"With a steel frame there are only a certain number of shapes you can make. Carbon fibre is much lighter and you can put the material just where you want it,"
The UK has entered into a progressive partnership with the EU to equip the next generation of trains with state-of-the-art materials and 3D-printed components, improving train efficiency and ride quality.
Named Run2Rail, it’s hoped that the new construction will lead to reduced life cycle costs that will according to the IRR’s director, Professor Simon Iwnicki, bring about “lighter, more reliable, more comfortable and quieter rolling stock”.
The Institute of Railway Research (IRR), the rail-specific department of the University of Huddersfield, has been awarded £300,000 to develop key components made from ultra-lightweight carbon fibre that are both stronger and more simple in design that their steel equivalent. The 3D printing aspect of the 18-month project will be used for vital aspects of the train such as axle boxes and brackets for brakes, creating parts that offer a whole host of benefits over traditional materials.
“We hope that the result will be a step change in the running gear of rail vehicles. The aim is to explore the potential – and any shortcomings – of new materials,” said Iwnicki.
The EU-IRR initiative follows similar efforts from other rail industry organisations to fashion the latest materials into rail components using 3D printing techniques. Also known as additive manufacturing, in 2016 Siemens used the technique that effectively piles layer upon layer of carbon fibre onto each other to create incredibly strong three-dimensional objects. Two years prior, the German company set up the Competence Center for Additive Manufacturing facility with the specific remit of developing 3D components.
The EU project behind Run2Rail, Shift2Rail, came to being in August 2017 with the purpose of producing “dependable, sustainable, intelligent and comfortable rail vehicles”. With a funding pot of around £2.3m (€2.7m), Shift2Rail has four work packages shared by engineering companies and universities working across Europe.
Outlining the benefits of using carbon fibre composites, Iwnicki said that the materials were far more adaptable than steel. “With a steel frame there are only a certain number of shapes you can make. Carbon fibre is much lighter and you can put the material just where you want it, which makes it lighter still.” Hubs and axles will continue to be made from steel, however, as the risks aren’t yet fully understood, said Iwnicki.
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