3D printed parts used on UK passenger trains for first time

Replacement armrests and grab handles have been 3D printed for use on Chiltern Railways London-Birmingham services, with huge time savings compared with traditional manufacturing methods.

Equipment provided by US-based 3D printing company Stratasys can make an armrest in just a week, compared with the usual time of around four months.

3D printed grab handles

When it comes to a grab handle, manufacturing costs drop significantly from the standard £15,000 and production goes from 2.5 months to about three weeks.

Data And Performance Engineer James Brown, of leasing firm Angel Trains, says: “In recent times, we’ve seen growing concern among operators that sourcing replacement parts for older train fleets at a reasonable cost and in a short time frame is proving increasingly difficult.

“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.”

It is hoped that 3D printing could make the replacement of train parts a far more ‘on-demand’ experience for rail companies, especially when responding to vandalism.

The techniques used by Stratasys have been approved for use in the UK by engineering consultancy DB ESG, which made sure they met industry fire, toxicity and smoke standards.

Great Western Railway will be the next franchise to take part in the scheme and hopes to install 3D printed parts on a selection of its trains before the end of the year.

Not content with just armrests and grab handles, the possibility of 3D printing seat-back tables is also being explored.

Tests have already been carried out on 3D print seat-back tables with braille, designed to inform the passenger how far away from the on-board toilet they are.

Yann Rageul, of Stratasys, says 3D printing could have a “transformative” impact on the UK rail industry.

“Train operators can eradicate the issues associated with physical inventories by building a library of digital inventory that can be 3D printed as and when they need it,” he says.

“We are witnessing a new era of true on-demand production with no waste.”

Find out more: www.stratasys.com

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