GE Transportation Jumps on the 3D Printing Train
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on October 04, 2018 |
GE Transportation has said that it plans to 3D print up to 250 locomotive parts by 2025.

A slew of transportation companies have discovered the potential of 3D printing for part production, including Deutsche Bahn, Siemens Mobility and Nederlandse Spoorwegen. The latest to jump aboard the 3D printing train is GE Transportation, which believes that it can print up to 250 locomotive parts with additive manufacturing (AM) by 2025.

GE Transportation’s concept for a hybrid electric train, showcased in 2007. (Image courtesy of Railway Gazette.)
GE Transportation’s concept for a hybrid electric train, showcased in 2007. (Image courtesy of Railway Gazette.)

Building upon the success of GE Additive and GE’s AM work in aerospace, GE Transportation has begun early trials using 3D printing to produce locomotive components. Using AM, the company believes it will be able to reduce lead time, as well as produce complex geometries that would be impossible using traditional manufacturing methods.

As seen with components like the LEAP fuel nozzle, complex assemblies could be redesigned into single, 3D-printed parts with intricate shapes. In an interview with Railway Gazette, Dominique Malenfant, vice-president of Global Technology for GE, used the example of a heat exchanger with “2,000 subcomponents, joints or welds” that could be redesigned into a single AM part, thus eliminating the potential failure areas associated with joints and welds.

Because GE is aiming to make a battery-diesel hybrid train, the company is working to make the diesel engine smaller through the use of 3D printing, in order to increase the space needed for batteries during the train’s battery-only operation in urban and environmentally sensitive areas.

The concept for the hybrid engine—in which energy from a diesel engine and regenerative braking would be stored in an onboard battery—was unveiled in 2007. In 2010, the company announced that it planned to commercialize the concept by 2014 or 2015, but there has been no visible progress on the project. GE has, however, reiterated its plans to continue work on the technology as recently as 2018.

Malenfant highlighted the use of binder jetting in particular. This would make sense, given GE’s tease of the H1 3D printer last year. The system, described by GE Additive as “faster than any binder jet machine on the market today,” deposits a liquid binder onto a bed of metal powder layer by layer until a green part is completed and placed into a sintering furnace. The H1 systems were expected to begin shipping in the middle of 2018. With the systems in place, it would be possible to produce a number of parts or individual large parts in a single build.

Discussing the potential for AM in GE Transportation’s locomotion operations, Malenfant said, “There will be a huge gain in lead times for component design. We could ultimately take months out of the design process.”

And while it’s possible that something like the H1 3D printer could be used to produce parts for the division, details may also be up in the air as GE is in the process of merging GE Transportation with rail equipment manufacturer Wabtec Corp, in an $11 billion deal that was made earlier this year. GE will own 51 percent of the resulting company with some management from GE Transportation moving over to the new company, including the chief executive, Rafael Santana, who will be the president and CEO of Wabtec’s freight segment.

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