At Frankfurt this week, 3D printing giant Stratasys announced a new additive-based solution for the rail industry aimed at keeping passenger trains up and running. Aptly called the Rail Industry Solution, the offering leverages Stratasys’ Fortus 3D printers and ULTEM 9085 and Antero 800NA materials to produce spare parts for trains that meet industry standards for smoke, fire and toxicity. In fact, both materials included in the Rail Industry Solution have passed the EU’s Rail Standard EN 45545-2.
It is not news that Stratasys has its eyes set on the rail and transport industry. To date, the 3D printing company has established partnerships with Angel Trains, Bombardier Transportation, Chiltern Railways, Siemens Mobility and DB ESG. All of these customers have found additive manufacturing to be something of an ideal solution for producing spare parts for trains on demand.
In the case of Angel Trains, Stratasys and its partner recently deployed the first 3D printed parts on a passenger train in Britain.
“In industry after industry, we continue to see organizations discover how additive manufacturing improves customer service, streamlines maintenance and operating costs, and helps engineer lighter, durable products,” said Andreas Langfeld, Stratasys EMEA President. “Rail is no exception. The old model of keeping trains running through expensive physical inventory or slow and costly traditional manufacturing is being replaced by digital inventory and on-demand 3D printing. Indeed, this is exemplified by some of the biggest names in European passenger rail.”
In the rail industry, companies can lose significant amounts of money if a train is out of service. Adding to that problem is that a train can be deemed unsuitable for service even if it has just a small damaged or missing component. According to Stratasys’ AM consultancy Blueprint, a major U.S. commuter rail service can spend €18,000 every day a train is out of service. Often, it is a part worth less than €100 that is the cause of disruptions. Because trains have long service lives (35-45 years), it can sometimes be challenging to source spare parts in a time efficient manner.
For this reason, additive manufacturing is the perfect solution. Rail operators and train companies can simply 3D print spare parts on the fly and have them delivered within a day or two.
“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. “The Stratasys range of EN45545-2-compliant materials enable us to reverse-engineer parts, such as interior grab handles, with freeform curves that traditionally could only be made with casting or injection molding, without the need for expensive tooling, and with a corresponding reduction in delivery times. Stratasys’ GrabCAD Print software allows us to precisely define the printing parameters, then lock down the print file to ensure consistent parts production across multiple printing bureaus.”
The Bombardier case
One of Stratasys’ partners in the rail industry, Bombardier Transportation, has experienced tangible benefits thanks to the adoption of additive manufacturing. Thanks to 3D printing, the company has significantly accelerated part production for interior and exterior vehicle components for its trains in German-speaking countries.
Bombardier Transportation recently installed a Stratasys F900 3D printer, which has enabled it to manufacture custom parts and spare parts on demand, including a complex air vent system for a battery-powered prototype train. The part was printed from ULTEM 9085, which not only met EN45545-2 rail certification guidelines but also enabled the company to reduce the part’s weight substantially. Crucially, 3D printing also sped up the part’s production cycle.
“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.”
In addition to the F900 3D printer, Bombardier Transportation is also reportedly looking into the Stratasys’ PolyJet 3D printing technology for its design validation process. “The results we have witnessed so far have been convincing,” Bialoscek said. “Indeed, in engineering, since using 3D printing for prototyping we have reduced our design process by a massive 30-40%, while also increasing the quality of our overall designs.”