Deutsche Bahn Expands Spare Part Production with 3D Printers

Deutsche Bahn is using 3D printers to print more and larger spare parts

Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned transport company in Germany, is increasingly turning to 3D printing for its spare parts needs. What started with a coat hook in 2015 has grown to approximately 100,000 components from the printer. These include large parts that weigh more than 500 kg. However, the challenge is not so much the printing or the number of parts, but the digitization of the construction plans, which is necessary for 3D printing.

Therefore, DB is now setting up a database where digital images of the required components are stored. Currently, the database contains about 1,000 components, and by 2030, this is expected to grow to 10,000 parts, which would be around 10% of the components needed for the maintenance of all vehicles. With this “digital warehouse,” spare parts can be produced at the push of a button, saving time, costs, and resources.

Daniela Gerd tom Markotten, DB’s board member responsible for digitization and technology, explains that 3D printing helps avoid supply bottlenecks and long delivery times. For instance, a gearbox for a shunting locomotive could take ten months to deliver, but through digital production, the delivery time can be reduced to just two months. Unlike the traditional machining process, spare parts are not milled from a large block of metal, which saves resources.

According to DB, the railway operates its printers, but it mostly relies on a network of more than 140 partner companies. Meanwhile, printing large and operationally relevant parts is becoming increasingly common, demonstrating that 3D printing is a viable option for the transportation industry.

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