August 10, 2022

Alstom and Replique aim for mass production of rolling stock with 3D printing technology

Alstoma rolling stock manufacturer based in France, started using Replicas on-demand 3D printing services for its industrial mass production applications.

The company opted to digitize part of its supply chain, citing manufacturing flexibility, faster lead times and lower costs as key decision factors. With the help of Replique, Alstom can decentralized produce small batches of metal components for its trains, allowing the company to better meet the local needs of its customers worldwide.

Leveraging this recent partnership, Alstom has already received and installed its first set of 3D printed visible train parts: stainless steel door stops.

Ben Boese, 3D Printing Hub Manager at Alstom Transport Deutschland, said: “Additive manufacturing is now a key part of our supply chain. With Replique, we benefit from expertise in 3D printing and materials, as well as a decentralized manufacturing network covering all relevant sites and technologies. Their end-to-end services allow us to respond faster and more cost-effectively to different customer requirements. »

Alstom 3D printed stainless steel door stops. Photo via replica.

Additive manufacturing in rolling stock

In the rolling stock industry, railway systems consist of a large number of individual moving parts. Alstom, in particular, operates on a multinational scale and each of its trains has its own set of parts requirements.

With conventional manufacturing, even small batches of parts will inevitably require molds and other tools, which can lead to high initial manufacturing costs and excessively long delivery times.

Additive manufacturing can help solve these challenges, enabling cost-effective on-demand manufacturing, regardless of batch size. While this may be Alstom’s first time turning to 3D printing for mass production, the company has actually used the technology for spare part applications in the past.

“The additive manufacturing market is still very fragmented, which makes it difficult for end users to find an optimal solution for each part,” adds Boese. “With Replique, we get all the major additive manufacturing technologies and materials from a single source. In addition, we receive optimal technological preparation.

Simplify 3D printing of doorstops

As part of a customer project, Alstom required several door stops for a bulkhead to separate the first and second class of a diesel train carriage. The relatively low production volume necessitated the use of Replique’s on-demand 3D printing services, and Replique even assisted Alstom with process and material selection.

The printed parts needed to be both durable and aesthetically pleasing, as they would perform their function for the life of the train, while still being visible to passengers. The duo finally opted for FFF 3D printing with BASF Forward AM Ultrafuse 316L stainless steel filament, as this has proven to be significantly more cost effective than metal powder bed fusion. Once 3D printed, the door stops went through a process of debinding and sintering to achieve the final fully dense metal parts.

Replique managed to qualify and deliver the door stops in just 1.5 months. During this time, the construction underwent initial sample testing, assembly and final approval for series production.

“We were able to produce the doorstop at no additional cost compared to conventional methods. In the near future, we plan to further exploit the potential of the technology by creating designs optimized for the topology of new parts, or even to lighten them by using reduced infill,” concludes Boese.

The door stops after being installed.  Photo via replica.
The door stops after being installed. Photo via replica.

Alstom is not the first company to take advantage of additive manufacturing technology in the transport sector. In May, the China-based 3D printer manufacturer Eplus3D made its railroad debut with a set of custom 3D-printed brake rotors. Working closely with an unnamed railroad company, the company used its large format EP-M650 system to 3D print the end-use parts using 24CrNiMo alloy steel, which measured Φ 648 x 90 mm³ each.

Somewhere else, Kimyathe technology company’s additive manufacturing materials arm ARMOR, used 3D printing to produce an obsolete protective cover element for a railway equipment supplier. Developed in 1982, the hull mold no longer existed and the individual parts had to be completely redesigned before being 3D printed in PEEK.

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Featured image shows Alstom’s 3D printed stainless steel door stops. Photo via replica.