100,000 spare parts produced: 3D printing success causes big media response

Article: 100,000 spare parts produced: 3D printing success causes big media response

In 2015, it all started with simple spare parts like a plastic coat hook. Today, 3D printing, a flagship project of DB Fahrzeuginstandhaltung, is transforming maintenance. The news that Deutsche Bahn has reached the mark of 100,000 printed spare parts caused a big echo in numerous media over the last few days.

In May, the time had come: DB reached the mark of 100,000 spare parts produced with 3D printing technology. This announcement also caused a big echo outside of the railway: dozens of media, numerous newspapers, various online portals and the trade press picked up on the topic.

The one hundred thousandth part is a gearbox housing for BR 29x shunting locomotives. With a volume of almost one cubic metre and a weight of 570 kilograms, it is the largest and at the same time the heaviest part that the company has produced using additive manufacturing. In June, it will be on display for the first time in its original size at the DB stand at the GreenTech Festival in Berlin. The spare part is indispensable for the operation of the shunting locomotive - without the gearbox housing, the vehicle is at a standstill. In the future, around 370 locomotives will benefit from the speed of the new process, can be repaired more quickly and can be used in shunting operations again. On the conventional procurement route, the part would only have been available from the locomotive manufacturer with long delivery times of ten months on average.

By opting for a replica using 3D printing technology, DB has reduced the delivery time to two months. The new gearbox housing is manufactured in an indirect 3D printing process using binder jetting technology. In this process, a powdery starting material is combined with a liquid binder to form the mould into which the gearbox housing is later cast. Another advantage of indirect 3D printing: with this procedure, the component remains in its original manufacturing mode, as only the mould for the cast component is printed - this often makes extensive approval processes obsolete and is easy on the wallet.

3D printing transforms maintenance

The gearbox housing is part of the digital warehouse that DB is continuously expanding. Virtual technical drawings of spare parts are stored in the database. These parts can then be produced quickly and easily at the click of a mouse using 3D printers. This saves logistics space as well as storage costs, shortens delivery times and thus creates independence from supply chains that can be affected by global crises or even raw material shortages. DB is thus also participating in more sustainability. Shorter distances and smaller physical warehouses avoid CO2 emissions and waste of resources due to superfluous inventories. In addition, 3D printing saves resources. This is because only the raw material that is actually needed is used in production. This is more economical than so-called "machining" processes, in which parts are milled out of a block. In addition, 3D printing extends the life cycles of the vehicles. This is because DB can use it to produce components that are no longer available from the manufacturer. Daniela Gerd tom Markotten, DB Board Member for Digitalisation and Technology, concludes: "3D printing is transforming maintenance. It saves time, costs and resources because we can produce spare parts virtually at the touch of a button through a 'digital warehouse' and do not need large inventories. In times of global supply shortages and raw material shortages, 3D printing is more important than ever."

1,000 models in the digital warehouse

DB is the world leader in 3D printing for the rail industry. What began in 2015 with simpler spare parts such as a plastic coat hook has now developed into 100,000 parts for over 500 different applications. More and more of these are relevant to operations. Among them are steel parts such as wheelset bearing covers for shunting locomotives, a box gate for ICE trains or the gearbox housing of shunting locomotives. Currently, about 1,000 virtual models are stored in the digital warehouse. By 2030, around 10,000 different components are to be stored in this way. DB uses its own printers and its partner network for production. At the end of 2016, the Group launched the "Mobility goes Additive" network. More than 150 companies - from users, printing machine manufacturers and printing service providers to universities and start-ups - are now working together here to jointly drive forward innovations and break down the barriers in industrial 3D printing specifically for railway and medical technology.

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