© DB AG / Faruk Hosseini

Out of the printer, into the train

Our trains consist of many individual components, some of which are unique. It often takes a lot of time and materials to keep small quantities of them available. We have found a solution to this in 3D printing, which enables us to work more efficiently and with fewer resources.

In this computer-based method, the original component is first measured or scanned and then converted to digital data. The new part is built up layer by layer, in either plastic, metal or another material. 

A powder bed fusion process is normally employed for small components with very fine structures. The powder is fused on in layers at the desired sites using a laser beam. This process is repeated hundreds or thousands of times depending on the size of the component. Alternatively, for larger and coarser structures, metal wire or plastic is melted and applied.

Recycled filaments for even greener 3D printing

We are constantly testing new materials for 3D printing at our maintenance depots. One of these materials is filament - a kind of thread - made from recycled plastic-like fibers. We use several of these materials for printing tools for depots and production. For example, we are testing recycled filaments made from old ski boots. The first piece printed with 100 percent recycled filament is a positioning device for applying symbols in our trains. If these resource-saving materials pass the test, they may soon be used in other areas as well.

A matrix for attaching adhesive symbols in our trains made out of the recycled material.

Less raw material and transport

3D printing offers even more environmental benefits. It allows us to produce components exactly when they are needed – and in next to no time. In this way, we avoid long waiting times and get our trains ready for use on the track more quickly. We can use 3D printing to replace components that are no longer available, extending the life cycle of our assets.

As well as saving time, 3D printing also conserves valuable raw materials since we no longer have to stock large quantities of spare parts. We can manufacture them as and when we need them. And we use only the raw material required for the component in question. That cuts down on transport and CO2 because we can print parts on site and no longer have to transport them over long distances.

In-house collection for recycling 3D printing waste

The nature of 3D printing means it is a technology that is sparing with resources and generates very little waste. In practice, however, not every print is successful on the first attempt, and scrap material and waste are sometimes produced. We teamed up with the company Recycling Fabrik to introduce a system in which the materials most commonly used in 3D printing can be collected at all DB locations throughout Germany and recycled.

Our partner first shreds the waste material and makes it into granules. Then it transforms these into filaments, which a special machine winds onto reusable spools. In this way, the recycled plastic fibers can be used as new. With this customized collection system, therefore, we are putting materials that would otherwise be disposed of back into the manufacturing cycle.

Spare parts logistics worldwide

DB Schenker is now also offering its business customers spare parts delivery via 3D printing, for a greener supply chain. Custom 3D printing and delivery of individual components will allow the Group subsidiary to produce parts on demand, so they can be ready exactly when they are needed. DB Schenker is setting up a protected virtual warehouse to "store" the 3D plans virtually. In the future, parts will be able to be retrieved at the touch of a button, printed locally and shipped globally. That means fewer delivery bottlenecks and less unnecessary warehousing, and local production will reduce transport and carbon emissions.

Virtual warehouse at DB Schenker

3D printing as a vocational training subject

3D printing is as an integral part of vocational training at DB. Vocational trainees at our vehicle maintenance depots learn about 3D printing during their training and work independently on designing and printing materials and equipment for everyday use.

Awarding innovative ideas

Our annual Group-wide 3D printing competition recognizes innovative 3D printing ideas. A special sustainability award was given for the first time in 2022. The winning entry was a bench designed for train stations and forecourts that is made of recycled concrete.

100000 parts
already made in 3D printing

Future technology to meet requirements

3D printing has enormous potential for DB. We have already printed 100,000 parts and spare parts for more than 500 different applications, from coat hooks, CO2 sensors for offices and handrail signs in braille to safety-critical braking components on vehicles.

3D-printed handrail sign with braille
3D-printed handrail sign with braille
A printed circuit board test system for ticket validators produced by DB Kommunikationstechnik
A printed circuit board test system for ticket validators produced by DB Kommunikationstechnik.
A 3D printed Deutsche Bahn gear case für shunting locomotives.
A 3D printed Deutsche Bahn gear case for shunting lokomotives.

By using this print-on-demand process, we are making yet another important contribution to environmental protection.