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Superspecialist in materials engineering talks about trends and his practical experience

Speaking in this article: specialist Jaap Horst. Jaap is manager of the department of materials engineering at DEKRA Rail and is in the possession of very specific knowledge with regards to superstructure systems on the railway. He explains what exactly his job implies and talks about concrete practical situations and sustainability trends in his field.

Jaap Horst

From an expert in synthetic material and rubber to a specialist in superstructure systems
Twenty-one years ago, Jaap started working as a specialist on synthetic materials and rubber at the department of materials engineering. On the one hand, he applied this to the interior materials in trains and trams. On the other hand, he applied his specialized knowledge to steel and rubber parts in, especially, train bogies. These were, for example, admission tests of new components, but also research on used components in order to determine the useful economic life.

As a specialst in synthetic materials and rubbers, Jaap ended up in railway technology. He owes this to, for example, the small, almost invisible rubber plate that can be found between the rail and the sleeper. Due to his unique knowledge, Jaap has been asked to conduct several types of tests on this small rubber pad. In the years that followed, he developed into a superspecialist of the entire superstructure system. In the Netherlands, hardly any other expert can be found with so much knowledge about the components of, amongst other things, railway sleepers, rails, fasteners, and other parts.

Grip on quality
Jaap and his department’s colleagues are conducting independent tests and research on the components of superstructure systems. They do this on a daily basis. In this way, DEKRA Rail’s customers can get a grip on the quality process of these components. For example, research and tests are conducted for the purpose of admission or certification. Jaap: “During the certification of products, DEKRA Rail gets involved for the execution of tests. But also for the execution of audits of the plant’s quality system.” Jaap is involved with approximately 25 projects in this field every year.

But what does this mean in practice?
By means of two real-life examples, we will explain what Jaap’s work exactly implies in a bit more detail.

Failing components
Principals coming to DEKRA Rail with failing components is a common situation. You can think of questions about torn railway sleepers: What is the cause of the damage? Can the damage be repaired or should the sleeper be replaced? For how long can the sleeper still be used, or: what is its useful economic life? Jaap: “I carry out inspections and tests on behalf of the characterization of components and systems. Next to that, I carry out investigations on damages. We conduct research when a damaged component gets discovered and, based on this, determine when the damage might lead to problems.”

Preventive checking
Customers do not only come to us when a component actually fails. In order to prevent such failure, DEKRA Rail also investigates and tests the quality of components in an early stage. One of our clients, for example, has very specific rail fixation systems on which the rails are mounted. Those components are 45 years old now, so the customer starts wondering: what is their quality, how long can these components still be used and what is the useful economic life? Jaap: “Although 45 years sounds old, the parts can still function well and do not always have to be replaced. The customer wants to be sure that nothing can happen at short notice, because this very specific component forms an important part of the system as a whole. We execute tests by means of simulations in order to determine the level of quality and to give the customer a certain assurance.”

“In the Netherlands, hardly any other expert can be found with so much knowledge about the components of, amongst other things, railway sleepers, rails, fasteners, and other parts.”

Sustainability: DEKRA Rail intensifies the specifications and requirements
Within the field sustainability got more and more important during the last couple of years. Railway companies request components that have a long lifespan. The useful economic life of the entire system can be extended by increasing the quality of the components. Then there simply is less need for maintenance and replacements. DEKRA Rail helps its customers by working out specifications they can use for the purchase of components and systems. Jaap: “When a part of the railway needs to be replaced, a contractor will most probably look for the cheapest solution, within the frame given by the principal. In order to achieve sustainability and to make quality improvements, DEKRA Rail gets involved to intensify the specifications and requirements with regard to these components. We have a lot of experience with the execution of tests and research, so we possess very specific knowledge. We have knowledge of the possible problems and damages and we know what can be their cause. Due to this, we are able to take specifications to a higher level.”

Nicest thing about your job
The thing Jaap likes most about his job is the great variety. Jaap: “On the one hand, I work for different customers, and on the other hand there is a big variety of components with which I am dealing. That is why no day is the same! I keep experiencing new situations and executing different types of tests.” Next to this, Jaap is proud of the unique knowledge he and his colleagues possess. “It is very special that customers come to DEKRA Rail with very specific questions, which only we can answer. We are really brought in as experts and that gives me a lot of satisfaction.”

Are you as specialized and enthusiastic as Jaap?
DEKRA Rail is looking for a Railway Construction Expert. Do you want more information, have a look at our vacancy.

May 2019

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