Set on the right track

For 50 years full speed

Dr. Thomas Schnell

50 years of system supplier to Deutsche Bahn AG and almost simultaneously the 50-year silver jubilee of Dr Wolfgang Schnell. Two events used the occasion of rational cleaning to speak to Detlef Frank (Deutsche Bahn AG) as well as Dr Wolfgang and Dr Thomas Schnell.

When he was just 20 years old, Wolfgang Schnell, who was studying in the second term of his chemistry course then, had to accept the responsibility of managing the then soap works together with his mother after his father’s sudden death. In the business documents, there were records of contacts with Deutschen Bahn: “Apparently, my father had been called by the Federal Railway Research Institute in connection with problems of vehicle cleaning. I saw this as a fresh opportunity of developing business relations with Deutsche Bahn, if I could develop a really new, genuine problem solver.”

There were sufficient approaches, as Wolfgang Schnell recollects: “The cleaning of unpainted vehicles that were covered with rust from the brake shoe, the famous red grained seats made of artificial leather or the inconvenient white remains of the detergent on the undercarriage – one waited formally for new, better detergents.”  And one signalled to the young entrepreneur – here was a chance he must exploit.

Easier said than done. 50 years ago too, competition was already cut-throat, the big names of the sector were already working for Deutsche Bahn. And a young, inexperienced, student appearing on the scene to challenge them was laughed at and not taken seriously.

First, almost logically as a soap seller, Wolfgang Schnell sold hand rinsing paste to Deutsche Bahn. “In pouches and in such large quantities, that the business with Deutsche Bahn amounted to nearly 60 percent of the company’s total turnover. The responsible Head of the Purchasing Department feared a very high dependence of our company on Deutsche Bahn and spurred me on to search for real problem solutions.“

Detlef Frank


»The bottom line is to achieve
optimum cleaning results and
simultaneously to relieve man
and environment as much as
possible. «

Breakthrough achieved in 1972

In 1965 Schnell presented the first non-alkali liquid detergent for the interior to Deutsche Bahn. It was followed by a phosphoric acid detergent for removing white efflorescence. The actual breakthrough finally came in 1972 with VPS 1072 (trial product Schnell October 1972), a product for cleaning undercarriages. “Before each revision, thick grease or oil deposits had to be removed from the steam locomotives, so that the mechanics could work at the bearings of the undercarriages. Pure petroleum was used for this. The loosened oil foam was then blown out with high-pressure cleaners”, remembers Dr Wolfgang Schnell.

When recognising the extent of the load on the environment, cleaning with petroleum was stopped. To solve the problem, Dr  Schnell presented a detergent on a Glycol base - VPS 1072 - which was totally free of non-water-soluble organic solvents. “This was really a big breakthrough and it actually marks the start for Dr  Schnell as a chemicals company, because the soap factory was phased out thereafter.”

By developing VPS 1072, Wolfgang Schnell had responded to the specifications and ideas of Deutsche Bahn then, and the responses are valid even more effectively today. These continue to characterize the still very close cooperation between the two companies. “If we compare the problems of that era to the problems we face today, one thing stands out conspicuously: The core problem has actually remained the same. We need cleaners that not only achieve the desired cleaning results without harming the surface on which they are applied, but are also ecologically harmless and do not cause any health hazard at any point of time”, emphasises Detlef Frank (Deutsche Bahn AG, Director Machine Procurement, Technical FM, Management and Material).

The basic topics that Detlef Frank mentions are already relevant in the detergent sector – and will remain valid. “The bottom line is to achieve optimum cleaning results and simultaneously to harm man and environment as little as possible. On the whole, this is a very exciting matter because options of optimisation always exist“, emphasises Detlef Frank again.

The common search for problem solutions, for optimizations and new products is strongly influenced by legal provisions, but also by group-internal standards and objectives pertaining to sustainability. “Sustainability plays a crucial role in our group strategy. Therefore, ecology is an absolutely essential point in all product development. Resource conservation and reduction of emission – these are just two important criteria in this connection.”

Detlef Frank has a understanding ear for Dr Wolfgang Schnell and his son Dr Thomas Schnell “We showed with VPS 1072 that for us the search for environment-friendly products has always been a major concern. This product has caused a basic rethinking on how waste water should be handled“, remembers Thomas Schnell. Besides, he represents the sixth generation in the company since the start of the cooperation. “Pressure on the environment - at that time the effluent problem complex – was only one aspect. For us, at least equally important is work compatibility. If e.g., employees engaged in cleaning the interior of coaches spent one more shift in the mist of the spraying process, the products must be extremely compatible”, says Thomas Schnell adding another aspect, which Detlef Frank adds to the specifications on disposal.

Dr. Wolfgang Schnell


»Deutsche Bahn has always
been the technology driver for
us, for our company.«

Difficult tasks

Everyone is agreeable to the requirements that are unavoidable, but these cannot always be brought under one hat. The dirt deposits in and on the trains often require especially strong detergents to achieve the desired results. “Whether oil and grease must be removed, whether brake dust or graphite-containing abrasion of the carbon brush in the collectors which deposits obstinately on the outer skin of the high-speed trains must be overcome: Effective detergents are required which must simultaneously also fulfil the mentioned ecological requirements”, explains Detlef Frank the balancing act again with the help of an example. And also adds that for the cleanliness of the trains, it is not just the cleaning chemistry that is standard, it is also important for us to control the wash systems in our trains as regularly as possible. We have a genuine problem if blocked tracks, as was experienced some time back during the flood catastrophe, prevent the trains from reaching the wash systems.”

In connection with the requirements of cleaning for Deutsche Bahn, questions came up like: To what extent new and modern materials influence product development, say in ICE trains of the latest generation? DrWolfgang Schnell: “A lot has actually been done here in course of time: Aluminium, carbon, fibre glass – in the matter of train cleaning we are constantly confronted with the latest technologies and materials used in the undercarriage, but also in the passenger compartment. Frequently, formidable requirements were imposed, which either cannot be fulfilled or can be implemented only at unusually high expenditure. But instead of capitulating, we always saw an opportunity in these challenges. And we have learnt a lot while solving problems which helped us later in developing products related to classical building cleaning. Casually said, Deutsche Bahn was always a technology driver for me, for our company.”

Development of new products is one aspect, checking the suitability for the respective backgrounds and naturally also quality control the other. And Deutsche Bahn takes the corresponding tests very seriously. If a new product is available, all the safety-related questions are taken care of first, tests are then conducted in the lab. “Before a product is ready for release after laboratory tests, appropriate practical trials are conducted in or on the vehicle, which normally take six months. If the tests are successful, a certificate is issued at the end – and after successful allocation, possibly a delivery contract“, Detlef Frank describes the procedure. Around half the products of DR. Schnell Chemie that are used by Deutsche Bahn are delivered on an exclusive basis. “The cleaning technology and the cleaning chemistry that we provide to Deutsche Bahn are tailor made for Deutsche Bahn up to 50 percent. As the tasks of cleaning vehicles on rails have nothing in common with normal vehicle cleaning. This is true of exterior as well as interior cleaning. Let us take the example of our special DB exterior detergents. These were developed in coordination with DB and are used only to wash the ICE trains.”

Peter Hartmann

Proximity to customers enhances problem awareness

Do DB-specific products also necessitate a service to address the concerns of customers? Do the products require intensive consultancy? What does Deutsche Bahn expect or demand from its suppliers? Detlef Frank: “Special expectations or even demands for service are actually not there. I would however like to emphasise that we attach a lot of importance to customer proximity, but we also prize the training concept or the training programme that is offered to us. The topics are very well conceived for our employees who must process the products, as well as for our management executives who must take purchase decisions. As I see it, proximity to the customer also has an effect on Dr Schnell, as it sharpens awareness about problems, and enables to work appropriately in a target-oriented manner on one or the other innovation.“

To guarantee proximity to the customer, and also the necessary training courses, DR. Schnell Chemie has invested heavily in staff in the last few years to support Deutsche Bahn, as Dr Thomas Schnell clarifies. “With three key account managers and about 100 employees who provide support in the regions, we are also in a position to respond real fast in providing service too.

It is important for us to convey our specialized know-how appropriately, and thus to keep the competency of the Bahn employees up-to-date. Among other things, we ensure this with road shows at different Bahn locations. Thus, last year we provided intensive training for more than half a day to on-site cleaners. Add to this our other most variegated training offers. According to my understanding, a positive service package also includes points such as reliability and adherence to delivery schedules, but also quality and price transparency.”

Fair partners

An assessment which one apparently shares with Deutsche Bahn, at least one newly introduced system of supplier evaluation leads to this conclusion.

Detlef Frank surprised the Schnells with the initial results on deadlines in Munich: “Deliveries and services are also evaluated within the framework of a vendor management system. And not only by our buyers, but also by the processors and the users. Quality of the offer, quality of the delivery and service, use quality, price level, price transparency, cost development, operating costs, observation of periods and delivery deadlines – such topics are queried. And the result, the predicate for your company, I would like to formulate it loosely, is beyond any doubt. This can be said clearly in a conversation about cooperation that has meanwhile lasted 50 years.”

Despite all praise for his company, Dr Wolfgang Schnell found out that  cooperationcan work well and function on a long-term basis in concrete cases only if the two sides treat each other fairly and with respect, irrespective of all business interests. Only this way work could be carried out successfully for more than 50 years independently of the responsible and active persons. “We have always attempted to perform work that is objective, innovative as well as ecologically and economically free of objections. This also gives the customer the safety that he can rely on his partner at all times.”

Detlef Frank, contact for DR. Schnell Chemie since January 2011 at Deutsche Bahn confirms this assessment: “It is not about persons but about subjects such as service orientation, innovation capacity, about fair, objective handling of each other. For example, in conversations on problem solution or even about prices. During my time, and, as far as I am aware also before my time, all participants had the will and eagerness to find solutions together. And thus DR. Schnell Chemie was able to despite all competition – and competition was always there – have new products listed at Deutsche Bahn repeatedly. This speaks for itself.”

Quality, continuity and fairness are therefore – to put it straight – the secret of success of the cooperation that has lasted more than 50 years. With which the Munich chemicals manufacturer succeeded again and again to offer to Deutsche Bahn the demanded products and problem solutions in the expected quality at a reasonable cost-benefit ratio. Add to this an orientation peculiar to Deutsche Bahn, which should serve as a signal to other medium sized companies too: “To the extent possible, and whenever the results of competition within the framework of quotations permit, we consciously collaborate with medium-sized companies”, reveals Detlef Frank – a piece of information which may be new to many. Whoever recognizes his chance and places his ideas in the correct niche at the right time, also gets his chance as a medium-sized company to work with a large enterprise like Deutsche Bahn because DR. Schnell Chemie is just one of the several suppliers in this market segment for Deutsche Bahn. DR. Schnell Chemie also wants to utilize the opportunity further, as Dr Thomas Schnell reveals with a short view on an absolutely current project: “We are working jointly on a special project which will be exclusively for Deutsche Bahn. It is about still more hygiene in toilets and wash rooms of trains. Technological and naturally chemical questions will play a very crucial role in all this. Deutsche Bahn has been associated with the project from the very beginning.” Dr Schnell is sure that the attempted solution will get a lot of attention in the free market. But, the products cannot be used anywhere else other than in the trains of Deutschen Bahn, they are tailor-made for the special ratios in trains. An innovation as the foundation stone for successful cooperation in the coming years? If Detlef Frank has his way, definitely. Replying to the question on what the two sides want to do for the next 50 years, he says: “Innovations, naturally. This includes quality as always and, as I speak as buyer, the continuation of a healthy cost-benefit ratio.”

It is absolutely important for Detlef Frank – and this applies not to the cooperation with DR. Schnell Chemie alone, as he emphasises – that Deutsche Bahn is supported actively by its delivery partners in achieving its sustainability objectives. Further, the wish list of Detlef Frank hints at product range reduction through standardisation and internationalisation. The latter especially with an eye on the local companies that belong to Deutsche Bahn all over Europe and the world. The wishes or ideas of Detlef Frank for the future find immediate resonance in Dr Thomas Schnell: “We would naturally like to help in product range reduction. We already have some concrete ideas. On the subject of internationalisation: This is just the step that we have already traversed as a company in the last few years, and would like to continue to traverse. Depending on the cooperation with Deutsche Bahn, we would be glad to participate in the further development.”

And regarding the desire of Detlef Frank for further innovations, Dr Thomas Schnell refers to the running projects on extensive hygiene concepts for the bistros. Besides cleaning, these projects also consider skin protection concepts for the employees. The question of sustainability will also not be ignored, because it has always been a crucial matter for DRr Schnell Chemie: “Even during the initial phase of our cooperation, sustainability was the focus of our attention. I remember the treatment of the sewage system   with VPS 1072. If we extend the scope of the dialogue that we are holding to all levels, from the cleaners to the management executives, the desired innovations and targets would be possible in the future too. And then the next 50 years of our cooperation will be successful for both parties.”  

Peter Hartmann | peter.hartmann@holzmannmedien. de