Deutsche Bahn (DB) has achieved a milestone in its adoption of 3D printing technology, reaching the production mark of 100,000 spare parts. According to the German railway company, it demonstrates that 3D printing is “transforming train maintenance”.
Deutsche Bahn started with 3D printing in 2015 with simple spare parts like a plastic coat hook. Now, the 100,000th part has been produced, which happens to be a gear housing for shunting locomotives, cast in a 3D-printed mold. With its substantial volume of nearly one cubic meter and weight of 570 kilograms, the gear housing stands as the largest and heaviest part produced using 3D printing so far by the German railway company, which calls itself the world leader in 3D printing for the railway industry. The 100,000 parts have been used for over 500 different applications.
Traditionally, obtaining a part like the gear housing through conventional procurement methods would entail long delivery times at the manufacturer averaging ten months, says DB. Therefore, the company opted for a more efficient approach by employing 3D printing technology, significantly reducing the delivery time to a mere two months. Using an indirect 3D printing process called binder jetting, the gearbox housing is made by combining a powdered starting material with a liquid binding agent to form the mold into which the gearbox housing is later cast.
The gearbox housing is part of DB’s digital warehouse, which is constantly growing. The database contains virtual technical drawings of spare parts. If required, these parts can then be produced quickly and easily using 3D printers, ‘with the click of a mouse’. Currently, around 1,000 virtual models are stored in the digital warehouse. By 2030, DB plans to have increased this to 10,000 different components.
According to DB, this saves logistics space, storage costs, shortens delivery times and logistics chains and thus creates independence. “3D printing is transforming maintenance”, says Daniela Gerd tom Markotten, DB Board Member for Digitisation and Technology. “In times of global supply bottlenecks and raw material shortages, 3D printing is more important than ever.” Using the 3D printing method is also more sustainable, according to DB. Shorter distances and smaller physical warehouses reduce CO2 emissions and waste of resources through superfluous inventories. In addition, 3D printing in itself saves resources, because only the raw material actually required is used in production.
DB uses its own printers and partner network for production. At the end of 2016, the railway company launched the “Mobility goes Additive” network. More than 140 companies – from users, printing press manufacturers and print service providers to universities and start-ups – are now working together here to jointly promote innovations. Various printing processes are used, including material extrusion, the powder bed process and binder jetting.
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