3D printing is key to advancing rail technology and the fight for greener travel
The rail sector operates as the main form of public transport across the UK, seeing the services provided being used by thousands of people a day, relying on stable journeys for regular journeys or simply commuter journeys. leisure. Due to the heavy daily use of these trains, they require a large amount of general maintenance to ensure continued smooth operation.
It is often necessary to replace key components that fail or wear out over time, which means mechanics have to replace parts from their stock to stock. However, when they do not have an immediately available replacement stock, these parts must be delivered to the rail service provider by the manufacturer. This can often mean a delay in the repair work required, thus leading to a stoppage of operations within the rail services of the affected route.
High-speed railways can reach over 350 km/h, which is ideal for fast and efficient travel, but it creates a problem when it comes to braking. each train car weighing more than 60 tons will produce enormous inertia, which generates enormous kinetic energy, causing the brake discs to heat up due to friction during braking. Therefore, brake pads and brake discs must not only withstand the high temperature of around 900°C, but also ensure good performance at the same time.
The technology of R&D and production of high-speed railway brake pads and discs has gradually made breakthroughs in recent years. With the deep integration of metal 3D printing technology in the railway industry, metal 3D manufacturers have begun to explore the application of metal 3D printing technology to improve the performance of brake pads and rotors. of brake. Eplus3D, a Chinese AM manufacturer, is also entering the railway industry with its large format metal AM machines.
3D printing can be used in a plethora of new ways, not just for general track maintenance, as seen with HS2’s implementation of cutting edge technology called “Printfrastructure”. London tunnels contractor SCS JV (Skanska Costain STRABAG Joint Venture) printed concrete with computer-controlled robots, instead of transporting it as precast slabs by road before being assembled and placed by large cranes. This process allowed for great flexibility as it helps contractors avoid having to develop complicated and potentially costly logistics plans.
The use of a computer-controlled robot allows reinforced concrete structures to be printed with a unique internal lattice structure of reinforcement, which not only greatly reduces the amount of concrete needed, but also reduces waste.
This waste reduction is one of the main benefits, if not the main one, of 3D printing implementations in the industry. The use of this technology for mechanical parts such as brake discs will drastically improve the carbon neutral ambitions of the rails, while helping to reduce production times and costs.
3D printing could be the future of construction in the railway industry, which means that companies in the sector must closely monitor the development of technologies, seeking to implement them where possible.