Digital rail maintenance center demonstrates the increasing influence of 3D printing on modern-day manufacturing

According to press reports, Siemens Mobility GmbH opened a digital rail maintenance center in Germany that will utilize three-dimensional (3D) printing, also referred to as “additive manufacturing.” The rail center will service approximately 100 trains every month. According to Michael Kuczmik, Siemens Mobility’s head of Additive Manufacturing, the use of 3D printing will “rapidly and cost-effectively produce one-off, customized production parts.”

According to sources, the shift to 3D printing at the digital rail maintenance center eliminates “the need for inventory of selected spare parts” and “reduce{s} the manufacturing time of these parts by up to 95%.” Historically, replacement parts were procured through traditional manufacturing methods such as casting, with lead times of up to six weeks. Such procurement methods also typically required high volume orders to be cost effective, which led to unnecessarily higher inventory levels. By using the digital rail maintenance center’s technology, the same parts may now be 3D printed in 13 hours, reducing the need to maintain a significant inventory.

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Changing Track: How GE and Wabtec’s transaction will impact 3D printing and railways

What happens when two financial juggernauts in the same industry combine? It seems we are about to find out. Just a few weeks ago, it was confirmed that Wabtec Corporation is entering a definitive agreement to merge with GE Transportation, a branch of General Electric Company. This major transaction will not only boost Wabtec into a Fortune 500, global transportation leader in rail equipment, software, and services, but it will significantly influence the direction of 3D printing with regard to the railway industry as well.

3D printing has cemented itself as a core component in the evolution of railway manufacturing and equipment over the last several years, with several agencies and companies investing research and development resources into exploring further applications for the technology. The Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has integrated 3D printing technology as a cost-effective method of creating and developing parts for the train system, including the ticket gates, ticket vending machines, and even the railways themselves as well as other assets across the metro network. In 2013, rail freight operator Union Pacific (UP) began experimenting with 3D printing to create handheld automatic equipment identification (AEI) devices to ensure that rolling stock is properly tracked and assembled. UP has also implemented 3D printing processes to greatly accelerate their production cycles, with parts now able to be 3D printed within mere hours.

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