3D printer for sustainable and efficient spare parts production

Getriebegehäuse - im indirekten 3D-Druck gefertigt

3D printer for sustainable and efficient spare parts production

DB Cargo benefits from an ever-expanding digital spare parts warehouse.

In recent years, various global events have shone a spotlight on the fragility of global supply chains. If we take, for example, the war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic or the stranded container ships in the Suez Canal, the impact on the economy has been immense, with companies experiencing difficulties due to a lack of raw materials or a shortage of components, among other things. 

Deutsche Bahn takes spare parts production into its own hands

Spare parts deliveries are very important for Deutsche Bahn and its subsidiaries. If a component is unavailable or its delivery date is several months away, locomotives or freight wagons may be stuck in the sidings in the worst-case scenario, creating a problem for both Deutsche Bahn and its customers. But now there's another option: the rail company can take matters into its own hands and produce some of the spare parts in house. All this needs is a 3D printer and the right blueprint.

BR29x gear case at the vehicle maintenance depot in Dessau – manufactured using rapid casting in indirect 3D printing

3D printers instead of storage

DB Cargo is one of the companies benefitting from the in-house production of spare parts. Its digital warehouse already contains more than 1,000 blueprints for small parts such as axlebox covers as well as large components like gear cases for shunting locomotives. By 2030, this number will increase to approximately 10,000 blueprints, further reducing the company's reliance on external spare parts procurement. However, being self-sufficient in terms of spare parts procurement is not the only benefit of 3D printing technology:

  • Fast availability: It often takes several months for a spare part to be delivered. Using an in-house 3D printer to produce spare parts reduces this waiting time significantly. Sometimes, the spare part is out of production or out of stock with the supplier. If, however, the print template is available, the right part can be produced quickly.
  • Sustainability: Using a 3D printer to produce spare parts also makes sense from a sustainability perspective, as it uses only the quantity of feedstock needed. In conventional production, the parts are milled out of a block, which creates a lot of waste. CO2 emissions are also lower thanks to shorter transport distances and the use of smaller physical warehouses.

Part number 100,000 for DB Cargo

More than 100,000 components have been printed to date. Part number 100,000 was a gear case for a shunting locomotive – a vital spare part measuring 1 cubic metre and weighing 570 kilogrammes. Conventional procurement would have taken approximately ten months. However, the replica created using the 3D printer was ready to install after just two months, ensuring that the shunting locomotive made a faster return to service.