It goes without saying that the 11-member team, which is headed by 3D printing expert Michael Kuczmik, manufactures much more than just armrests. For example, Tina Eufinger points to a motor-bearings cover. Unlike the original part, the printed component is hollow inside and filled with powder. This results in a number of advantages, including the fact that it reduces vibrations and thus helps to prevent wear. Another example is a custom-tailored switching cabinet for the first generation of ICE high-speed trains (manufactured between 1989 and 1993), which is no longer in large-scale production. The German railway company Deutsche Bahn rarely needs this component and cannot plan its requirements in advance. Printing the switching cabinet reduces train downtimes and thus saves a lot of money.
Printed spare parts also have other advantages. Because of their improved design, they usually require less material than original components and therefore weigh less. Moreover, they are generally more robust and have a longer service life. And in some cases, additional functions can be integrated as well. There are also some drawbacks, of course. For example, spare parts can’t be bigger than the printer’s printing chamber. However, a part can sometimes be assembled from smaller components— as was the case, for example, with a streetcar fender that consists of three parts. Because traffic accidents with streetcars usually only damage the right side of the fender, only about a third of this component generally has to be replaced.