In a key development for both the railway and additive manufacturing (AM) industries, Nikon SLM Solutions has partnered with Wabtec, one of the world’s leading rail technology companies, to open a dedicated 3D printing center in Tours, France. This center addresses a pressing problem that has long plagued the railroad sector: the difficulty of obtaining aging and obsolete parts. Using Nikon SLM Solutions’ metal 3D printing technology, spare parts can be produced in weeks, significantly reducing costs, idle train times, and delivery delays.
Wabtec’s Tours 3D Printing Center
The 3D printing center comprises the entire 3D printing process chain, ensuring quality from the initial printing of metal parts to quality checks and post-processing. Notably, Wabtec’s center includes Nikon’s SLM 500 machine, along with an SLM 280 and SLM 800 machine, almost covering Nikon SLM Solutions’ entire product range. Parts to be made with the technology include not only basic spare parts manufactured by Wabtec that are difficult to obtain for obsolescence or supply chain reasons, but also new products for such applications as brake systems, pantographs, HVAC, and doors.
Henri de Chassey, Head of Additive Manufacturing in Wabtec Transit, explained that the company has adopted Nikon SLM Solutions in part based on previously validated parts: “We have selected Nikon SLM Solutions as they were proposing the best technical option on Aluminum, but also because some of our previous validated parts have been already produced on their machines. Nikon SLM’s technical team additionally has provided us and our applications an amazing support for the implementation of this new project.”
The Adoption of 3D Printing for Rail
Rail transportation has seen tremendous growth in terms of the use of AM, in large part thanks to the Mobility goes Additive (MGA) group. Headed by Stefanie Brickwede, who is also in charge of AM at Deutsche Bahn, MGA is focused on long-term solutions for safety in the rail sector. This is not only a distinguishing feature but also a compelling aspect that has united companies globally in a collaborative network.
Due to the longevity of rail fleets and the challenges of maintaining them over decades, AM can offer a sustainable path for producing parts on demand, thus mitigating issues related to obsolescence or scarcity. Siemens, the German industrial giant, serves as a notable example. With a recent 35-year contract in India, the company is actively employing AM to produce spare parts, effectively ensuring a high rate of fleet availability.
Wabtec’s 3D Printing Expertise
As rail transportation continues to be a crucial part of global infrastructure, Wabtec Corporation has emerged as an early adopter of 3D printing technologies for manufacturing components for the rail industry. The corporation’s trajectory in AM began around 2015, initially focusing on prototyping. By 2017, Wabtec shifted its focus toward metal 3D printing, specifically for end-use parts. This included investing in a range of 3D printing technologies, from metal binder jetting to laser powder bed fusion (LPBF).
Wabtec’s ambitious goal to 3D print 25,000 parts by 2025 speaks to its aggressive strategy in this space. The company has managed to reduce the weight of certain transit train parts by up to 75 percent. With facilities focusing on a variety of materials and techniques across the world—from Northwest Pennsylvania to Bangalore, India—Wabtec is shaping what the future of rail transportation looks like, not just in North America but globally.
This partnership also aligns well with Wabtec’s strategic focus. The location in Tours offers the company a host of post-processing options, including machining and painting with surface treatment, all of which meet the stringent quality standards required by the railroad industry.
Nikon’s Growing Role in AM
The opening of the 3D printing center in Tours follows Nikon SLM Solutions’ high-profile sale of two NXG XII 600 Additive Manufacturing Systems to aerospace supplier GKN Aerospace, as well as the rebranding and acquisition activities that have marked the company’s aggressive entry into the additive manufacturing space. Earlier this year, Nikon acquired SLM Solutions for €622 million, solidifying its commitment to expand its technological capabilities in the growing field of 3D printing. This strategic partnership with Wabtec amplifies the company’s momentum and showcases the transformative impact of additive manufacturing on various industries.
One of the key milestones for Wabtec was becoming an early customer of GE Additive’s H1 binder jetting technology, especially following Wabtec’s merger with GE Transportation in 2019. It is interesting, in this case, that Wabtec opted not to use GE Additive’s Concept Laser line for LPBF, but that of Nikon SLM Solutions.
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