3D printing, the highly versatile and adaptable technology that can quickly create exact replicas of three-dimensional components, is again being harnessed by the rail industry. One the UK’s largest train leasing companies is using the printing technology to produce parts for its rolling stock, manufacturing four interior components that include armrests, grab handles and seat tables. They will be trialled across its fleet next year.
The latest Angel Trains agreement has been made possible thanks to a collaboration with the 3D printing company, Stratasys, and engineering consultants, ESG Rail, a division of the DB Group.
The use of 3D printing is particularly suitable for the rail industry, due to the fact that the parts can be produced at very short notice and to exact specifications, improving lead times and keeping trains in service for longer. Also known as additive engineering, the printers are much more compact that than the traditional production presses that came before them, often inhibiting the same space as an office printer that opens the possibility of train operating companies (TOCs) housing them at their own depots.
Stratasys is no stranger to the rail industry – the company has already worked with Siemens Mobility to create parts using 3D printing technology, producing parts in 13 hours that would previously have taken six weeks, said Stratasys in relation to that agreement.
The aim of the Angel Trains deal is to address the issue of obsolete parts, in turn reducing whole life rolling stock costs and allowing TOCs to reproduce the specific parts they need. The latest printing process also uses a new variety of thermoplastics, according to ESG Rail, which actually improves performance and makes them safer. Previously, the thermoplastics used had poor mechanical properties and fire performance, whereas Stratasys’ PEKK-based alternative is fully compliant to the latest rail standards.
Mark Hicks, technical director at Angel Trains, said it had the potential to “transform manufacturing” for rail, freeing the rail industry from the technological constraints that were in place before. Stratasys’ strategic account manager, Yann Rageul, said the latest deal that the potential to replace traditional manufacturing processes: “This collaboration will help us to explore how we can support rail companies to produce parts on-demand, eradicating the need for obsolete inventory.”
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