When things are done by governments in forward-thinking ways, it should be applauded – especially, when it comes to 3D printing which isn’t just something done privately behind closed doors. When a government looks for ways to maximize efficiency and utilize the tools available on a wider scale, it’s a symbol for normalization in society. In some cases, it’s usually the other way around (as we’ve seen with cryptocurrency), but here it is displayed openly in a way to show that it can take center-stage in how we mass-produce items. We’ve written a lot about 3D printing throughout 2018, but now 2019 comes with explosive news in this dynamic area: SJ (the Swedish government-owned passenger train) has started to produce parts, albeit reserve-parts, with 3D technology. But is it what you think? Can you guess the part shown in the image below?
To understand the basics of 3D, you have to know that when it comes to the technology, it’s easy to get lost in specifics. Essentially, 3D production is a computer-based technology where solid objects are manufactured directly from a three-dimensional digital model. The material is usually built up in layers of different thickness. Information is sent to a 3D printer with the suitable or required material – such as nylon, fiberglass, metal powder, carbon fiber or kevlar – it then builds a physical model from the designed layers. Thin layers allow for higher resolution of the material and more complicated shapes, but the manufacturing time becomes a little longer. Even extremely complex objects can today be produced using 3D technology and in some cases it is not possible with any other manufacturing method. In principle, all materials can be used in the process, but different types of plastics dominate due to low material cost. The technology development in 3D is very fast and takes place mainly in the civil manufacturing industry and now in the sphere of government. Why has SJ decided to implement it into its production techniques? Simple answer:
Cheaper, better quality, easier and more flexible.
But, of course, they are not 3D-printing their entire trains (yet?), but have started on a path that can lead to something greater. As reported by Aftonbladet, SJ sees great advantages and opportunities for development of the company’s commenced manufacturing of spare parts using modern 3D technology. The technology simplifies production which provides cheaper spare parts – with higher quality. The initiative is an important part of the digitization program that SJ is implementing to strengthen long-term competitiveness with higher punctuality and more satisfied customers.
What have they managed to do now? Which specific parts are we talking about? Drumroll, please…
It might sound like an anticlimax, but it’s an interesting development, nonetheless: The first 3D-printed spare parts at SJ are a further developed holder for toilet rolls in plastic for the SJ 3000 trains, toilet locks in metal for passenger cars and protective caps for electrical outlets and ventilation covers. So no, we are not talking about entire cabins or parts that are crucial for the trains to run smoothly. But does SJ look to the future to maybe even consider further development in this area? The head of major projects at SJ’s vehicle division has a vision:
– 3D printing revolutionizes our way of producing spare parts by making the process simpler and more flexible. This applies in particular to spare parts that are no longer on the market, which are very expensive to replace. This concept has a huge savings potential from several perspectives. Lead times, inventory, logistics and administration are also made more efficient, ”says Anders Gustafsson, head of major projects at SJ’s Vehicle division.
More spare parts will be printed in 3D
In addition, the technology provides opportunities to further develop the design of spare parts and print new ones as needed. In the first stage, SJ has started to print spare parts that do not affect safety and which are limited in size and weight. But in the future Anders Gustafsson sees more opportunities.
– We will gradually make more and more spare parts using 3D printing. With more efficient maintenance, we get more robust trains, higher punctuality and more satisfied customers. This is just the beginning, says Anders Gustafsson.
International collaboration in the field of 3D printing
In Sweden, SJ collaborates with, among others, PostNord Stralfors as supplier of services in 3D printing. SJ is also part of an international network of leading digital large companies where exchange of experience drives the development of 3D printing.
“Thanks to the cooperation with other digital companies, we have been able to take big steps forward in a short time, now we are at the forefront in Europe even when it comes to 3D printing,” says Anders Gustafsson.
It’ll be interesting to see whether SJ can capitalize on these first steps and realize this vision in 3D. Will they set this vision in their computer before this dream is made into a reality?
Evolvera – evolve in a new era