Mar 15, 2017 | By Benedict

Deutsche Bahn (DB), a German railway company that generates yearly revenue of almost 40 billion euros, used the Additive Manufacturing Forum Berlin 2017 to encourage suppliers to adopt additive manufacturing technology, which can reduce delivery times and inventory costs for spare parts.

Don’t let its name and businesslike appearance fool you: the 2017 Additive Manufacturing Forum Berlin was for all intents and purposes a speed dating event. Bringing together a huge number of transport, aerospace, and automotive manufacturers, as well as a raft of 3D printing companies, the fair was a chance for additive manufacturing to bat its eyes at manufacturers yet to adopt 3D printing.

The Cupid in command of the whole affair? DB, which is actively encouraging its part suppliers to get on board with 3D printing in order to shorten delivery times and reduce inventory costs for spare parts. Last year, the giant railway company established Mobility Goes Additive, a group of transportation companies and additive manufacturing businesses who together are trying to accelerate the widespread adoption of 3D printing within the field.

The huge Additive Manufacturing Forum, which took place at the Estrel Congress & Messe Center in Berlin at the beginning of the month, was hosted by DB, aerospace company Airbus, and additive manufacturing company EOS. Airbus already has a huge number of 3D printing companies on speed dial, having worked with the likes of Autodesk, Arconic, and Renishaw, but the event was a chance for DB to push for the adoption of 3D printing technology all the way down its own supply chain.

If there was any doubt as to the motives of the host companies, the described “theme” of the Forum saw to that. It read: “The use of 3D printing in industrial companies leads to a significant reduction in development and delivery times and a drastic reduction in inventories. In addition, a consistent implementation of the production concept of ‘Mass Customization’ becomes possible. There are pioneers of 3D technology in the aviation and automotive industry, as well as in mechanical engineering and medical technology.”

Additive Manufacturing Forum Berlin 2017

It is that increase in speed and “drastic reduction in inventories” that would help DB most significantly. At present, the company spends a staggering half a billion euros every year on its vehicles, and a large percentage of that figure goes into maintaining a huge inventory of spare parts. Ultimately, DB needs companies across its supply chain to start digitizing those spare parts and 3D printing them on demand, instead of manufacturing and storing large batches of them just in case they are needed.

The problem, of course, is how to convince those suppliers that a move to additive manufacturing with benefit them, and not just the big fish at the top of the supply chain like DB. If those suppliers make money from having unused DB parts lying around, they have little incentive to shake things up with new technology—though presumably DB won’t tolerate such a stubborn attitude for long. However, if 3D printing can help reduce overheads for the suppliers, and consequently pass on some knock-on advantages to DB, everyone could be a winner.

Whether the Additive Manufacturing Forum managed to convince DB suppliers to get on board with 3D printing remains to be seen, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on Germany to see if any happy new relationships are formed over the coming months.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Peter van der Zouwen wrote at 3/16/2017 7:35:53 AM:

Hi. Liked the article, and loved the point about it not being in the n-tier supplier's interest to sell less parts. I was at the same conference, this was my take: so basically I saw three more problems: the half a billion in spare parts is mainly consumption, so what is the "large percentage" that "goes into maintaining a huge inventory of spare parts"? Second problem was that the Deutsche Bahn team responsible for the conference is not in any way interested in the other possibilities of AM, like light-weighting, basically they want their suppliers to digitalize their current parts "as is" and print on demand. Third problem, closely conneted to the first: No pointers were given as to how produce spare parts in AM at a price level that would make it worthwhile for DB to consider to switch? If at the moment they consume 400.000.000 of the half a billion per year in spare parts and switch to AM everywhere, this sum would double, if not triple, where's the sense in that?

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