AM Applications: Trains


Aya Bentur  

3D printed grab handle produced by Angel Trains ESG Rail and Stratasys

Last week was Train Day, we thought we would take this opportunity to dedicate a post in our AM applications series to additively manufactured train parts. Each post in our #AMapplications series focuses on a certain additively manufactured application with one condition – it’s not experimental or a proof of concept but a part or product that is in regular production and use. When it comes to the railway industry the magnitude of AM produced parts and products is quite impressive, here’s why.

Staying Operational

Additively manufactured parts for trains answer two significant needs. First, trains are in constant use and are in regular need of replacement parts. It could be a broken armrest or a handle. Even the smallest part can render a train non-operational. According to Stratasys’ AM consultancy Blueprint, a major U.S. railway company can spend approximately $20,000 a day on an out-of-service train, and at times a part worth $100 can be the cause of it.

Stratasys and Angel Trains 3D Printed Grab Handles

There are a number of railway companies that have already incorporated AM in their spare parts operation. Angel Trains, Bombardier Transportation, Chiltern Railways, Siemens Mobility, and DB ESG all use 3D printers to additively manufacture spare parts for their trains. This is not a coincidence, 3D printer manufacturers are cultivating this sector and coming up with unique materials and solutions for it. For example, part of the Stratasys Rail Industry Solution includes specific materials (ULTEM 9085 and Antero 800NA materials) which are in line with EU’s Rail Standard EN 45545-2. “Additive manufacturing allows us to efficiently produce parts for the passenger environment that are indistinguishable from the existing parts,” said Martin Stevens, Mechanical Engineering Manager at DB ESG, a UK-based part of Deutsche Bahn. A few examples are the grab handle on Angel Trains (above), the handle produced by Angel Trains ESG Rail and Stratasys (up top), and the air vent on Bombardier Transportation trains (below). Bombardier Transportation has been able to quickly produce AM custom and spare parts for the interior and exterior of its trains, such as this air duct. “With regards to the battery train’s air duct, we were able to reduce production time from four months to roughly four weeks,” said André Bialoscek, Head of Vehicle Physical Integration at Bombardier Transportation Hennigsdorf. “That’s a resulting timesaving of nearly 77 percent. That is an incredible outcome for our department and demonstrates our ability to now produce certain parts on-demand to our exacting needs without enduring lengthy production times or compromising on material quality. Also, parts can now be replaced much quicker in the servicing of older trains.”

Customized 3D printed air vent system produced by Bombardier Transportation

The Service Ahead

The second major need in the train industry stems from the fact that a train can remain in service for 30 years or more, this means that train companies either need a guarantee that the supplier of parts stays in business and can readily produce the needed parts or they need to stock up in advance on every part and piece that might break over the span of 30 years. Keeping trains running using physical inventory is expensive, on the other hand, traditional manufacturing in real-time is slow and costly (at times even impossible). Instead, train replacement parts can be kept in the form of (digital) virtual inventory and additively manufactured on-demand, while still meeting the certification required (smoke, fire, toxicity, and so on). These specific conditions make AM all the more appealing for the railway industry. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, Siemens Mobility established the “Easy Sparovation Part” network. This initiative aims to utilize AM and virtual inventory to supply train parts, reducing the associated time and costs of conventionally manufacturing these parts. The agreement between Siemens Mobility Services and Russian railway company RZD includes providing 13 new trains and a 30-year agreement to maintain and service them, covering both today’s challenges and those in the long life span of a train (below an obsolete seat back table train part – back, and it’s AM replacement -front, Angel Trains, ESG Rail and Stratasys).

Obsolete Train Part - 3D Printed -Front - and Original Seat Back Table - Angel Trains, ESG Rail and Stratasys

The Light, the Economical and the Sustainable

But it’s not just about replacing parts, while the two needs mentioned above relate to spare parts and virtual inventory, the railway industry is also developing new parts for trains for better efficiency. (for example Mobility goes Additive stainless steel brake part for a subway train, below, which is installed and in use).

3D Printed stainless steel part installed in the brake unit of a subway train - Mobility goes Additive

Nowadays many transportation methods are striving to balance efficiency and sustainability. This is a result of taxes on CO2 emission, the rising prices of fuel as well as the ecological benefit. Wabtec, for example, has stated that they aim to reduce the environmental footprint of freight railroads while doubling fuel efficiency by 2028. In order to do so, they are upgrading their engines, using lithium-ion batteries, and implementing a new additively manufactured braking system. The system is not only 50% lighter (reducing energy consumption), it also reduces friction-related particle emissions which is said to improve air quality in closed spaces such as subway stations.

Current Times

Another reason the railway industry is happily adopting AM is the possibility to provide speedy solutions to needs that couldn’t have been foreseen. Currently, Siemens Mobility is testing additively manufactured attachment parts to reduce contact and contamination due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While many railway companies have stopped operating, for the time being, these types of solutions can speed up their return to service. 36 parts such as doorknob handles, have been manufactured for RZD, the Russian railway company, and are currently tested on trains in the Moscow region. When speaking about the new parts Siemens Mobility CEO Sabrina Soussan, said “3D printing gives us the flexibility to manufacture and replace spare parts ourselves any time in daily business. We’re using this technology now to quickly produce attachments for door handles on demand so we can meet our customers’ growing need for special health and protection measures.”

Next time you are on a train, look around you – some components could be already additively manufactured, and each one, even the smallest plastic part has a role in the overall operation of a railway company.

We’re always open to new applications – tell us about the AM applications you encountered, we’ll try to feature them here and follow us for more #AMapplications. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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