Hard-to-supply components to be delivered through digital library

Software company Scrumble and partner Castlab are working on the development of a digital department store where rail companies and other companies in the infrastructure sector can quickly order specific parts that no longer need to be produced on a large scale. Their aim is to turn the infrastructure sector 'upside down'. There is a lot of room for improvement and sustainability in the current process.

Many components in the rail infrastructure are outdated and need to be replaced in the coming years. Some components are 50 years old - or more. There are times when components are no longer produced or when construction drawings have been lost or are outdated. For ordering these parts, the process is currently inefficient and it can take years before a required part can be delivered.

In the innovative Castlab Proeftuin in Tilburg, various partners are working together to improve the supply of rare and hard-to-obtain parts for the infrastructure sector in particular. For example, Castlab is experimenting with new production methods for parts. Software company Scrumble is working on digitally accelerating the time from request to quotation for parts that are no longer easily available or for which technical information is lacking.

Less waste

At present, railroad companies often knock directly on the door of, say, a foundry for a new part. A minimum number of parts must often be purchased, which is almost always considerably more than is actually required, sometimes as many as a thousand pieces. Company owner Vincent van Laarhoven of Scrumble: "In this living lab we are trying to prevent warehouses from being filled with parts that are not used."

An example of a part experimented with in the living lab is a decorative doorknob from NS trains. These are needed sporadically and that is difficult to plan so that often many such products must be stocked. The experimental garden is looking at various production possibilities to replicate the part. For example, in addition to casting, it is also possible to 3D print the doorknob and apply a coating to it.

"We want to make companies think differently about their product. Is it important that the doorknob is bronze, or should it have a 'bronze look'? And does a product have to be robust or is it not necessary?"  - van Laarhoven, owner and Business Director at Scrumble
In the innovation ecosystem, CastLab Proeftuin, the partners are experimenting with this doorknob owned by Dutch Railways.

High replacement costs

Partner Castlab and Scrumble share the goal of producing and delivering non-deliverable parts within ten days. "We want to put a business model on the map where companies like NS and Strukton benefit from requesting a low number of parts." This may increase the price per piece substantially, but the overall cost drops significantly since only the required number needs to be ordered. There is also a much faster delivery time of the parts. As a result, the downtime on a railway carriage or machine part is reduced significantly, which also saves on costs.

The intake form

Simplifying the process of ordering specific parts starts with a digital intake form. Van Laarhoven: "A dynamic intake form is in itself much faster than the traditional request by phone or mail. We also want to show companies what options they have for manufacturing a replacement part and what the associated costs are. This way we give them a good understanding of the benefits and they can make the right purchasing decision themselves." The intake form is now operational!

Digital warehouse

The end goal is a digital warehouse where you can find a part at lightning speed. Each time a part is ordered, it enters a database, making it easy to reorder later.

"No more discussions about the best production method based on the complexity, material and run of a part. Ultimately, it should be the case that you can find your part in a digital department store with a customer-specific database, where you have a complete overview of the specifications, the 2D and 3D drawings, the costs and the possibilities of having it produced."

Within six months, van Laarhoven hopes that the first parts can be ordered through the digital department store. At the moment, the software company and its partners are still focusing primarily on the Dutch rail sector, but in time the foreign market will also be the target.

Innovation program

The Castlab Proeftuin is a three-year innovation project, and it has been ongoing for almost a year. It is part of OPZuid, a European innovation program for the development of the southern region of the Netherlands. The program's spearheads are innovation promotion and the transition to a low-carbon economy. CO2 reduction is achieved by proposing new solutions that contribute to sustainable energy production, efficiency and savings.