Wabtec expands metal 3D printing capabilities
PITTSBURGH, PA – Wabtec has strengthened its commitment to additive manufacturing with a new 11,000 square foot facility at the Pittsburgh Airport Innovation Campus in an area dedicated to 3D printing technology. Wabtec has already achieved revolutionary component designs for freight locomotive and rail transport applications.
The company opened its first additive manufacturing lab in 2019 at its Grove City, PA plant. [See “Wabtec lab pioneering metal 3D printing,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 26, 2019.] The new, larger lab features an SLM 800 printer, one of four in the United States, capable of printing parts at scale.
The SLM 800 is the big brother of the Grove City SLM 280. These machines use the direct laser metal melting process to fuse the metal powder, layer by layer, to form a three-dimensional object. They allow for newly designed component designs, with complex internal shapes and channels, that would be expensive or impossible to produce with traditional methods.
Anthony Mott, leader in additive manufacturing, explains that the Grove City plant works with non-reactive materials, while the Pittsburgh lab handles reactive metals such as aluminum and titanium. Aluminum reacts with water and titanium burns in the presence of oxygen, so these metals require strict safety measures.
Mott says they have developed and are currently testing a new “very complex heat exchanger” for the exhaust gas recirculation system used in Wabtec’s Tier 4 Evolution Series locomotives. The heat exchanger reduces the temperature of extremely hot exhaust gases entering the engine.
The lab designed a heat exchanger that reduces the air temperature by several hundred degrees. Mott says it’s “something you couldn’t do otherwise.” Once finalized, it will be volume produced on the SLM 280 machine in Grove City.
Another product under test is a pneumatic brake panel, used in transit vehicles. Currently produced from several pieces of aluminum milled and assembled in a furnace, it is a labor intensive process. “Instead, we print everything as a consolidated part,” explains Mott. The brake panels will be produced on the SLM 800 at the technology campus.
The SLM 800 machine is equipped with the automatic SLM HUB unpacking station, which removes excess metal powder from the component after it is printed, recycling it to the printer. “There’s only one in the United States and we have it here,” Mott told Trains.
The HUB increases automation and improves the safety of the manufacturing process by reducing exposure to residual powder.
The printed brake panels are part of Wabtec’s Metroflexx integrated brake control system for mass transit. Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) has ordered the Metroflexx brake system for 62 new Hyundai Rotem automated trains destined for MRT’s 15-mile Jurong area line. Mott says they are developing several other parts for mass transit, where aluminum has the benefit of reducing weight.
Wabtec has set up its new facility on the airport campus to take advantage of the concentration of additive manufacturing companies there. “This area is really the hotbed of additives,” explains Mott. “It’s really about partnerships with members of the local industry as well as with university partners. The on-campus additive manufacturing center, called Neighborhood 91, was developed in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh. Wabtec also has a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Mott explains the benefits of collaboration, including cost reduction, knowledge sharing and a tighter supply chain. “As additive manufacturing is an ever-changing industry, we are seeing the advancements happening before our eyes,” he says.