue to refine our products, but at the same time our whole working environment too.
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