Siemens taps 3D printing at first digital rail maintenance centre

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Photo by Siemens Mobility GmbH The Siemens Mobility RRX Rail Service Center is Siemens' first digital rail maintenance center, with Stratasys FDM 3D printing at the heart of its servicing operation

Siemens Mobility GmbH, part of Siemens AG, has opened its first digital rail maintenance centre in Dortmund-Eving, Germany, with an advanced 3D printing system at the heart of the depot’s servicing operation.

Using FDM 3D printing from Stratasys, the Siemens Mobility RRX Rail Service Centre, has eliminated the need for inventory of selected spare parts and reduced the manufacturing time of these parts by up to 95%, Stratasys announced 19 Sept. 

The service centre is expecting around a hundred trains to enter the depot every month and to respond to the level of throughput, has invested in a Stratasys Fortus 450mc production 3D Printer to produce replacement parts and tooling on-demand. 

“We believe our RRX Rail Service Centre is the most advanced train maintenance centre in the world,” says Michael Kuczmik, head of additive manufacturing, Siemens Mobility GmbH, customer service.

According to Kuczmik, the digital technologies employed at the centre can “significantly increase” the efficiency of the rail operations.

Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing plays an integral role by allowing Siemens to optimise spare parts for longer life cycles, at reduced cost and in shorter timeframes.

According to Kuczmik, the ability to 3D print customised replacement parts on-demand has increased its flexibility to meet customer requirements.

“All our customers would like this process to be as quick as possible, but they still expect maximum levels of detail, safety and quality in the work we do,” explained Kuczmik.

And considering the number of different train models and companies Siemens services, a large amount of customisation is needed.

“This is where our Fortus 450mc fits in perfectly, providing us the ability to rapidly and cost-effectively produce one-off, customised production parts,” Kuczmik added.

Previously, Siemens would rely on traditional methods such as casting to meet customer demands.

The use of a 3D printer has reduced the typical 6-week manufacturing time to a “matter of hours”, explained the Siemens official.

Additionally, casting for one-off parts was financially unviable. To make it cost effective, the company had to often cast large volumes which resulted in lots of obsolete parts.

The Stratasys Fortus 450mc has enabled Siemens Mobility to reduce the manufacturing time for each replacement part by up to 95%

“Parts that took 6 weeks, can now be produced in 13 hours. Within a week, we can iterate and optimise the design and then 3D print a final, customised production-grade part,” said Tina Eufinger, business development additive manufacturing, Siemens Mobility Division. 

In addition to replacement parts, the company is using 3D printing to increase its tooling capabilities.

One such example is an essential ‘connector’ tool that is used to maintain train bogies (the chassis or framework that carries the wheelset).

Tools for this application are notoriously hard to produce via conventional methods, as they have extremely complex shapes and require a high-level of customisation. In addition, bogies weigh several tonnes, therefore tough and durable materials are required to withstand the significant forces when the vehicle is moving or braking.

Siemens is now using its 3D printer to turn around one-off tools customised to each bogie within hours.

To meet the demanding material characteristics required, the team is using industrial-grade Ultem 9085 thermoplastic material by SABIC.

“Well-manufactured connectors are essential tools for the effective and safe maintenance of bogies, therefore finding additive manufacturing materials strong enough to withstand such pressures has been an important exercise,” explained Kuczmik. 

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