Deutsche Bahn (DB), Germany’s national railway company, has reached a significant 3D printing milestone, producing 100,000 spare parts. It demonstrates how 3D printing is “transforming train maintenance,” according to the German railway company.
In 2015, Deutsche Bahn began using 3D printing for simple spare parts such as a plastic coat hook. The 100,000th part has now been manufactured, which is a gear housing for shunting locomotives cast in a 3D-printed mould.
3D Printing Milestone Part
Obtaining a part like the gear housing through conventional procurement methods has traditionally resulted in long delivery times at the manufacturer averaging ten months, according to DB. As a result, the company chose a more efficient approach by utilising 3D printing technology, significantly shortening the delivery time to just two months. The gearbox housing is created using an indirect 3D printing process known as binder jetting, which involves combining a powdered starting material with a liquid binding agent to form the mould into which the gearbox housing is later cast.
The gear housing is the largest and heaviest part produced using 3D printing by the German railway company, which claims to be the world leader in 3D printing for the railway industry, with a volume of nearly one cubic metre and a weight of 570 kilogrammes. Over 500 different applications have made use of the 100,000 parts.
The gearbox housing is part of DB’s ever-expanding digital warehouse. Virtual technical drawings of spare parts are stored in the database. If necessary, these parts can be quickly and easily produced using 3D printers “with the click of a mouse.” The digital warehouse currently houses around 1,000 virtual models. DB intends to increase this to 10,000 different components by 2030.
This, according to DB, saves logistics space and storage costs, shortens delivery times and logistics chains, and creates independence.
“3D printing is transforming maintenance. In times of global supply bottlenecks and raw material shortages, 3D printing is more important than ever.”– Daniela Gerd tom Markotten, DB Board Member for Digitisation and Technology
According to DB, using 3D printing is also more environmentally friendly. Shorter distances and smaller physical warehouses reduce CO2 emissions and resource waste caused by excess inventory. Furthermore, 3D printing saves resources because only the raw materials needed for production are used.
For production, DB employs its own printers as well as a partner network. The railway company launched the “Mobility Goes Additive” network at the end of 2016. More than 140 companies, ranging from users, printing press manufacturers, and print service providers to universities and start-ups, are now collaborating to promote innovation. Material extrusion, the powder bed process, and binder jetting are among the printing processes used.
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