GE Transportation is in early trials of using additive manufacturing to produce locomotive components. If the trial proves to be successful, 3D printing could be used in the production of up to 250 locomotive components by 2025.
Image credit: GE Transportation
The company is looking to build on the experience of GE's aviation business with 3D printing to reduce the time needed to produce components. The 3D printed components can also be more compact and more precisely designed to meet the end use requirement, according to Dominique Malenfant, Vice-President of Global Technology.
GE Transportation will use binder jetting for rail component. Binder jetting is an additive manufacturing process in which a liquid binding agent is selectively deposited to make the metal powder stick together. The binder acts as an adhesive between powder layers. After each layer, the object being printed is lowered on its build platform and another layer of powder is then spread and binder is added. Over time, the part develops through the layering of powder and binder. A binder jet machine can print at least 10 times faster than laser-based methods and also can produce larger parts. In GE's case, moulds can then be done in a matter of a couple of days.
"There will be a huge gain in lead times for component design," Malenfant said. "We could ultimately take months out of the design process." 3D printing will also enable GE to make complex components in a single print job. For example, an engine heat exchanger has 2 000 individual sub-components, joints or welds. All of these potential areas of failure could be eliminated by additive manufacturing, he suggested.
One of GE's strategy is to make principal engine components more compact as locomotive technology emerges. GE is seeking to use a hybridization approach, a process that will require a significant power contribution from the battery and supercapacitor unit, to complement the standard 4 000 hp and 4 400 hp locomotives it currently offers.
"If we can shrink the diesel engine through advanced manufacturing, there will be space to increase the batteries we can install onboard," Malenfant explained.
GE hopes to begin using 3D printed locomotive parts on a trial basis from next year. If the trial is successful, the company aims to have widespread adoption of the technology by the middle of the next decade.
Posted in 3D Printing Application