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Case Study: How DB Systel GmbH Uses PSPDFKit to Digitize and Display Railway Plans

Illustration: Case Study: How DB Systel GmbH Uses PSPDFKit to Digitize and Display Railway Plans

DB Systel GmbH, headquartered in Frankfurt am Main, is a wholly owned subsidiary of DB AG and a digital partner for all DB Group companies. It drives the digitalization of all DB AG companies by developing effective and efficient customer solutions based on innovative topics such as the cloud, big data, the Internet of things, and artificial intelligence. Currently, there are around 4,400 Systel employees at the company’s main locations in Frankfurt, Berlin, and Erfurt.

DB Netz AG is the railway infrastructure manager of Deutsche Bahn AG. Its 44,000 employees are responsible for the approximately 33,300-kilometer-long rail network. An average of 40,000 trains use DB Netz AG’s infrastructure each day.

Using special measuring and inspection tools, such as state-of-the-art ultrasound technology, the entire rail infrastructure is regularly checked, and the command and control systems, the overhead lines, and all the civil engineering structures are inspected. All the necessary maintenance, troubleshooting, and repairs are carried out by professionals. To ensure that standards are constantly maintained, the quality of the rails and the stability of the track bed are continuously monitored. As and when necessary, sleepers and millions of tons of ballast are renewed, points and rails are replaced, bridges and viaducts and tunnel sections are refurbished, and vegetation along the railway lines is cut back by specialists.

Copyright: Deutsche Bahn AG / Volker Emersleben

To manage and maintain the railways and the required work, DB Netz has millions of infrastructure blueprints, and DB Systel is responsible for digitizing these plans so that they can be displayed and worked with on mobile devices.

Since 2017, DB Systel has used PSPDFKit to power an app that allows workers to:

  • Plan and implement railway extension work

  • Inspect and maintain the existing railway network

  • Propose and carry out necessary repair work

  • Access and relay pertinent information while in the field

“We integrated PSPDFKit’s SDK into our app, and as a result, railway workers are able to efficiently access blueprints, read and record detailed notes, and quickly share information with relevant parties, thereby allowing Deutsche Bahn to maintain and expand the German railway system.”— Kilian Schäfer, Mobile Solutions Consultant, DB Systel

The Challenge

Employees at DB Netz are responsible for repairing and maintaining the Deutsche Bahn rail network, which includes building and upkeep of the tracks themselves, as well as maintenance and implementation of signals, communication systems, and command and control technology.

To simplify and streamline this process, DB Systel developed an app for use in the field that eliminates unnecessary paperwork and allows employees to communicate more efficiently. However, it was missing many specific functionalities that would allow users to download, view, search, annotate, sign, and share PDF blueprints.

“At first, we thought about developing the PDF viewer and annotation in-house,” Schäfer said. “However, after defining the requirements and doing some research, we realized this is a very complex topic, and developing and maintaining this kind of feature would mean needing at least a second development team for a long time.”

To both anticipate customer wishes and remain flexible, DB Systel carefully selects first-class partners. These strategic partnerships are crucial components for mutual success, and this strategy led to the decision to look for an external solution for viewing and annotating PDFs that would integrate seamlessly within the existing app.

“We decided to try PSPDFKit’s SDK, and the ease of incorporating it into our app convinced us that it was the best solution for our use case. Due to the clear and reciprocal nature of our correspondence, we quickly came to an agreement about which features would best serve our specific needs, and we were able to implement them right away.”— Kilian Schäfer, Mobile Solutions Consultant, DB Systel

The Solution

Once the requirements of what would be needed for the app were defined, DB Systel started searching. The company began by contacting Adobe, the creator of the PDF standard. However, the solution Adobe offered didn’t fit DB Systel’s specific needs.

Next, DB Systel tried PSPDFKit. It was able to add the SDK to the app quickly and begin using it right away, which allowed for easy implementation of the following features:

  • Fast and effortless downloading and viewing of multiple PDF documents

  • Writing and highlighting text using annotations, with customizable options for shape, color, and transparency

  • An exceptional user interface that supports undo/redo and copying/pasting of annotations

  • Custom vector stamp annotations with freeform rotation and transparency options

  • Digital signatures that both identify a signer and protect a document

  • Indexed full-text search for quickly finding results across many PDFs

App Screenshot

Because of PSPDFKit’s highly customizable interface that allows straightforward implementation of use case-specific features, employees of DB Netz can view plans while out in the field, make and share detailed notes, and fast-track necessary construction and repair work.

“During the development of the project, requirements changed, timelines were shortened, and so on. But whenever we had issues or needed support from PSPDFKit, they helped us out as best as they could and as fast as possible. As a result, we have been able to hit our deadlines and deliver the requested features on time and to the satisfaction of our internal customer. It was a pleasure to work with PSPDFKit.”— Kilian Schäfer, Mobile Solutions Consultant, DB Systel

The Results

Since 2017, DB Systel has been using PSPDFKit’s SDK in its app, which enables its users to simplify and speed up their workflows. More specifically, DB Netz employees who work in the field are now equipped with the mobile tools they need to help them carry out important tasks with precision and speed, while also relying on the stability and power of a well-maintained and robust document editing solution. And by relying on PSPDFKit, DB Systel engineers can focus on their core business of creating high-quality railway maintenance solutions.

“Our experience as a customer of PSPDFKit is that it’s clear that this is a company that is customer oriented. We once discussed feature timelines and important functionalities we really needed at that time. Of course, we weren’t told it would happen the next day, but instead we were given realistic answers that enabled us to stay on track. And we weren’t disappointed. In fact, most of our needs were delivered earlier than expected.”— Kilian Schäfer, Mobile Solutions Consultant, DB Systel

Natalye Childress Editor

Natalye is a copy editor and copywriter from California. She’s passionate about storytelling, immaculate grammar, clean copy, and quality journalism. She loves coffee and beer, mixtapes and books, and road bikes and punk rock.

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