Iñigo Ona: “The product has not lost importance – what has changed are our priorities when designing, manufacturing and maintaining it”

The introduction of new technologies and digitisation profoundly affect “end product manufacturers” such as GH. This is also the case for CAF. We interview Iñigo Ona, responsible for this transformation at CAF, one of the leading companies in the railway sector. The importance of the subject and the proximity of both companies add value to his reflections on it.

What priority does the implementation of the digital strategy have for CAF?
Digitisation is a key element in CAF’s strategy. Both as a basic tool to improve competitiveness, and for positioning the product.

When we talk about digitisation at CAF we distinguish between:

  • Product digitisation (Lead Mind): trains, buses, infrastructure, etc.
  • Digitisation of processes: ERP, Industry 4.0 tools, design tools (PLM), etc.

And in both areas the company has made a
very major commitment in recent years. This commitment was encapsulated two years ago in
a Digital Transformation roadmap and is being implemented through the launch of different initiatives. For its implementation, highly qualified resources have been incorporated, alliances established with technology centres and leading technology companies, and investments of more than €100 million have been made in the digital field over three years.

On some occasions we have heard you say that the introduction of digitisation has even changed the company’s commercial policy. In what sense?
In the railway market there has been a very important change in recent years as most contracts are awarded based on the criterion of the LCC (Life Cycle Cost) – that is, the cost of the product over its entire life cycle. In the railway sector, this implies that the following concepts are taken into account in the awarding of a contract:

  • Train price.
  • Maintenance cost throughout its life cycle.
  • Energy consumption throughout its life cycle

This has meant that the cost of the train is
no longer the main criterion for awarding contracts and the other two concepts have equal or greater importance. It is therefore essential to manage the entire life cycle based on real data. And this data-based management is what is allowing us to significantly improve both the maintenance and energy consumption of our products.

“For CAF, digitisation is not a fad and it’s not even optional any more”

Cranes are not the same as trains, but it seems that customers are opting for products that are capable of generating information to make them more competitive and profitable. To what extent do you think this is not a fad and that it has come to stay?
It is absolutely not just a fad. In fact, in our case, it’s not even optional. In the digitisation
of the product, we have seen that in practically all the train tenders during the last year it was requested that they have a Digital Train tool installed, which means that this is an essential strategy in order to continue in the market. In addition, based on this platform, very important improvements are being achieved throughout the train’s life cycle that have allowed us to remain competitive.

We have sensorised our trains with thousands of sensors, from which we obtain between 7,000 and 10,000 variables with an update frequency of milliseconds. We are able to
send these variables to the cloud in real time using 3G or Wi-Fi when the train arrives at the depot. These millions of pieces of data – big data – have allowed us to develop the following competitive advantages:

  • Real time: all this information is key to faster troubleshooting.
  • Predictive maintenance/CBM: with the support of our data scientists, we have developed algorithms that allow us to predict breakdowns.
  • CBM: we are also doing maintenance
based on the real condition of our trains, eliminating the conservative parameters that have traditionally been used that set the need to carry out maintenance operations based on kilometres or years of use.
  • Design feedback: having so much data
on how trains actually behave is providing us with data so that we can validate and compare the different design solutions,
not only at the time of commissioning, but throughout the entire useful life of the train.
  • New commercial positioning in services: the Digital Train has allowed us to be much more competitive when offering services
  • to our customers. Based on our platforms
and preventive maintenance, we are able to anticipate breakdowns and breakages, and this anticipation allows us to know when spare parts are going to be needed, which is increasing our turnover for this area.
  • Energy consumption: this is an initiative within our digital train that involves several projects:
    • A driving assistant that makes it possible to optimise acceleration, speeds and braking so that consumption is optimal.
    • Data analysis of the consumption of the train equipment in the different conditions of use that makes it possible to optimise and reduce consumption.

 “The cost of the train is no longer the main criterion for awarding contracts and other concepts such as the cost of maintenance and energy saving during the total life of the train now have equal or greater importance”

 The pandemic will accelerate the digitisation process of companies. Is it a mistake to identify digitisation with teleworking?
It’s clear that the different tools of collaborative work and remote work available today have made it possible for teleworking to be carried out in a very efficient way. When the pandemic is over, there will be ways of working that will last: more teleworking, less travel, etc.

That said, digitisation is much, much more than teleworking. During our strategic reflection, we established a roadmap towards a new application map that supports the growth of the company and is aligned with the strategies of each business and of the Digital Train, and this is now a tool and a way of working that we incorporate into all our projects.

New technologies have provided the opportunity to look beyond the company. Collaboration with entrepreneurs and centres of excellence will allow us to accelerate internal improvements and diversify our businesses. To what extent is this the case at CAF?
Very much so. New technologies have allowed us to establish collaborations with powerful companies at an international level, advanced in terms of both technology and management, that have helped us to improve. Also, as these companies work with other leading companies in many sectors, it has allowed us to incorporate good practices into our businesses.

Has the product lost prominence in favour of intangibles that are valued as much or more than the product itself by customers?
The product has not lost importance. What has changed are our priorities when designing, manufacturing and maintaining it. Traditionally, our main concern in a customer order has been to manufacture the product complying with the requirements of the specifications, and these referred to many design aspects, but the functional behaviour of the train, which in the end is the key to guaranteeing a good service, low maintenance costs and low energy costs, was not our priority.

With the new approach of achieving the best cost in the product life cycle, we are much more focused on ensuring that our trains perform well throughout their life cycle, which is what our customers ask of us. But the focus is not on new technologies and tools – the new focus is on being able to achieve better availability of trains and lower consumption with these tools. Conclusion: the product still has the leading role, but understood as a product throughout the life cycle, not what we deliver when the product leaves the factory.