Stratasys announced their “Rail Industry Solution” as an official product.
We’ve been long awaiting this development, as it has taken Stratasys several years of effort working with rail operators to develop the solution, which is composed of process, equipment and materials.
Digital Inventory Concept
The digital inventory concept is very powerful, and in its simplest form means that spare parts are stored as CAD models, not as physical objects. When required, they are 3D printed on demand and ready for use.
The benefits of digital inventory are truly massive. First, there is the issue of part storage. For the rail industry, rail cars may be in use for decades. During initial manufacturing, you’d have to make as many spare parts as could be expected to be used over the lifetime of the car. That could be thousands and thousands of parts, all of which would have to be stored, cataloged and retrieved. Expensive! Meanwhile, the entire digital inventory can be stored for literally no cost.
Secondly, as spare parts become scared during the latter years of the rail car’s lifecycle, there are delays in getting replacement parts when supplies run out. Often they have to be re-designed and re-built, leaving rail cars out of service for long periods. This is not good, as the lost opportunity cost is around US$20K per day of outage. If a digital inventory can produce a spare part in a day or two, then there are considerable savings.
Digital Inventory Process
While it may seem like an obvious thing to do, it is most definitely not.
Parts have to be made to meet the original mechanical, chemical and thermal design specifications for traditionally made parts. The materials they are made from meet certification standards for use in public applications. The digital designs for each part must be obtained, cataloged and made accessible. The optimal print parameters must be identified and tagged onto the digital inventory for use when being printed. The entire process must be able to be repeated perfectly each time. Finally, the end-to-end operational procedures for doing all this must be created and distributed to all participants.
It’s a huge process, but one with spectacular benefits for companies that undertake the digital inventory approach.
Bombardier Digital Inventory
One of them has been Bombardier in Germany, where they have been using Stratasys’ new Rail Industry Solution to develop parts for their products.
André Bialoscek, Head of Vehicle Physical Integration at Bombardier Transportation, explains:
“Our goal during the development process for new trains is to speed up the production of project-specific parts that take a while to design. While accelerating production, we still need to ensure that total functionality, safety and repeatability are upheld. With our F900 3D Printer, we are able to do all those things – it has been a game-changer for our department. The knowledge gained in this way will then be passed on to our suppliers in case of series production.”
Bombardier seems to be using the solution to build new parts that would be then integrated into a digital inventory for the future. Apparently they have optimized their development process by some 77%, a significant achievement. Once in the digital inventory, any production needs – for new cars or for replacement parts – simply triggers more 3D prints.
We’ve now seen Stratasys develop solutions of this type for rail and aerospace interiors industries. I’m wondering which industry they will target next.