While much of the focus of industrial additive manufacturing is on the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors, there is another industry that is chugging along with its adoption of 3D printing: the rail industry. Today, the intersection between AM and the railway sector has been further reinforced, as Angel Trains, a leading train leasing company in the UK, has announced a partnership with ESG Rail and 3D printing company Stratasys.
Working together, the three parties will manufacture four fully approved 3D printed components for a train’s interior. The parts in question include an arm rest, a grab handle, electrical connection covers and a seat back table, all of which will be installed in select passenger trains and trialled in 2019.
The 3D printed train components were designed specifically for additive manufacturing and have been printed using Stratasys’ FDM technology and high-performance materials, including Stratasys’ PEKK-based Antero 800 NA. In comparison to more commonly used thermoplastics, these high-performance materials have demonstrated superior mechanical properties and fire resistance, complying with industry requirements (specifically Rail Standard EN45545-2).
The parts printed by Angel Trains have also successfully undergone structural testing by ESG Rail using 3D printed tooling and rail-certified thermoplastics. ESG Rail is a UK-based subsidiary of German railway leader Deutsche Bahn and provides strategic advice, technical consultancy and technology integration services to railway companies.
“This exciting industry-first collaboration has the potential to transform manufacturing within the rail industry,” said Mark Hicks, Technical Director at Angel Trains. “We are proud to be driving this innovation with ESG Rail and Stratasys and hope that this solution will help to free the industry from technological constraints, and allow our trains to continue to meet passengers’ needs now and in the future.”
Angel Trains is not the first railway company to explore the use of 3D printing. In the past couple of years, Deutsche Bahn has also begun leveraging the technology for its operations, while Dutch railway company NS recently announced it had deployed trains with 3D printed parts. This past September, Siemens Mobility GmbH, the mobility solutions division of Siemens AG, announced the opening of its first digital rail maintenance center.
These companies have been attracted to additive manufacturing for its potential to rapidly iterate replacement parts, especially for train components that may be obsolete. This application also enables train operators to keep vehicles in passenger service for longer and reduce maintenance down times. Other benefits—also exploited in other industries—include the ability to create small series parts on-demand, thus reducing the need for large inventories and expensive warehousing.
“With the highest level of repeatability in the industry and advanced, rail-certified, materials, we believe our FDM additive manufacturing solutions offer huge potential to replace traditional manufacturing for a diverse range of applications within the rail industry,” added Yann Rageul, Manager, Strategic Account Team EMEA, Stratasys. “This collaboration will help us to explore how we can support rail companies, such as Angel Trains, to produce parts on-demand—both cost-effectively and efficiently—eradicating the need for obsolete inventory and improving their ability to service customers.”