Alstom, a global leader in rail manufacturing, has embarked on a transformative journey with additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing. This revolutionary approach has not only marked a significant milestone with the production of 150,000 3D-printed parts but has also fundamentally altered the dynamics of rail manufacturing.
Aurelien Fussel, the visionary leader heading Alstom’s additive manufacturing industrial program, has been instrumental in steering the company towards embracing 3D printing for eight years. His efforts have not only shaped the program from its inception but have also facilitated change management, expanded the materials used, established a digital warehouse, grown the 3D-printed spare parts business, and led expertise in this groundbreaking technology.
Reflecting on the journey, Fussel recalls the early days in 2016 when 3D printing at Alstom was a modest endeavor involving a small machine crafting pen holders. Fast forward to today, and the landscape has evolved significantly. What started as a limited foray into 3D printing has burgeoned into a major special process at Alstom. The growth trajectory is exponential, with an annual production of approximately 40,000 parts over the last two years, encompassing machine tools, jigs, spare parts, and new designs.
Alstom’s embrace of 3D printing extends beyond mere experimentation. The company can now produce parts using three distinct materials: polymers, ceramics, and metals. With around 20 validated polymers and four metals in their arsenal, including aluminum, stainless steel, high-performance steel, and titanium, Alstom’s range of 3D-printed parts is nothing short of impressive. Recent examples include a headlamp case for a high-speed train, a jig for car-body shell construction, a soft material part for an air conditioning evacuation tube, and a steel cover for a bogie.
Aurelien Fussel elucidates the compelling advantages of additive manufacturing in rail production. Firstly, there’s the undeniable lead time advantage. Customers opting for 3D printing experience faster turnaround times compared to conventional technologies. Secondly, the economic aspect shines through, especially when dealing with small orders. While the per-part cost might be higher for 3D printing, the absence of minimum order quantities makes it a more cost-effective solution, particularly for limited quantities.
One of the standout advantages is hard inventory reduction. Traditional manufacturing often necessitates customers to order more spare parts than immediately needed, leading to storage challenges. Alstom’s approach, however, introduces the concept of a ‘digital warehouse,’ allowing for ‘on-demand spares.’ This not only streamlines inventory management but also aligns with the broader goal of reducing the footprint of warehouses.
In addition to these benefits, 3D printing is inherently more sustainable. By utilizing less material than conventional technology and producing only the required quantity, it minimizes waste and energy consumption. As the world moves towards a future where the cost of CO2 emissions becomes a critical factor, 3D printing emerges as a game-changer.
Alstom’s commitment to 3D printing is underscored by its global footprint. With 3D printing hubs strategically positioned across the globe, boasting 150 machines, the sun never sets on Alstom’s additive manufacturing capabilities. From Canada to Spain, Italy to India, and several locations in between, Alstom’s 3D printing network is extensive. In the coming months, the introduction of extra-large prints using robots promises to further enhance their capabilities.
As Alstom continues to redefine the norms of rail manufacturing through 3D printing, the impact on the job landscape within the company and the industry at large becomes evident. This isn’t just a technological shift; it’s a paradigm change that opens new possibilities and challenges traditional manufacturing norms. Stay tuned as Alstom continues to pioneer the future of rail manufacturing through the lens of additive manufacturing.
The ability of 3D printing to swiftly deliver critical parts worldwide, coupled with its cost-effectiveness, innovation-driving potential, and sustainability, has garnered attention and adoption from some of the most significant players in the field.
Vestas: A Case in Point
Vestas, the world’s largest wind energy company, serves as a compelling example of how 3D printing is reshaping the energy manufacturing landscape. With operations spanning 87 countries, Vestas designs, manufactures, installs, and services wind turbines on a global scale. Embracing 3D printing for crafting custom parts, specialized tools, and prototypes in-house has become a catalyst for operational transformation, as highlighted by Jeremy Haight, principal engineer of additive manufacturing and advanced concepts at Vestas. Launching a pilot 3D printing program proved to be a pivotal move for Vestas, with a return on investment (ROI) materializing within a remarkably short span of six months. The actual outcomes exceeded expectations, underscoring the efficacy of integrating 3D printing into their operations.
Swift and Reliable Production
In the pre-3D printing era, Vestas faced challenges in sourcing critical components and tools from various global vendors based on detailed manufacturing instructions. The traditional process involved milling aluminum parts, a method that demanded six to 12 weeks for production. Subsequently, these components were dispatched to Vestas sites worldwide, undergoing inspections for compliance before being put to use. However, occasional deviations from strict specifications led to costly delays.
The 3D Printing Solution
Vestas sought a more streamlined approach—a method to ensure that the exact same part could be manufactured to precise specifications reliably anywhere in the world. Enter 3D printing. This technology empowered Vestas to produce custom parts and tools in-house, eliminating the need for a convoluted global supply chain. The result? Faster, more efficient, and cost-effective manufacturing that significantly reduced delays and enhanced overall operational agility.
Impact on Jobs in Energy Manufacturing
As energy manufacturers worldwide witness the tangible benefits of 3D printing, the impact on jobs is undeniable. The demand for professionals skilled in additive manufacturing, design optimization for 3D printing, and the operation of cutting-edge printing technologies is on the rise. The transformation is not just in the technology but in the skill sets valued in the energy manufacturing job market.
The fusion of 3D printing with energy manufacturing is a paradigm shift. It not only optimizes operations for global players like Vestas but also reshapes the employment landscape, opening avenues for those proficient in the intricacies of 3D printing technology. Stay tuned as the energy manufacturing sector continues to embrace innovation, leaving an indelible mark on the future of jobs in this dynamic industry.