Thursday, October 18, 2018

Siemens Rail Service Cuts Part Time by 95% with 3D Printing

Siemens has opened its first “digital maintenance center” in Dortmund-Eving, Germany. Dubbed the Siemens Mobility RRX Rail Service Center, the maintenance depot aims to have the “highest level of digitalization in the rail industry.” To achieve this, the company has deployed Stratasys fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printers.

Siemens is expecting about 100 trains to pull into the depot on a monthly basis. In order to make repairs quickly, the company has purchased a Stratasys 450mc Production 3D printer. According to Siemens Mobility, the ability to 3D print replacement parts and tooling on-demand has cut fabrication time by up to 95 percent. At the same time, the company is able to create these parts internally and handle jobs in a flexible manner.

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Michael Kuczmik, head of Additive Manufacturing, Siemens Mobility GmbH, said in a press release that the use of 3D printing “[enables] us to optimize spare parts for longer life cycles, at reduced cost and in shorter timeframes than ever before.” Additionally, any last-minute jobs can be tackled through the ability to produce parts on-demand, including one-off, custom parts.

 In the past, customized, one-off parts were not financially viable and, so, Siemens would cast large volumes of parts, leaving the company with a number of unused parts. In addition to wasting material and money, this process might take Siemens six weeks to accomplish. With 3D printing, such spare parts can be made in just 13 hours, according to the company.

In addition to replacement parts, Siemens is also creating 3D-printed tooling. For instance, the team is 3D printing a connector tool used for train chassis (known as “bogies”). This tooling is difficult to produce using traditional methods due to its complex geometry and customization. Because bogies weigh several tons, the Siemens Mobility team used Stratasys’ aerospace-grade ULTEM 9085 thermoplastic, known for its strength and resistance to wear.
This is not the only instance of 3D printing in use by the rail industry. Dutch train company Nederlandse Spoorwegen has 3D printed 20 train parts that are on trains in current use. The company plans to produce 50 more 3D-printed train parts by the end of 2018. German railway company Deutsche Bahn has actually led the way in 3D printing spare parts. It began its 3D printing project in 2016, producing at least 1,000 parts in early 2017 and setting a goal of producing 2,000 parts by the end of the year. By the end of 2018, Deutsche Bahn hopes to 3D print 15,000 spare parts.

Regardless of who was first, 3D printing is proving itself quite useful in railway applications, as most recently demonstrated by Siemens here. By using the technology to produce spare parts, it’s possible to get trains up and running much more quickly, while also reducing spare part inventories that can lead to wasted materials.