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.
3D printing means 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.
The growth potential for 3D printing for us at DB is huge. We have already printed a wide range of (replacement) parts, more than 7,000, from many 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.