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Planes, trains, and automobiles come to mind in terms of 3D printing today, and the technology is being put to very serious use for global infrastructure and transportation. Additive manufacturing can change the face of how repairs and maintenance are made on trains, which throughout the years can be enormously extensive—and expensive.

Bringing all the benefits of 3D printing on board, however, changes a lot of processes. The bottom line is affected substantially as parts can be made so much easier—and in many cases better, stronger, and lighter in weight. Turnaround in production time is affected exponentially, labor is decreased, and many parts can be made on-side, on-demand.

There are many critical details to consider with trains though, beginning with safety. These are machines with a vast amount of moving parts that must be maintained with excellence, for decades. Dealing with schedules, inventory, passengers, cargo, and the actual running of trains all over the world is an enormous endeavor—but managing the mechanics is a world unto itself.

Some train parts may be as old as trains themselves, and when one tiny component falls out of order, it may not be easy to find at all. Having just one piece made can be extraordinarily expensive by traditional methods; with 3D printing though, the process is seamless via scanning, creating a file, and choosing a material for rapid fabrication.

Stefanie Brickwede

“When we buy trains we get the service level agreement for delivery of spare parts for around 15 years,” says Stefanie Brickwede, head of additive manufacturing at Deutsche Bahn and managing director of Mobility goes Additive. “After that time, we look for the parts on the world market and we cannot get them.”

In hopes to overcome challenges in finding parts, they have created their own AM network, Mobility goes Additive, allowing for partnerships with numerous other businesses and organizations.

“We just celebrated the second birthday of our network which has grown from nine members to 19,” says Brickwede. “From those figures you can get a sense of how important our subject is and the number of companies who want to focus on industrial use cases for printing spare parts.”

Brickwede says that 3D printing has advanced just in the past couple of years in relevance to the train industry, although Deutsche Bahn mainly uses the technology right now for maintenance of parts.

“Nowadays they ask what kind of parts we can produce, what the use cases are and the economic effect,” Brickwede says. “The knowledge and expertise concerning additive manufacturing has grown rapidly.”

One of the most recent parts 3D printed for maintenance issues was a tube fixture for display lights on the electronic information system. From beginning to end (with delivery of the part), it took a month to create and install the tube fixture, which was a staggering 80 percent less expensive via 3D printing. Currently, they are also 3D printing the following:

  • Coffee makers
  • Coat hooks
  • Steering wheel covers
  • Headrest frames
  • Braille signposts

“We have a very broad range of use cases and very nice examples of parts increasing comfort too,” says Brickwede. “We also use a lot of different materials. Two thirds of the parts we produce are made from plastic, the rest from metal. We have different polymers, and metals including aluminum steel and more recently titanium.”

3D printing in the rail sector has changed dramatically in the past two years (Photo credit: Deutsche Bahn AG; Kai Michael Neuhold).

You may have noticed that 3D printing seems to be finding a niche nearly everywhere today, from the operating room to outer space! The ability to create new parts as well as finding newer and easier ways to replace those that have become obsolete are hard to find is now being enjoyed by so many other industries too; for example, luxury automobile companies like Porsche use 3D printing to rebuild very old motors, and BMW refurbishes an old car from Elvis’ collection. Military organizations are also beginning to use 3D printing more often for maintaining munitions and even making a variety of parts on naval ships while out to sea.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source: 3D printing in the railway sector with Deutsche Bahn]
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