Having announced their partnership with Stratasys late last year, Angel Trains, one of the UK’s leading train leasing companies, has now moved towards installing 3D printed parts on British passenger trains.
The trial was conducted in tandem with an engineering consultancy firm, DB ESG, and train operator, Chiltern Railways, and saw the deployment of 3D printed armrests (four) and grab handles (seven) on passenger trains operated by the latter.
The key reason behind the adoption of 3D printing in the railway industry stems from the fact that it can produce replacement parts on demand, which in turn leads to a shorter downtime for maintenance.
This is particularly crucial for Chiltern Railways as much of its fleet strength is approaching 30 years old, and it’s vital to source the required parts to maintain the highest standards possible.
The initial trial focused on non-critical parts such as handles, coat hooks, etc., – which could in one case be obsolete or prove to be challenging/expensive to manufacture as one-off components.
“The problem is that traditional manufacturing methods only make it cost-effective to produce high volumes of spare parts, even though an operator may only need a few obsolete train parts replaced. In recent times, we’ve seen growing concern amongst operators that sourcing replacement parts for older train fleets at a reasonable cost and in a short timeframe are proving increasingly difficult,” said James Brown, Data and Performance Engineer at Angel Trains.
The trial has already shown much promise with a 3D printed armrest taking just a week to produce and represented a 94%-time reduction as compared to using traditional manufacturing.
In addition, they also met with a challenge in producing the grab handle as the replacement place was obsolete and the original supplier was no longer in operation. Costs of up to £15,000 and 2 ½ months of lead time were expected if a new manufacturing tool was needed using traditional manufacturing methods, but FDM 3D printing meant that all seven handles could be produced in just 3 weeks and for significantly lower costs.
The parts were 3D printed with an F450mc 3D printer using ULTEM 9085 resin, which has passed the rail industry’s fire, smoke and toxicity standards. The resin is also the first 3D printing material to comply with the UK rail industry standard EN45545-2, which is particularly important in enabling more widespread implementation of 3D printing across UK trains.
With only positive news, the impact on the traditional rail industry supply chain is set to be transformative with true on-demand production. Parts can be printed as and when is needed from a digital inventory in the exact quantity required, with little to no material wastage, and installed immediately.
Angel Trains is now working on 3D printing back seat tables with braille, that informs the passenger that the toilet is ten rows back from that particular seat. This level of customization is something that can only be done with 3D printing, and could potentially improve train servicing and passenger experience.
The consortium will next plan for a similar trial with Great Western Railway, having achieved a repeatable process for 3D printing compliant parts for passenger trains.