3D Printing and the Railway Sector

News from the 3D printing industry | 26 March 2019

The level of interest in 3D Printing has heavily increased over the past few years. More and more companies in the railway industry adopt 3D printing technologies in their production and maintenance work. How well does this technology support the industry?

In the railway sector, building a good train requires a huge amount of very high-quality spare parts. But what happens when these components break? When it is a recently manufactured part it is easy to find another. However, when the component was built 30 years ago, it is more complicated to find the replacement part.

Most of the time, railway sector companies find that the spare parts they needed are no longer produced and because it is a small batch volume required it makes no economic sense to ask a traditional manufacturer. It will be too expensive.

To solve train obsolescence, the rail sector is thus increasingly turning to 3D printing. According to Railway Technology, this technology will “be able to put obsolete spare parts back on the market and reduce their manufacturing time by up to 95%.”

“Last year GE Transportation, a division of General Electric began early trials on using 3D locomotive components, stating it will produce 250 different parts by 2025. Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch state-owned railway operator, is also experimenting with the technology.”

“Siemens Mobility – the rail division of Siemens – recently installed a 3D printer at its new maintenance facility in Dortmund, Germany. The depot has already printed spare parts for Düsseldorf Airport’s SkyTrain, a fully automatic suspended cabin railway that connects the airport different terminals.”

The Deutsche Bahn, the famous German railway company, already uses 3D Printing technology for maintenance purposes.

It printed replacement tube fixtures for display lights used inside its train’s electronic onboard information system and the project only took one month with 80% cost savings compared to traditional manufacturing.

According to Stefanie Brickwede, head of additive manufacturing at Deutsche Bahn and managing director of Mobility goes Additive, the Deutsche Bahn, has already printed more than 6,000 parts covering 110 different use functions for its range of high-speed trains.

There are also different challenges such as not all suppliers understand the importance of 3D Printing or as the need of several studies that have to be done to be sure that 3D spare parts respond to safety and security regulations. However, the future and the potential of 3D Printing in railway sector remain impressive.