Railway rolling stock manufacturer Alstom (Euronext Paris: ALO) partners with Replique de BASF to 3D print spare parts. Replica is on the move, having already partnered with Miele and established a materials coalition. Now, Alstom is digitizing part of its supply chain to be able to decentralize spare parts. And, as additive manufacturing (AM) is increasingly used in the railway industry for spare parts, this project could be the first instance in which metal filament extrusion was the technology of choice.
“Additive manufacturing is now a key part of our supply chain. With Replique, we benefit from expertise in 3D printing and materials, as well as a decentralized manufacturing network covering all relevant sites and technologies. Their end-to-end services allow us to respond faster and more cost-effectively to different customer requirements,” said Ben Boese, 3D Printing Hub Manager at Alstom Transport Deutschland. “The additive manufacturing market is still very fragmented, making it impossible for end users to find an optimal solution for every part. With Replique, we benefit from all major additive manufacturing technologies and materials from a single source. In addition, we receive optimal technological preparation.
The company starts with a relatively simple doorstop that was qualified for production in just six weeks. During this period, the team tested, assembled, and then gained approval for mass production. Notably, the door stopper was made using BASF Ultrafuse 316L filament, combining material extrusion 3D printing and sintering to keep part costs very low.
“We were able to produce the doorstop at no additional cost compared to conventional methods. In the near future, we plan to further exploit the potential of the technology by creating topology-optimized new part designs, or even making them lighter by using reduced infill,” Boese said.
“Alstom has already shown in the past how 3D printing can be integrated in a simple and economical way. They are pioneers in additive manufacturing, and we look forward to supporting them in their journey to simplify and fully digitize their supply chain for all printable series and spare parts,” said Dr. Max Siebert, CEO of Replica.
BASF’s metallic materials extrusion bet
I love what BASF is doing here. The company uses its immense size to speak face to face with very large companies that it already supplies. In this case, Alstom is almost a hundred years old and has a turnover of around 8.785 billion euros, with some 75,000 employees worldwide.
BAS then provides its customers with a platform, Replica, which provides access to several production technologies and materials from several suppliers. A software company or original equipment manufacturer might pursue a similar strategy, but BASF has positioned itself as the broker of those relationships and the platform.
If the company is good at digitizing supply chains and isn’t short-term greedy, it can carve out a very enviable position at the center of digital spare parts production. This is a much higher and more important position for the company than just supplying hardware. At the same time, BASF can still use its platform to promote its own materials.
If a company like Alstom independently researched production technologies for maintenance, repair and overhaul, it would likely come back with a solution based on powder bed fusion (PBF). It is the most mature additive technology for metal parts and could print many parts such a company would want to manufacture. PBF also has a plurality of material and machine suppliers, making it a more mature, safer and more resilient bet. The Alstom team may also have partnered with a promising liaison aircraft company. However, it is extremely unlikely that she chose a material filament extrusion process that uses low-cost systems to produce green parts that are then sintered.
It’s not a very widespread technology, nor very well understood. Currently, it is also very difficult to manufacture components correctly on the first print using this technology, because sintering changes the properties of the parts, which differ depending on the geometry and the thickness of the walls. So for BASF to be the one doing this is completely awesome. At the same time, BASF is big but super slow, so having Replica as a faster minnow of a startup to respond quickly to customers is also very smart. I believe the digital inventory business will be a very profitable and sticky industry. We can have a winner in this space before it has even started properly.
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