Insights from Siemens Mobility, SNCF, and CTC Airbus: The use of 3D printing in the supply chain at the AM Forum Berlin 2023.

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Supply Chain Challenges in the Railway Industry and the Role of 3D Printing

The use of 3D printing in the supply chain has been gaining traction in various industries, including automotive, mobility, and defense. This technology has revolutionized the way spare parts are manufactured and supplied, offering benefits such as cost-efficiency and faster production times. However, the railway industry presents unique challenges that need to be addressed in order to fully leverage the potential of 3D printing.

At the AM Forum Berlin 2023, experts from Siemens Mobility and SNCF shared insights into how the railway industry is utilizing 3D printing in their supply chains. Christian Ochs, the Head of Additive Manufacturing at Siemens Mobility GmbH, highlighted the importance of addressing the high-cost pressure in the railway business while ensuring the supply of high-quality and cost-efficient parts that meet varying regional norms.

Ochs emphasized the need for collaboration with customers and authorities to expedite the adoption of more economical use cases. By working together, the railway industry can identify areas where additive manufacturing can be integrated right from the design phase, taking advantage of the design freedom it offers. Ochs also mentioned that 3D printed parts can be up to 50% lighter than their traditional counterparts, enabling upgrades without adding significant weight to the trains. This not only saves costs but also eliminates the time-consuming process of obtaining new approvals.

The promise of lifetime availability for parts through 3D printing is also an exciting prospect for future railway fleets. Instead of relying on traditional manufacturing methods, which may become obsolete or experience supply chain disruptions, the railway industry can have a contingency plan by leveraging additive manufacturing for spare parts. Nonetheless, Ochs cautioned against viewing additive manufacturing as just a backup option, emphasizing the importance of incorporating it right from the beginning of the train development process to fully utilize its potential.

Siemens Mobility has already made significant progress in embracing additive manufacturing in the railway industry. They have redesigned vehicles using 3D printed parts and have segmented the vehicles into smaller components, allowing for easier replacement in case of accidents. This approach has led to reduced stock levels and improved vehicle repairs. Additionally, Siemens has embarked on serial production of 3D printed components, such as nozzles that offer better performance and are lighter than conventional parts.

On the other hand, SNCF, France’s national railway company, is also exploring the potential of 3D printing in improving performance and efficiency. Hélène Sapardanis, project manager of innovative materials and processes at SNCF, shared ongoing projects that aim to integrate 3D printing into their operations.

Despite the progress made, the railway industry still faces challenges in fully industrializing additive manufacturing for spare parts. Many existing parts were designed for conventional manufacturing methods, which may not be suitable for 3D printing. Additionally, the costs of 3D printing can be higher, necessitating a careful analysis of the benefits, such as inventory reduction and avoiding penalties due to vehicle downtime.

In conclusion, the railway industry is increasingly recognizing the potential of 3D printing in their supply chains. By collaborating with customers and authorities, leveraging design freedom, and embracing additive manufacturing right from the beginning, the industry can overcome challenges and reap the benefits of cost-efficiency, faster production times, and improved performance. As the technology continues to advance, we can expect to see more railway fleets relying on 3D printing for their spare parts needs.

railway station in Germany by 2025. This plan is part of a larger effort to embrace additive manufacturing in the railway industry and transform maintenance processes. The potential for 3D printing in this sector is substantial, with around 10% of the 200,000 spare part references being able to be produced through additive manufacturing.

One of the primary advantages of 3D printing in railway maintenance is its ability to reduce operational downtime. The production of necessary parts can be expedited, preventing delays and improving efficiency. Hélène Sapardanis from French railway company SNCF even recalls a time when a missing cap for a toilet caused a high-speed train to be held up. With 3D printing, such incidents can be avoided.

Another benefit of additive manufacturing in the railway sector is its ability to address obsolescence issues. For older trains where the original supplier may no longer be in operation, creating the required components becomes a challenge. Here, 3D printing can step in to fill the void, keeping these machines in operation.

However, there are obstacles that need to be overcome for the full integration of additive manufacturing in the railway industry. One of the challenges is the format of spare parts designs, which are mostly in 2D and not directly compatible with 3D printers. Additionally, there is a scarcity of material and process data from a user point of view, as well as stringent flame retardant requirements.

Cost is another factor that needs to be addressed. Additive manufacturing costs, especially for larger parts, remain prohibitive. This is why SNCF and its partners are working to develop new materials, increase the use of existing materials, and reduce the cost of components. The project also aims to expand the flame-retardant material portfolio in the railway sector, as currently, only one suitable material exists on the market, which is expensive.

The project has already shown promising results, with a maintenance center in Saintes, France, successfully producing parts in-house using additive manufacturing. One notable achievement is the production of two shafts weighing around 60kg each. While the exact application is still to be determined, this success highlights the potential of 3D printing in the railway industry.

However, it’s important to approach additive manufacturing with realistic expectations. Andreas Langfeld from Stratasys emphasizes the need for less hype and more focus on current use cases. Providing a full workflow solution, including software, necessary materials, and certification proofs, is crucial. Instead of aiming to produce a large percentage of parts through additive manufacturing, starting with a single part with a rapid return on investment can yield significant savings and pave the way for further adoption.

Similar challenges are faced in other industries, such as aerospace. Marc Fette, CEO of Composite Technology Center, highlights the complexity of integrating additive manufacturing in the aerospace sector and the importance of certification and qualification processes for materials, methods, and designs.

To advance additive manufacturing in the railway industry, coordination and collaboration between industry stakeholders, research institutions, and regulatory bodies are essential. By addressing the challenges and working towards feasible solutions, the railway sector can harness the full potential of 3D printing in maintenance processes and improve operational efficiency. The future of railway maintenance could be transformed with the help of additive manufacturing.

3D printing technology has been gaining significant interest and potential across various industries, including the mobility sector. The recent discussions at the AM Forum Berlin 2023 highlighted the transformative solutions offered by 3D printing, especially in sectors with complex standards and requirements. However, integrating this technology into existing processes has proven to be a challenging task.

Industry leaders are calling for a pragmatic approach to fully realize the benefits of additive manufacturing. This approach involves prioritizing real-world applications, developing workflow solutions, and addressing regulatory hurdles. It is a journey that requires continuous exploration and optimization of the technology’s potential.

One notable example of the integration of 3D printing is its implementation on a Navy ship. Instead of a one-time implementation utilizing multiple machines, it was approached as an iterative process. The crew members were trained on how to use the printers effectively, ensuring that the technology was seamlessly integrated into their operations.

The challenges of integrating 3D printing into industries are not unique to the Navy. It is a shared issue across various sectors. To overcome these challenges, a collective effort from industry stakeholders is required. This includes exploring new avenues, identifying real-world applications, and developing workflow solutions tailored to specific industries.

In recognition of the leaders and innovators in the industry, nominations are open for the 3D Printing Industry Awards. This is an opportunity to honor those individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the development and application of 3D printing technology. The awards aim to celebrate the progress and potential of additive manufacturing.

To stay updated with the latest news in the world of 3D printing, it is recommended to subscribe to the 3D Printing Industry newsletter, follow them on Twitter, or like their page on Facebook. Additionally, their Youtube channel offers discussions, debriefs, video shorts, and webinar replays to further explore the possibilities of additive manufacturing.

For those looking for job opportunities in the additive manufacturing industry, 3D Printing Jobs provides a selection of roles in the field. This is a valuable resource to connect individuals with companies that are actively involved in shaping the future of 3D printing.

In conclusion, the integration of 3D printing technology into various industries presents both opportunities and challenges. By taking a pragmatic approach, industry leaders can prioritize real-world applications, develop workflow solutions, and address regulatory hurdles. The ongoing journey to harness the full potential of additive manufacturing requires continuous exploration and optimization.

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