Our trains are made up of many individual components, many of which are unique. It often takes a lot of time and materials to keep small quantities of them available. We have found a solution to this in 3D printing, which enables us to work more efficiently and with fewer resources.
In this computer-based procedure, the original component is first measured or scanned and then converted to digital data. The part is built up layer by layer, of either plastic or metal.
A powder-fed process is normally employed for small components with finer structures. The powder is melted on at the desired sites, layer by layer, using a laser beam. This process is repeated hundreds or thousands of times depending on the size of the component. Alternatively, for larger and coarser structures, metallic wire or plastic is melted and applied.
Recycling filament makes 3D printing even greener
At our maintenance depots, we are currently running to try out a new type of 3D printing using a filament – a kind of plastic thread – that is made from a 100% recyclable synthetic material. The RC material will be used for printing tools at DB. Its first application will be to create a matrix for attaching adhesive symbols in our trains. The material reduces the consumption of resources, and if we are happy with the test's results, we may soon start using it in other areas as well.
Less raw materials and fewer transport routes
But 3D printing offers even more environmental benefits. We can produce components exactly when they are needed – and in next to no time. This allows us to avoid long waiting times and to get our trains back on the tracks faster. We can use 3D printing to replace components that are no longer available, thus extending the life cycle of our assets.
As well as saving time, 3D printing also conserves valuable raw materials, as we no longer have to stock large quantities of replacement parts. We can manufacture them as and when we need them. And we use only the raw material required for the component. But not only that: we also save on transport journeys, which means reduced CO2 emissions. In the future, DB Schenker will be able to print components directly on the customer's premises, eliminating the need for shipping over long distances.
3D printing as a vocational training subject
3D printing is an integral part of vocational training at DB. Trainees at our depots learn about it during their courses. This includes working independently on designing and printing materials and equipment for everyday use.
Future technology on demand
The growth potential for 3D printing for us at DB is huge. We have already printed a wide range of (replacement) parts, more than 20,000, in 180 different areas of use, from coat hooks to handrail signs in braille to safety-critical braking components on vehicles. By using this print-on-demand process, we are making yet another important contribution to environmental protection.