High-Level Railway Component Specifications Using a Large 3D Printer

Additive Manufacturing for Mobility: Deutsche Bahn with NOWLAB

In every industry, additive manufacturing (AM) is having a profound impact upon production activities. The rail transport industry is no exception, requiring components which meet high-level specifications. Different industries are being affected in different ways, however.

With a staff of 300,000 people who operate rail and logistics tasks in more than 130 countries, Deutsche Bahn (DB) is one of the world’s largest transport companies. As this company’s strength in the market is dependent upon its technological innovation, DB has quickly made note of Additive manufacturing’s importance and has taken action in two ways.

DB initiated “Mobility Goes Additive” in September 2016, a network aimed at uniting organizations for the development of AM solutions in the mobility and logistics sectors. The company had already been aiming to bring this technology’s value to its operations. The establishment of this network simply developed this project further.

As DB’s rolling stock is quite old, 3D scanning and 3D printing seemed to be the easiest way of making spares of train parts which had become obsolete. Often, 3D printing can be the cheapest manufacturing solution for small-batch or single-unit production.

Finally, fewer excess parts are required if spare parts can be produced at short notice. This enables storage facilities to be reduced, while minimizing unnecessary production.

BigRep for Large-Scale and Materials Innovation

Deutsche Bahn undertook an inventory of the need for spare parts within their infrastructure, trains, and stations, seeking to highlight as many uses for AM as possible. DB proposed a partnership with BigRep for the production of a specific category of end-use spare parts, as a result of BigRep’s track record of developing innovative 3D printer filaments and the size of its industrial 3D printers.

As a result of their proximity to transport users, the rail parts in question are subject to strict EU norms. Brickwede outlines the context, "We need very special materials, which have to be flame retardant. Our requirements concerning flame retardancy are very high. Therefore, we contacted BigRep as we wanted to create a new material which might be an alternative to the existing materials.”

BigRep was excited about this vital, trailblazing project, so they assigned NOWLAB to lead the work. In constant pursuit of new ways to shape and scale additive manufacturing for bespoke industrial use cases, NOWLAB is the innovation and research hub within BigRep.

The team of experts within NOWLAB aims to create custom industrial application solutions with the use of patent-owned, cutting-edge production processes and methods. NOWLAB is an important player in the research sphere, leading BigRep’s project of discovering the future of industrial products and manufacturing. A key aspect of this project is the development of D3 printer materials.

BigRep and DB are tackling this challenge using two activities in parallel. The first of these is the development of an initial test-run component. A relatively large, polymer headrest appeared necessary, as the relevant category contains several non-structural rail carriage components.

BigRep has produced numerous prototypes for this spare part using CAD files supplied by DB. BigRep’s ONE large-format industrial 3D printer has been able to deliver examples which have correct specifications in terms of surface finish, structure, and form.

The second of these methods is represented by the development of fire-retardant 3D printer filament material.

Adding New Value

The partnership which has been developing between BigRep and DB is very promising. If this project is successful, many spare parts from across DB’s mobility and logistics operations may well become printable using BigRep 3D printers.

There is also the possibility of these two companies collaborating further. Increased innovation in 3D printer materials may lead to additional spare parts becoming suitable for 3D printing.

In a separate field, the two companies have already collaborated in order to print design prototypes for a new rail signal part. This demonstrates the specific impact of additive manufacturing on the mobility and logistics sectors.

DB aimed to print 2,000 spares in 3D throughout 2017, aiming for numerous times that in 2018. Alongside this, Mobility Goes Active is still looking at 3D-printing applications for new parts, prototypes, and tools with complicated geometries.

This project demonstrates that BigRep, a global leader in large-format industrial 3D printer technology, is well positioned to play a greater part in the sector, as it increasingly uses additive manufacturing methods.

In order to aid specific clients and the industries around them to utilize the maximum potential of this technology, BigRep provides its unique technology as well as a commitment to engaging with the most difficult challenges. During this process, NOWLAB's  value in terms of bringing expert support to all kinds of clients has been demonstrated. They help clients develop 3D printer materials and realize the potential benefits of AM.

Ultimately, both DB and BigRep are aware that the 3D printer materials they are co-operating to develop may be applied in areas beyond DB’s rail spare parts requirements. Other companies within the sectors of logistics and mobility face similar challenges from flame retardancy norms, and they are certain to take an interest in the new opportunities this technology would offer.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by BigRep.

For more information on this source, please visit BigRep.

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