After partnering with Angel Trains, one of the UK’s leading train leasing companies, in December 2018, Stratasys has announced it is ready to move ahead to trial the first 3D printed parts on British passenger trains. The trial will be conducted in collaboration with Angel Trains, engineering consultancy DB ESG and train operator Chiltern Railways.
The trial consists of deploying a series of 3D printed components on passenger trains operated by Chiltern Railways, including four passenger armrests and seven grab handles. At this stage, Stratasys has already reported positive results of the trial and expects 3D printing to become more commonplace in the transport and railways industries.
One of the key advantages of adopting 3D printing in the railway sector is that it offers the ability to produce replacement parts on the fly, which can lead to shorter downtimes for train maintenance. Today, the focus is on using 3D printing to produce non-critical parts—such as handles, coat hooks, etc.—which are either obsolete or would be challenging and expensive to manufacture as a one-off component.
“In recent times, we’ve seen growing concern amongst operators that sourcing replacement parts for older train fleets at a reasonable cost and in a short timeframe is proving increasingly difficult,” said James Brown, Data and Performance Engineer at Angel Trains. “The problem is that traditional manufacturing methods only make it cost-effective to produce high volumes of spare parts, even though an operator may only need a few obsolete train parts replaced.
“In addition, lead times can take months. This is why we have teamed up with DB ESG and Stratasys, showing how operators can overcome these hurdles by using 3D printing to produce the exact amount of parts they need at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional methods.”
The collaboration between Stratasys and Angel Trains has already shown promise. The production of the 3D printed armrest, for instance, only took a week, which marks a 94% decrease from using conventional manufacturing methods. Brown believes that savings of up to 50% per part can be achieved with 3D printing.
The grab handle presented its own challenges: the replacement part was obsolete and the original supplier had gone out of business. Going the traditional route would have required the production of a new manufacturing tool, which could incur costs of up to £15,000 and lead times of two and a half months. By using Stratasys’ FDM 3D printing, however, all seven handles needed for the trains were produced in just three weeks and for a significantly lower cost.
“This is an exciting time for the UK rail industry,” added Brown. “With this technology, train operators can be much more responsive to replacing passenger-facing parts that get damaged or vandalized. A 3D printed replacement part can be produced on-demand and installed immediately.
“With low-volume production now achievable, we’re also starting to explore how we can leverage 3D printing to customize interiors that are better suited to the passenger commute. For example, we’ve tested 3D printing seat back tables with braille informing the passenger that the toilet is ten rows back from that particular seat. This level of customization is unprecedented and can only be enabled by 3D printing, offering the potential to significantly improve both the servicing of trains and the passenger experience in the future.”
Up to code
The parts that were installed as part of the trial were 3D printed using Stratasys’ Fortus 450mc Production 3D printer and ULTEM 9085 resin, which passed the rail industry’s fire, smoke and toxicity standards. The material used is reportedly the first 3D printing material to comply with the UK rail industry standard EN45545-2.
“Achieving certification removes a major barrier that has prevented more widespread implementation of 3D printing across UK trains,” said Martin Stevens, Mechanical Engineering Manager at DB ESG. “Our role in this project has been to investigate the design, production and finishing of FDM parts, verifying whether the parts comply with rail standards and checking whether they work in the operating environments. We have also optimised the component design of FDM manufacture.”
Phil Andrews, Interim Engineering Director at Chiltern Railways, added: “With much of our fleet approaching 30 years old, it’s vital that we can source the parts we need as quickly as possible. This trial will play a part in maintaining our industry-leading customer satisfaction scores and ensure our train interiors are maintained to the highest standards.”
Considering the success of the trial so far, Stratasys, Angel Trains and DB ESG are pleased to have a repeatable process for 3D printing compliant parts for passenger trains. The feedback from train operators has also been overwhelmingly positive, which is leading the consortium to plan another trial with Great Western Railway, which will install a number of 3D printed components onto trains in the coming months.
“Having successfully proven the viability of 3D printed parts within trains in the UK, the impact on the traditional rail industry supply chain can be transformative,” concluded Yann Rageul, Head of Strategic Accounts for EMEA at Stratasys. “Train operators can eradicate the issues associated with physical inventories by building a library of digital inventory that can be 3D printed as and when they need it, wherever they need and in the exact quantity required. We are witnessing a new era of true on-demand production with no waste.”
A number of railway operators and companies around Europe are investigating the potential benefits of additive manufacturing in train maintenance. Over the past couple of years, Deutsche Bahn has integrated 3D printing into its operations, Dutch railways company NS has already deployed trains with 3D printed components and Siemens Mobility GmbH opened its first digital rail maintenance center with 3D printing almost exactly one year ago.