3D printing: Science fiction or reality?

23. 05. 2019

3D printers are no longer news. But did you know that more than a thousand spare parts have already been printed and installed in rail vehicles? What almost sounds like science fiction is actually a reality at Rail Cargo Group and a big step forward into the digital age.

Optimised rail vehicle maintenance is the key to higher availability of rolling stock as well as maximum customer satisfaction and the utmost reliability in rail operations. High efficiency standards and ever-changing market and customer requirements coupled with more innovative technological possibilities are leading to more and more new maintenance and manufacturing methods.

For instance, additive manufacturing, i.e. 3D printing, is regarded as a key technology of the digital industry and one that is opening up entirely new possibilities sometimes not offered by traditional methods. For example, items such as tools, aids and even components can be self-produced immediately where needed, even if the spare parts are no longer available. Not only are older parts replaced with new parts, maintenance work is optimised, and the energy efficiency of railways is improved with new materials and optimised spare part design.

3D printing is spreading throughout Europe

Lightweight construction and optimised functions – such as at TransANT – are becoming more and more important in rail transport. As such, additive manufacturing, i.e 3D printing, is becoming more and more significant to us. ÖBB have already been using 3D printing for years for the same reason.

More than a thousand parts have already been printed and installed by ÖBB-Technische Services.

More than a thousand parts have already been printed and installed by ÖBB Technische Services – our indispensable partner for rail vehicle maintenance. This is a topic that relates not just to the Austrian rail system, but one which is already attracting attention Europe-wide. For instance, leading European railways recently signed a joint declaration on enhanced cooperation in the field of additive manufacturing, with the aim of further enhancing and promoting material development, research and collaboration with industry. This is testament to the fact that only by working together to promote and strengthen rail freight transportation can we make it more attractive. The aim is to boost the modal share of rail freight transportation to 30 % by 2030 – and this across Europe.

What exactly is 3D printing?

3D printing is a manufacturing process whereby a special printing machine is used to apply material layer on top of layer to create three-dimensional objects.