Founded in 1994, Angel Trains is the leading rolling stock provider for the UK rail industry, financing and delivering high-quality trains to UK passenger service operators. Each year, it makes a significant investment in innovative solutions to modernize and improve UK train ﬂeets. One of the company’s biggest challenges is finding an alternative to the traditional supply chain for replacement parts, which struggles to cope with growing demands.
Unlike the automotive industry, where vehicles are mass-produced in millions each year, the number of ﬂeets in the rail industry is comparatively very small and over 30 years old in some cases. This combination presents several challenges for train operators, especially regarding vehicle maintenance and part replacement.
“In recent times, we’ve seen growing concern among operators that sourcing replacement parts for older train ﬂeets at a reasonable cost and in a short timeframe is proving increasingly difficult,” explained James Brown, Data and Performance Engineer at Angel Trains. “The problem is that traditional manufacturing methods only make it cost-effective to produce high volumes of spare parts, even though an operator may only need a few obsolete train parts replaced. Lead times can also take months, exacerbating the issue even further.”
As a result, Angel Trains teamed up with engineering consultancy DB ESG, and Stratasys, to show train operators how they can overcome these hurdles by 3D printing lower quantities of parts in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional methods. This cross-industry collaboration soon resulted in the first 3D printed parts ever deployed within an in-service passenger train in the UK. They included four-passenger armrests and seven grab handles, installed on Chiltern Railways’ trains.