Digital Manufacturing

Article: Digital Manufacturing

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What is DB ESG’s Digital Manufacturing experience?

DB ESG has extensive experience in digital manufacturing for the UK rail sector, having started our journey with 3D printing and 3D scanning technology in 2018.  Since then, rapidly expanding into the supply of digitally manufactured parts for the purposes of prototyping, tooling, and final part manufacture.

The bulk of this work has been completed in collaboration with rolling stock asset management company Angel Trains, with a particular focus on the reverse-engineering and manufacture of obsolete components for which original inventory, tooling and drawings are no longer available. 

DB ESG and Angel Trains were the first in the UK to produce 3D printed replacement parts, which were put into commercial service, namely seven grab handles and four armrests, all parts being finished to such a standard that they were indifferentiable from the original components. The parts were fitted to a Class 165 train owned by Angel Trains and operated by Chiltern Railways in the summer of 2019, a visual inspection of the parts was conducted one year later, and the parts remain in operation to this date. 

DB ESG also takes an active role in Mobility Goes Additive (MgA), a transnational working group founded by parent company Deutsche Bahn (DB), that aims to coordinate the efforts of rail and aviation operators across Europe in exploiting additive manufacturing technologies. DB ESG’s Mechanical Engineering Manager, Martin Stevens, is the chair of the Railiability working group, which focusses on the use of 3D printing in rail.  The focus is to improve reliability on the railways, be it through the replacement of obsolete components or the manufacturing of new designs enabled by 3D printing technology. 

As a company within MgA, DB ESG are leading efforts to grow the number of available polymers which comply with rail fire standards, thus fulfilling a key challenge specific to the railways. 

As a result of the above work, DB ESG has built a wealth of knowledge in the field of digital manufacturing, including: 

  • A team of expert mechanical engineers, experienced in additive manufacturing and CNC machining. 
  • Experience in correctly performing structural assessments on 3D printed parts, considering their anisotropic material properties. 
  • Expertise in the fire assessment of 3D printed parts, and other elements of the approvals process. 
  • Wide knowledge of finishing and coating requirements for different types of 3D printing technology. 
  • Owning and operating an FDM 3D printer in house, to produce prototypes, tooling, and a limited number of end-use parts. 
  • Using 3D printed prototypes and tooling extensively on internal projects 
  • Working regularly with a broad array of 3D scanning, 3D printing and CNC machining suppliers across the UK. 
  • Undertaking further R&D work into part finishing, impact resistant coatings, part supply and more.

Something more about Digital Manufacturing

What is Digital Manufacturing?

Digital Manufacturing applies computing technology to manufacturing processes, from design right through to production. Digital Manufacturing, including Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing, has many advantages over traditional production methods and offers a real solution to component obsolescence.

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What is Additive Manufacturing?

Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. An object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is formed.

3D printing enables the production of complex shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods.

This makes it ideal for production of small volumes, where replacement components can be provided on demand and to short lead times.

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What are the key benefits of Digital Manufacturing, including Additive Manufacturing?
  • On-demand, just in-time production of parts.
  • Reduced cost, eliminating the need for spares holding, and costly tooling and jigs.
  • Use of newer technologies and high-performance, cutting-edge materials, with advanced mechanical properties, for example, high strength, light weight.
  • Ability to manufacture parts much quicker, in days rather than months.
  • Freedom to design customised parts, unique to the customer requirements. 
  • Greater consistency of parts.
  • Ability to keep passenger trains in service for longer with efficient replacement of components.
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Why Digital Manufacturing is the future of train component manufacturing?

Manufacturing rolling stock is expensive because train fleet production runs tend to be lower volume compared to other manufacturing industries. This low volume drives up the manufacturing cost, removes the incentive to invest in research and development, and reduces the number of suppliers able to compete.

The challenge is exacerbated by the issue of obsolescence; trains can be in operation for 30 or more years. To keep these fleets operational and in peak condition, asset managers need to ensure the continued supply of parts for which the original manufacturing drawings may no longer exist, and that may only be needed in very small quantities for the remainder of the vehicle’s life.

Such legacy, high value, but low volume parts are a real struggle for the existing supply chain and manufacturing methods, leading to many operators having to expend unnecessary amounts of effort and cost concerning these parts. Legacy parts are generally expensive, have very long lead times, and are often not tailored to the specific fleet or application.

Digital Manufacturing, including AM is the solution to these manufacturing challenges, allowing replacement parts to be produced at low cost, low volume and with short lead times. Train interiors can also be personalised by operators, and depots can have their own printers to enable parts to be manufactured on demand.

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