• Additive Manufacturing,

ADDITIVE4RAIL: A new partnership to produce train maintenance parts on demand

SNCF, Centrale Nantes, VLM Robotics and 4DPioneers are today launching the Additive4Rail consortium with state support. The aim is to speed up the industrialisation of additive manufacturing technologies in order to streamline train maintenance and reduce costs by producing components piecemeal or in small batch runs. The four partners have set up a production line in Saintes to manufacture and repair metal parts, with a view to transforming railway maintenance.

on April 5, 2022

Additive manufacturing, a promising technology for the rail industry

Additive manufacturing - the industrial equivalent of 3D printing - combines digital design and rapid manufacture of mechanical parts by adding layer upon layer of material.

This process has many advantages. Prototyping, tooling and supply lead times are considerably shorter, thus paving the way for more operational availability of trains. Less spare parts will be held in stock, thereby generating cost savings (train maintenance has 150,000 part numbers, including many small batch runs). Certain parts that are no longer manufactured can be produced via additive manufacturing throughout a train’s entire working life, which can be up to forty years. Finally, beyond simple reproduction, additive manufacturing opens up new opportunities to improve and customise parts and make them more reliable, lighter or quieter than the original.

Consortium members

Additive4Rail is a four-year collaborative project, combining industrial research and experimental development. It brings together four partners with complementary roles and expertise:
  • SNCF, a world leader in railway operation and maintenance, is leading the consortium through its use cases which cover the use, production, maintenance, repair and recycling of train parts.
  • VLM Robotics, an SME based in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, specialising in "manufacturing 4.0" and manufacturer of machines and agile robotic cells.
  • 4DPioneers, Deeptech based in the Hauts de France region, specialising in materials and industrial processes for additive manufacturing.
  • Centrale Nantes is contributing its scientific expertise in the field of materials and processes, and in particular: numerical simulation, design of large parts for additive manufacturing, and production trajectory generation and optimisation. Learn more about the Rapid Manufacturing Platform at Centrale Nantes.

Consortium goals

Additive4Rail is an R&D project that aims to speed up the industrial implementation of additive manufacturing processes for train maintenance. This research will focus on both metallic and polymer materials.
This involves overcoming certain technological obstacles, such as: the still limited size of part that can be manufactured with current processes, the lack of fireproof polymer materials certified for railway use, the production cost of finished parts that is still too high for the railway market, as well as the availability of 3D files detailing the parts.
The consortium will also work on developing the expertise and workflows needed to implement these new processes, on the certification issues involved in their industrialisation and, of course, on a business model to bring down costs.

To meet these goals, the SNCF and its partners have invested in the creation of a 150 m2 industrial facility in Saintes (Charente-Maritime), on one of the SNCF’s Industrial Technicentre sites in Charente-Périgord. From April 2022, a special team of three will run extensive tests on the materials and machines developed by 4DPioneers, VLM Robotics and Centrale Nantes. Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing and Fused Deposition Modelling processes will be closely studied for the manufacture and certification of mechanical parts that will be mounted on trains in operation.

The consortium will also develop "railway demonstrators" that will be world firsts, such as a train bogie that could be in production as early as 2026.

A promising outlook

Additive4Rail will thus play a role in driving adoption of this new technology in France, in particular for the railway industry. PhD theses will be undertaken, new skills will emerge and jobs will be created. The consortium's work may also find market opportunities outside France, given the European harmonisation of railway safety standards.

Additive4Rail should contribute to the creation of a genuine national additive manufacturing sector, particularly for moulds, tools and spare parts. The outlook across Europe is very promising, as shown by the interest expressed by manufacturers (energy, naval, defence, space, etc.) at "Formnext", the European additive manufacturing exhibition held in Frankfurt in November 2021.

State funding

Additive4Rail is one of the first 7 projects selected in the Call for Expressions of Interest launched in 2021 by CORIFER (Comité d’Orientation de la Recherche et de l’Innovation FERroviaires), which aims to improve train and rail network performance, operation and maintenance, with support from the Investments for the Future Programme (PIA4) and France 2030. All of the projects will play a part in boosting both quality of service and competitiveness in the railway sector.

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Published on April 6, 2022 Updated on February 28, 2024