Wabtec Corporation (NYSE: WAB) has announced that it will be joining an additive manufacturing (AM) focused production site called Neighborhood 91, located at Pittsburgh’s International Airport Innovation Campus. Currently under construction, Neighborhood 91 is meant to encompass a complete 3D printing ecosystem alongside the local airport and, therefore, a hub that connects to the rest of the U.S. and globe. Wabtec is set to be the first manufacturing anchor tenant of the site as it advances the state of 3D printing for rail in the country.
Wabtec currently hosts AM capabilities in west Pennsylvania, including 3D printing labs in Erie and Grove City. By joining the Neighborhood 91 initiative, the company will further develop its 3D printing for the railway industry. The $3.8B company, which merged with GE Transportation in 2019, claims that the 3D printing of large-scale, lightweight rail parts could reduce lead times by 80 percent. This includes aluminum parts, such as brake components and heat sinks for freight trains.
As an early beta customer of GE’s metal binder jetting technology and a customer of HP’s multi jet fusion process, Wabtec is demonstrating a savviness one might typically expect from a large industrial conglomerate. In fact, Wabtec has set a goal to use AM for the production of over 25,000 parts by 2025.
“Additive technology is a key focus area for us that provides new capabilities to drive innovation where traditional manufacturing could not,” said Wabtec’s Chief Technology Officer, Eric Gebhardt. “This agreement continues our investment in resources that enable our engineers to design new and complex products for the industries we serve. As the first development in the world to connect all elements of the additive manufacturing supply chain into a single location, Neighborhood 91 is the ideal location to fully realize the potential of this technology.”
The Neighborhood 91 concept is an interesting concept in itself. Within the entire area, all of the necessary capital resources for a complete 3D printing ecosystem are found. This includes sites for powder, parts, post-production, testing and analysis. In turn, the concept is meant to allow for greater efficiency in production, post-processing and shipment, with the airport located next door.
A central selling point to the Neighborhood 91 ecosystem involves the site’s first tenant, a company called Arencibia, which focuses on monitoring, analysis and recovery of noble gases, such as argon for 3D printing. Through recycling argon gas used in metal AM, the company believes it can help reduce the 60 percent of 3D printing costs associated with the use of argon or other noble gasses.
Neighborhood 91 is also meant to spur development at the 195-acre Pittsburgh Airport Innovation Campus, with the airport itself hoping to take on an increasingly cutting-edge image. Wabtec will be occupying over 11,000 square feet of space at Neighborhood 91, with plans for the site to open in Spring 2021. Parts will then be able to ship to any location in the world within 24 hours from the airport.
As 3DPrint.com Executive Editor Joris Peels recently pointed out, rail is a significant opportunity for the 3D printing industry. In Europe, the Mobility Goes Additive coalition has seen over 120 members work together to make AM suitable for the railway sector and vice versa. In the U.S., attention on rail has always been lacking, sometimes deliberately, in favor of automobile infrastructure.
Whereas Europe, Japan and China all boast significant tracks of high-speed rail (HSR), the U.S. contains a single corridor that barely meets the definition of HSR. Wabtec’s embrace of 3D printing could help make some headway in making the country hip to a more advanced railway industry, which will be key to replacing fossil fuel transportation in the country.
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